The paradox of social media for brands –opportunity - or lurking disaster?How to beat the odds in five ways…24/ 05/ 2013
Instead of being great new media tools for brands, most of the impact ofsocial media upon brands are far more fundamental. In fact, at thispoint, social media “threatens” more than they “enable” brands• Marketers and brand owners are used to notice, investigate, discard or use new media types as they comealong. They “made the rules”, decided whether these media was worthy or not, and what they wereworth. Media stayed in business because they fulfilled a marketing purpose.• NO LONGER!– With social media, this is still true to an extent, but it does not prevent consumers from using any social media type they choosewhen talking about the brand.– The brand owner has a far lesser “say” when it comes to social media. In fact, some social media are quite dismissive of businessin general.– What is true, is that brand owners have no control over what is being said about their brands. Thepower has shifted, fundamentally. And forever.• Marketers are struggling with this loss of control. Most do not know how to handle this… and it is only thebeginning.• Yet, marketers still face having to retain and grow their customers, using all media types, including socialmedia. So marketers need to beat he odds.• Like in all areas of business, the winners will be those who can leverage these new opportunities to theiradvantage, better than their competitors.• The losers will be those who think that they still have the control, or that believe it is business-as-usual.At this point, this is still the vast majority of brand owners and marketers.
Five ways in which the impact of social media upon brands can be managedSo the paradox faced by brands today, is that one of the greatest inventions ever in media, may be the greatestthreat to their very existence.I outline five ways in which I believe brand owners can reduce their risk, and use social media pro-actively.
• The greatest impact of social media upon brands, is the “equalisation” it brings to the world.• Everyone, anywhere, with access to the Internet, can communicate, in any way, with anyone, aboutanything or anyone.• This means any viewpoint –good, bad, considered, inconsiderate, emotional, rational, violent, valid, invalid - or whatever, can beshared.• And because there is no mediation, even slander will get widespread coverage before anyone can stop it.• This means the true authenticity of a brand owner (who it really is), the values it holds, the way itoperates, is open to scrutiny by anyone inside or outside the organisation.• This puts the true purpose - and real values - a company founder, its executives and staff “live” - not thatthat is written on posters - at the centre of the debate.• If the value system of a company is profoundly based upon honesty, truth, respect for humanity, respectfor society, respect for fellow-human beings and all living things, respect for the environment and thesustainability of our universe, respect for people and their values, respect for its customers, respect forsuppliers, respect for its future… it will be ok, and it need not live in fear of social media. If the companyhonestly makes products and services it believes enables and empowers humanity, it need not beconcerned. This kind of organisation is not secretive, it shares, involves, engages. It is open to the world.This means it is also willing to recognise its mistakes. It also recognises that to earn a decent – notexcessive - profit margin, it needs to retain a balance of interests.• Much of this will stem from the leadership of an organisation.1. The integrity of a brand owner is now paramount: your values will beapparent to all, not in what you say, but in what you do
2. Brands are exposed: either you understand it - and live accordingly -or one day, your brand will die. The larger your brand, the greater your risk• Where “crisis communication” strategies were always a part of many large, complex organisations, it nowtakes front seat.• It is impossible for any brand to control it’s user interface, 24/7, at all contact points, across theplanet, delivering exacting consistency of quality to its users.• Brand marketing was, for most of the time, a “gatekeeper” – it could manage - and largely control - badpublicity. If it knew the media well, a hallmark of a good PR company, it could even prevent bad mediapublicity from being placed.• This has fundamentally changed - social media enables immediate interface between any number ofpeople, in any number of locations, directly and personally, mediated through a significant “shared friend”.– The content cannot be prevented, regardless of its technical “accuracy”. As is the nature of humans, much of thiscontent will be highly emotional, giving any such shared content greater gravity and impact.• At any point in time, any brand, large or small, has user interface.– This interface is either good or bad; consistent with previous interfaces - or not; consistent with the brand positioningin the marketplace – or not; better or worse than those of competitors.– Users will either grin and bear it, many do, or they will stop using the brand. Some will complain and tell their friends.The easiest way to do it, is on social media, it takes one second to post it.• Within this context, the only brands that will survive intact, are one’s that have cultural values that wasoutlined before. Added to that, there is much it can do to leverage its position of integrity, see points 3-5.
