Faux Social

Until five months ago, when I was still an “agency hand”, one of my research practices was to log in to my second ‘research account’ on Facebook where I’d fanned hundreds of brand pages, and trawl brand feeds for ideas, and best and worst practices. (I didn’t want my friends wondering what I was doing fanning Seventeen Magazine and Heinz ketchup!)

Over the weekend, with a column deadline looming, I dug out my old account and went ‘feed-surfing’ again. Some of the issues I’d noticed earlier are still very much in evidence. All of them point to the difficulty in “being social” versus the ease of “being on a social platform”.

A Focus on Promotion at the Cost of Listening

A pioneering Indian retail brand built on the shopping experience ignores several customer suggestions and complaints on its Facebook page, blithely pushing its latest Facebook promotion.

Some customers suggest more variety at certain store locations, others enquire about a card or news about a new store in their city. No response from the brand.

Opportunity: Marketers need to plug in customer service and in the above case, product/merchandising teams into social media. Facebook and Twitter are powerful platforms for social proof: demonstrate that your brand is serious about listening and responding to a customer complaint, and even if the concerned user doesn’t talk about how good you are, your actions are noticed by other consumers, and even show up in search results. Facebook is a great platform to empower “creator” consumers and to even conduct formal research.

Transactional vs. Enriching Experiences

Facebook content discussions in agencies often center on the need to “get into the user feeds”. A common tactic is to “Upload a picture of xyz and ask your friends to like it. The person with most likes wins something”. Firstly, this talks to a narrow pool of users who are more prize-driven than brand users. Secondly, when overused, it conditions users to engage only for a chance to win something.

Opportunity: Create an online user experience that brings your brand attributes to life. A brilliant example is Nike “Shred the Internet“.

Virtual Thinking vs. Integrating Real-World Experiences

Opportunity: Don’t think only Facebook, or only digital. Create a real-world experience that crosses the digital divide and turns full circle to create online buzz. When Heineken reached 1 million users, it sent out Heineken Huggers into the bars of Amsterdam to give anyone drinking a Heineken a hug. Again, a story that should get blogged, picked up by news media, and will generate brand conversations!

Abandoned or Poorly Integrated Social Media Assets

A global white goods brand launched a promotion in India with its corporate brand @company-india as the Twitter handle. Later, when an influential Twitter user complained about her customer service problem online, others ask her to address it to @company-india. But the campaign had ended, the agency had moved on, and the Twitter account was dormant. This occured when the global brand is winning kudos in the U.S. for customer service via social media.

Caution: Companies need to think twice before setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page just for a campaign, especially if the account name is a generic corporate brand name.

A few months back, a privately run bank that turned 25 ran a campaign “It’s gr8 to be 25”. While TV, print, and outdoor were prominent; digital was largely an SMS caption contest and a standalone microsite. The Facebook page has less than 300 fans and very little engagement. A Twitter account seems to have been launched recently as an afterthought. Meanwhile, its corporate Twitter account is “parked” with zero tweets.

Caution: Don’t add on a social media wish list for every campaign – blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Think through the content strategy and how they fit into the overall campaign.

Content That’s Contextual to Your Brand

As the Cricket World Cup fever catches up, I’m sure hundreds of Indian Facebook brand pages are talking about Sachin Tendulkar and the World Cup. The bank I mentioned above does. So does the retail brand in my first example; it’s latest update read “If not blue, which colour do you think would best suite (sic ) the Indian cricket team?” And it’s not even the official apparel merchandise sponsor. The Mumbai Indians fan page talks of Sachin, Malinga, and all things cricket, but it’s perfectly relevant to its community.

Caution: Don’t take the easy way out. Find a creative angle to connect your brand space to a popular topic, and if you can’t, then don’t be a me-too. Make sure your engagement is built around brand attributes and the space it occupies in the consumer’s lifestyle.

What are some of the faux social practices you’ve come across? And which are your favorite Facebook brand pages? I’d like to hear from you too!

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