If you don’t recognize the reference to the ‘Shit XYZ say about ABC’, you’ve probably not been online this year. I loved the concept of this viral meme because it picked out those silly things that people say & think but don’t actually realize that they believe. I’m using that reference to bring out some of the common misconceptions that brands (and the people who represent them) carry about social media. In my first article of the month for Social Samosa titled ‘Shit brands say about Social Media’, I address myths (and corresponding truths) about social media platforms, SM users, key influencers and social content.
Shit brands say about Social Media
If you’re a social media professional, you’ll recognize the reference from last season’s favorite viral. Nobody actually comes right out and says any of these things. But an overwhelming majority of brands and the agencies representing them behave like these are gospel truth. So here’s debunking a few myths that brands carry about social media.
Myth: Social Media is an advertising platform
Truth: Social Media is a collective of conversations.
An advertising medium allows single direction transmission of a message. The message does not get added to or edited along the way. It is created, directed and owned by the sender. The sender also controls the medium because they pay for it.
Social media does not allow unidirectional transmissions. Every user in the medium, is an active participant in the creation and transmission of the message. Hence a message can and will get changed, diluted, contorted and transformed as it passes on.
The smart way to be on this medium is to treat it like an open forum rather than an advertising platform. A brand cannot force a message across on social media by implanting it in content that users are consuming, the way it is done in print or television. The best bet is to get involved in conversations where the message is a natural fit.
Bottomline: Learn to converse, and not just talk.
Myth: Users of Social Media are audience
Truth: Users of Social Media are other voices.
The evolution of media has seen recipients gaining more and more power. Television viewers can channel-surf to avoid commercial messages. Newspaper readers simply turn the page. Brands have tried to get around this by embedding messages within the content being consumed (advertisements in the middle of programming, product placement, bottom-of-screen crawlers, advertorials). There really isn’t a problem with doing this on social media either. A blogpost about skincare, which includes a hyperlink to a beauty cream or an embedded advertisement for it is an example of this on social media. However this is a very minor use of the medium.
Social media harnesses the power of word-of-mouth and there has never been a way to completely direct that force. With traditional media, a brand asks “What do I want people to think of me?” and delivers its answer in ad copy to an audience. Social Media on the other hand, is the answer to questions like,
“Do I want people to talk about me?”
“Do I want people to talk to me?”
Impressions are then formed through conversations, not by telling social media users what to think. If users find a product relevant, its brand interesting and the message engaging, they will talk about it. A social media user does not need to care about a brand’s agenda. The onus is on the brand to prove itself as interesting and relevant to the user.
Also, social media users will not use press releases to create content. They draw from their own impressions and conversations that they’ve heard. Thus neither the transmission nor the transmitters of a message can be controlled by the sender.
Bottomline: Share ideas, don’t tell people what to say.
Myth: ‘Key influencers’ are advertising channels
Truth: Key influencers have a large following because of original, engaging content.
A hot phrase among social media agencies is ‘key influencer’. This is usually a person or group that enjoys widespread visibility but also considerable engagement with other users on social media. Twitter followership, blog readership, Facebook Page likes are some of the metrics of importance. Brands sometimes devise special programs targeted at these key influencers.
The thing to remember is that a key influencer is most often in that position because they’ve established a distinctive identity for themselves in this space. By delivering timely, engaging content on a sustainable basis and by being a part of major conversations, the key influencer has managed to garner a substantial audience. This is built on a foundation of credibility, which keeps followers/readers interested over a long period of time. Why would a person in this position want to relay commercial information about a brand, risking his/her credibility and follower interest? A brand that manages to make a key influencer its puppet is effectively killing the entire circle of influence.
It is a tricky enough thing to become a key influencer (the surefire formula of which, nobody has yet figured out). Identifying key influencers is another complex proposition.With all this effort in place, it would be optimal to establish an open dialogue with such key influencers. They are the ones in the position to tell a brand where it is going wrong and what will work with the audiences they have. Also, a key influencer’s negative feedback will hurt a brand but gagging that will not necessarily stop other users from sharing their experiences. On the other hand, a positive review from a key influencer whose audience trusts them, can do a lot of good for a brand.
Bottomline: Build open conversations with key influencers, not control.
Myth: Ad copy and product brochures are Social Content
Truth: Independent opinion, interesting conversations and situation-relevant information are Social Content.
Website technology has been around for over a decade. Think of the brand (or company) homepage as the online office. Product brochures, sales announcements and even ad copy belong right here.
But a brand’s social media presence is like its online home. It is a place to park thoughts and ideas that do not fit the strict purview of the website but could be of interest to the world anyway. It is a space to connect with all kinds of people – customers, partners, vendors, competitors, observers, experts – without the pressure of closing a deal. It is a way to listen in on conversations about your industry, brand and anything else of relevance without biasing the speakers. Sales facts and hardsell have no room in this space.
Social Content can put a human perspective on the gigantic machinery that a business usually is. Opinion pieces on current affairs, industry trends, anecdotes (not sales reports) about the business, content that characterizes and personifies the consumer – these are great social content for a brand to create.
Bottomline: Use your social media presence to participate in conversations, not sales deals.