• Unless your fundamentally understand your brand, you are exposed. Whilst this sounds obvious, I knowvery few brands owners who really understand all the aspects of their brands deeply and honestly.• This includes:– How, where and how your brand is produced. Whether that adheres to global best practice - or not.– Minute detail of suppliers, raw material providers, associate companies, shareholder profiles. Who these are andwhat their intentions are.– Links to outside organisations with dubious roles or profiles.– Who produces the brand and whether they are being paid properly – and have proper working conditions - relative tothe standards of their user territories.– How your brand compares to the market needs and competitive offers.• Are you better, worse and why.• If your brand delivery is worse, are people paying less for it - or are you taking exceptional and unsustainable profit margins?• Are you monitoring the quality of production and end-user delivery?– If your brand requires a service delivery component anywhere, are the staff informed, trained, empowered? Is thephysical infrastructure able to present and deliver the brand in the best possible way, relative to the expectations ofthe market?– Are staff happy?– Are staff being paid well relative to similar brands and the profit margin of the company?– Are there processes in place to deal with issues, complaints, breakdowns?– Are you aware of what is happening everywhere in the organisation at all times?– Are the systems able to scrutinize supervisory and other behaviour on an ongoing basis?3. Audit your brand in every way, to ensure the integrity of its production anduser delivery
4. Freely available analytical tools enable “deep” insights, enabling a brand tofocus very precisely on the people, words, images, content and communitiesthey want to influence• With the analytical tools available online today – many of them for free - any brand owner canunderstand exactly how the brand will interface with its users and potential users.• Every single Internet interface can be tracked and understood.• Most organisations also have extensive internal user and research data it can use to retain and growbusiness and understand the user interface requirements, profiles and issues.• Brand owners can also research and understand why they attract, not attract, retain or lose customers.This provides a wealth of insights.• Defensively, it can assist the brand owner to understand how negative content can impact the brand –what it is likely to be and where it will come from. This will enable the brand owner to devise a counter-strategy to reduce the impact of any negative content being disseminated about his/ her brand.• Offensively, it is very useful for the brand to manage its own user interface:– Who it wants to engage with.– About what.– How.– Where and when.– How it will keep the debate relevant and alive.– How to structure the organsiation to enable this engagement to remain relevant and contemporary to the globaldebates about similar issues.• The company can also install “early warning systems” to pick-up trends, mentions, comments, negativity.
5. Unless everything in the brand organisation aligns, it will be exposed:structure the company to cope with these changes• The greatest impact of social media will be upon how the company is structured and how it engages withits environments.• Most companies are not structured to cope with social media and their impact.• It is important that an organisation aligns its entire organisation to the production and delivery ofcustomer value. In fact, one wonders why a company does other things – much of the redundancy incompanies often lie in doing things that cannot be traced backed to the production of customer value. Ifind in many companies, many departments or individuals have no idea how what they do relate to thecreation of customer value.• This is critical in making all company employees understand their role relative to the bigger goal andpurpose. If it gets too diluted, staff tend to become “displaced” and often lose focus and interest, orbecome demotivated.• Once the structure is aligned, people need to be empowered.
ConclusionsThe overall impact of social media will be detrimental to more brands than positive.To ensure you can manage that in an organisation:1. Question and align your company purpose and value system. Build a company with trueintegrity.2. Know you are exposed and there is nothing you can do to change that. Manage accordingly.3. Audit and understand the integrity, production and delivery of your brand in all ways.4. Understand the current and potential user interfaces you can and will have. Understandyour own and user interface data. Know your customers and company.5. Align your company structures to produce customer value at all levels of interface. Questionany function that does not do that. Most company structures need to change to cope.Although no company is immune to being exposed every moment of every day,following the five steps above will put a brand owner in a far more offensiveposition.