It’s not hard to see why corporate brand marketers salivate at the thought of infiltrating the social networking space.
Sure it represents the greatest ‘audience opportunity’ of our times, but it could just as easily end up being a big waste of time, energy and focus.
Should corporate brand marketers step back from the brink and ask themselves whether they are genuinely equipped to take advantage of social networking, and more importantly, if the audience really wants what they are thinking of offering?
There’s a graveyard of corporate brand campaign non-events in the social space.
Forrester’s Best And Worst Of Social Network Marketing, 2008 report critically analysed and reviewed the social marketing activities of 16 firms in four industries: automotive, media, technology and consumer products.
Only one received a passing grade, and half of the firms scored a zero or lower.
A study of Fortune’s 2009 list of the top 100 CEOs showed a miserable level of engagement in social media. Only two have Twitter accounts, 13 have LinkedIn profiles, and of those only three have more than 10 connections.
Not one Fortune 100 CEO has a blog.
For a vastly different outcome, compare this with Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, who upon having his new time trial bike stolen from a team truck alerted his 140,000 Twitter followers. A Facebook group called ‘1 Million Citizens Looking for Lance Armstrong’s Stolen Bike’ was also created.
Four days later police in Sacramento, California took receipt of the Trek bicycle and admitted that the online campaigns made life difficult for the thieves.
Then there’s the success of the Obama campaign and more recently the demonstrations and rioting in Tehran’s Freedom Square following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lopsided election victory, brought to the world in real time through social-media networks and online video.
All are campaigns any corporate marketer would kill to put on their CV.
Social networks – none more than Facebook and Twitter – engage the cult of personality. You are measured by the number of friends or followers. Yet they are also an intriguing dichotomy.
On one hand they are a stage for the extrovert and intensely communal. On the other they can provide instant hermitage (by simply going offline) and impersonality.
Research on 8-12 year olds shows a significant number prefer to communicate online or mobile instead of in person, even if the friend is sitting next to them. How realistic is it to genuinely ‘follow’ 20 people on Twitter, unless of course it gets you more ‘followers’?
What does it say about the audience when Facebook advertisers are dominated by the lowest common denominators of ‘ego enhancing’ products: weight loss, internet dating, Viagra and so on.
Without a doubt, social networks are complex systems, but certainly they are more about the company you keep than the company you buy from.
How do corporate brands make it work in the social space?
Tourism Queensland and Hamilton Island’s ‘Best job in the world‘ was certainly successful, but it was founded on a solid concept rather than being reliant on a social networking channel. Many of the most successful are the facilitators rather than creators of content.
There’s the iPhone and other ‘socially-focused’ phones, that a simple shake can refresh your Facebook status. But just being a facilitator won’t satisfy or even make sense to many corporate marketers. I’m not suggesting that you put your head in the sand, but recognise social networks for what they are, and what they are not.
I have likened corporate brands tackling social networking to sitting on a surfboard just outside the break, watching and waiting for the perfect wave to catch.
If you start paddling too early (and jump onto a social network before it blossoms) you risk wasting energy for a wave that never eventuates. If you start paddling too late (and want to instantly dominate on Facebook) you might find the wave simply rides on by before you have a chance to catch it.
Making the most of social networking from a brand perspective requires knowledge of trends and patterns and a willingness to take a risk and paddle early with a wave/network that might or might not turn into a tsunami.
The only other alternative is to surf on those beginner beaches where the waves are regular but there are plenty of people competing for them. Most importantly, remember it’s called ‘Social Networking” for a reason – because it’s about people not brands.
Nigel Malone is a freelance brand strategist and writer, with particular expertise in the fields of tourism, finance, technology, sustainability and social change. Find out more at www.icycalm.biz