Saturday, January 14, 2012

Social media - awareness or equity in the brand equation?

I'm pretty much over the Marcoms seminars on social media, so just to bore everyone yet again, I'll talk about(yep, you guessed it) social media. The reason I'm over these discussions is because I'm essentially over the line with it, both a relatively early adopter and convinced that it has a role to play in corporate communications.

In fact, it plays many roles, both offensive and defensive in overall communications strategy but, from a brand perspective, I'm starting to believe that in some sectors it is a greater brand awareness than engagement tool. Many would argue that they have run successful engagement programs using social media. I have seen some very creative and engaging programs. My issue is, what exactly has the target audience become engaged with? I'd argue that in nine out of ten instances, the engagement has been with the creative rather than the brand. The brand is a sponsor of the program, but does it translate into calls to action of commercial benefit to the sponsoring brand?

Sponsorship is perhaps an appropriate analogy. How does sports sponsorship benefit a brand? Does it deliver greater brand awareness, or does it build brand equity? In some instances, it can create a positive disposition towards a brand, but does this ultimately translate into sales?

Both social media and sponsorship generate interaction with the brand. Both can promote brand values by positive association with well crafted campaigns, well-chosen partnerships and so on. But there is increasing evidence that users of social media, in particular FaceBook, are not enthused by the thought of interacting with business in these channels. There are better online vehicles for that, principally online search and aggregator sites like eBay etc.

And if we generally accept that social media is not the appropriate channel for handling specific customer queries and complaints, we by definition remove one of the most effective drivers of interaction from the social media space.

On the flip side, followers on Twitter and friends on FaceBook have expressed an interest in your company simply by following your news and commentary and given you permission to access their space. Even so, I think you'll generally find that very little flows back the other way from these disciples - unless, of course, you really want to launch some edgy conversation. That's why I qualified my opening comments by saying engagement is difficult in 'some' sectors. Part of the brand DNA of some organisations may actually court controversy - think Benetton.

It's why I'm leaning to the view that, for most sectors, social media has greater potential for brand awareness building through leveraged distribution of information than it has for true customer engagement reflected in increased sales. That's still better achieved through well constructed search and website strategies.

The key for me lies in optimizing online strategy to ensure that, no matter what online channel people are in, that they are ultimately directed to a websites designed by you to provide solutions and advice aligned to their interests. You never know, doing so, may actually encourage people to really 'Like' you!

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