Grown-Up Social: How Brands Succeed Today

In early 2009, the agency I worked for got a new client with a new request. A candy brand was looking for help running their Facebook page. This was a new one for me, and really for all of us. Facebook, by that time, had opened up its system to anyone and everyone (not just students at particular schools) and a handful of brands had set up a presence. At least one of our current clients had a Facebook page, but they were updating it internally, generally putting up photos and updates from events they hosted.

But this was different. In fact, it was part of a larger strategy to demonstrate to a national grocery chain that there was real, grassroots support for this brand (it was seen as a bit old). The idea was to use Facebook to amass a large group of loyal fans who actively engaged with the product. Literally, the number of fans was to be placed on a slide, in a presentation to the grocery chain, to argue for placement on the shelves.

Today, that story has been played out thousands of times across lots of different companies, both agencies and clients. We’re no longer just focused on Facebook, either, but myriad different channels, all offering some particular bit of functionality that allows a brand to talk with its consumers and share content.

In those first days, I admit to being a bit confused about what to do to achieve our client’s goals. What do you say every day (or nearly every day, at least) as a brand? I knew how people used social media (to stay connected with each other) and I knew how publishers used social media (to provide updates and stories) and I knew how retailers used social media (to feature products and drive toward purchase). But I didn’t think that brands cleanly fit into any of those categories, at least not naturally.

After five years, though, I think we have figured a few things out. There are a few guidelines to how a brand should operate in social media. These are not rules, mind you. This space is still too nascent to have too many rules. But rather, there is a way of thinking about putting a brand on a social space like Facebook that can help to create the right kind of connection with your audience.

Facebook Posts Are Like Magazine Ads

Prepare your flame-mail responses telling me I am a dinosaur, stuck in an earlier era: Facebook posts are more like magazine advertisements than anything else. They are static (in that they don’t allow for any interaction with the post itself) and are designed to appear in the midst of the content the consumer is actually on Facebook to read.

Now, this is a realization that I like. It gives me direction. There is a deep school of thought on how to build print ads that work and a rich heritage to rely on. It involves a compelling visual and an intriguing headline (that relate to one another, very closely) and speaks to the consumer at a human level about a need or desire she has. If you want to create great Facebook posts, you should read “Ogilvy on Advertising,” a 30-year-old book.

Relevance Is Temporary and Fast-Moving

To be successful in reaching consumers with a message, you need to have both relevance and differentiation. Relevance is the degree to which your product fits into the consumer’s life; differentiation is how it is unique and (hopefully) better than any other solution. Relevance always has a time attached to it. For example, if you have a message about buying food, it is only relevant to a hungry person. If you advertise your new car to someone who just bought a car, you have no relevance.

Here’s the thing about social: relevance can come and go in a heartbeat. If you happen to have the opportunity to be relevant – that is, say something that relates both to your brand as well as to what is happening in the world – you need to take it. This is the lesson learned from the (now) famous Super Bowl Oreo tweet. The lights went out at the Super Bowl. They were only out for a short amount of time, and Oreo nailed it. A second after the lights went back on, that tweet would have been worthless. But, at the right moment, it was golden.

Posting Is the Beginning

When I said that Facebook posts are like print ads, I left off a really critical point: they are like print ads with the magical ability to engage with readers. In the distant past, we would put out print ads that asked people to do something, like tell us what they thought. The problem was that the only way people could tell us what they thought was by ripping out a coupon and sending it in or maybe calling a phone number. Now, of course, they simply type in what they think in the space conveniently provided, so everyone can see it.

So we have to start thinking about the things we post – which are really just ads – as invitations to engage. This is a point that bears repeating: in the new and social media space we are selling relationships as much as we are selling products.

That commitment is probably the biggest part of what we can call “grown-up social.” The relationships that we have as kids can be temporary and fleeting, focused on just a quick interaction. But the relationships we build as grown-ups, at least the valuable ones, are focused on the long term.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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