being “on social media” vs. “being social”: what makes fans get social with a brand?

I’ve encountered so many people in my career that absolutely hate this word and the action that goes with it – REPORTING. I happen to love it. I love reports. I love doing reports, I love crunching numbers until my head hurts. I love working in Excel so hard that when I look away at a wall, I swear there are Excel lines overlaying my life.

Besides answering valuable questions about your own work and whether or not you are moving “forward” or simply “standing still”, comparing reports (in my instance, across multiple clients) helps you find trends that extend beyond a client’s own industry. It helps make inferences not only about the state of “natural products” or “healthy snacking” or “non-profits”, but about the state of social media itself. Reporting helps to generalize, and generalizations help generate new ideas, new ways of doing things, and new ways to adapt to the ever-changing and progressive world we now live in where technology can change things in the same time it takes you to blink an eye.

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November 2015 makes the 18-month mark I’ve been working with influencers and product seeding to help drive brand buzz. I can confidently say that the question that companies need to be asking themselves is no longer “Is my brand on social media?” rather the question is “Is my brand SOCIAL?”

 

So, what changed?

  • The way people interact with content is changing. We shifted from a simple “I like this, so let me tell the company”, to “This is who I am. Let me share.” The popular term for this is “share-culture”. People now use brand content to reinforce their own identities through sharing. Brands are badges that people want to wear proudly. Better yet – people know new companies pop-up everyday, they WANT to discover them.
  • After purchasing a product or while deciding to purchase a product, consumers now also ask the question, is this a brand worth sharing? Does it scream “me”, even if I don’t actually need it? 
  • People stopped measuring a brand’s “worthiness” on the quality of its content. While content can make for some compelling buzz, people are now less concerned with what content is developed from a brand – and now more concerned about what other people are saying about your brand. Content is no longer the connection being brand and consumer – content is the “conversation” piece between a network of people.
  • Instagram  has an algorithm – didn’t you know? I’ve tested this theory on 3 occasions by interacting, tagging and #hashtagging popular brands like Alex &  Ani, Tentree and The Vitamin Shoppe. When a big brand likes your photo, it becomes more popular, gets pushed to more “Discover Pages” and brings with it a bunch of engagement and new followers. People looking to establish themselves on social media look to work with big brands for the added benefit it has on their own engagement and follower count.

What does this mean for brands?

  • We go back to the oldest but strongest form of marketing – word of mouth. It’s not enough to JUST concentrate on developing content anymore to engage with fans. Word-of-mouth recommendations are now taking place online, and instead of reaching only the 10 closest friends of the consumer, they can now reach hundreds to thousands at a time. The power of the Internet!
  • Marketers now have another tool and angle to take when it comes to driving brand awareness, and that is to answer the question – is this brand worth sharing? If not, can I make it so? Flipping through 18 months of Instagram comments (and personally falling victim to it) I can confidently say that people will choose to purchase a product JUST TO SHARE IT.
  • You can post a piece of your own content once a day, every day, but that doesn’t make your brand social. You can get a lot of likes on a post, but that also, doesn’t make your brand social. What makes a brand social is whether or not it comes up in conversation – offline and online.

How can brands do it?

  • Connect on a human-to-human level. It’s not enough to be talking about quality, usefulness, unique-ness, and what’s different than the competition. Getting human means pulling stories that you may not even think would sell a product – but that people can relate to. General Electric can get 197k people interested in something as simple as electricity by thinking outside the box to appeal to human interest – if they can do it, so can you.
  • Get people talking about your brand and making posting about your brand “just a thing you do.” People will get social with your brand, if they see other people being social with your brand. I’ve always started this through influencer seeding and without fail now, each time we’ve seeded product, the conversation and posts being generated by the everyday consumer via social media grew. It’s what I find most fascinating about working with influencers. It’s not just a single hit that is one-and-done, it literally “SPARKS” brand momentum. People desperately want to be a part of something bigger than themselves – if they see others excited to interact with your brand, loving your brand, chances are they will try your brand, and they will share your brand (and there’s your word of mouth marketing, 101.) So make sure you share what other people are saying in the most authentic way possible!
  • Ingrain storytelling and social media in your company. Some great companies are engaging on social because their employees are engaging via social. They lead by example. If your employees are proud to represent your company well and they talk about it, the chances are – so will the consumers who see that content and follow that example. It makes your brand more social, it gives your consumers more humans to connect to, more stories to hear, and more recognition. Make storytelling part of your content strategy, but also part of your business.
  • Use conversation to inform content development. What are people talking about and how do you join? Even in human-to-human interaction the brand doesn’t always need to be the one to start the conversation – good brands know how to join conversations already happening and strike a balance between pushing content out and pulling content in.

But most importantly, brands need to…..BE SOCIAL! Use “social cues” and act politely online the same way you would in a friend-to-friend conversation –know when to talk, and when to listen. And don’t always try to be the center of attention. Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about the ideas you represent.