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We don’t talk about brands online — so what are we talking about?

Social media is not about brands. It’s throwaway headlines like that which make brands and businesses — especially SMEs — shy away from social media and from entering into a conversation with their potential clients online. At first glance this reinforces a marketing manager’s preconceived notion that no good can come from his brand engaging online, but what is the truth behind this kind of sentiment?

Offline discovery still works
Brands are still largely being discovered offline — this is through word of mouth as well as radio, TV, print and billboards. In a US survey by eMarketer, 30.1% of respondents said that they have heard about new brands, products and services from these offline sources, as opposed to the 6.5% who had first heard about them via their social media platforms.

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This points to the fact that offline brand discovery is still a very trusted way to engage with new products and services. Generally speaking, humans still like hearing first-hand accounts of people who we know well in person and whom we can trust — this accounts for the large percentage of word of mouth referrals.

The offline media percentage shows that this form of marketing is far from dead. Brands are having to be far smarter with how and where they position their ads to ensure that they are cutting through the clutter of all the other offline advertisers. Arguably the best offline ads are the ones that encourage their audience to move to an online platform and further engage and interact with the brand, product or service.

So what are we talking about in social media?
According to the same eMarketer survey; 57.8% of the US respondents said that they have never mentioned a brand in their Facebook status or in a tweet; while a far smaller section (25.3%) said that they have mentioned brands in only a positive light, as opposed to 0.5% saying that they have only ever mentioned a brand negatively.

When we look at some of the major brands online, the ones who do have a large social media following, do not necessarily mention the brand directly. It’s more about experiences associated with the brand.

For example, looking at the Coca Cola Facebook page; the top 25 posts had only a few mentions of the brand’s name. Most were referring to an experience around the brand.

This is where the real power lies and it is something that a few major brands are beginning to pick up on. The power of your brand online is in tackling people’s experiences. Products and services are a commodity — in theory anyone can do what you do — it is the experience that is the differentiator.

While many brands are taking advantage of social media and are driving conversation by asking questions of their followers and baiting them for responses; the conversation is still being driven from the brand’s point of view — which makes the experience seem contrived and controlled by the brand.

Learn from this and influence your users’ experience for the better – this will kick-start user engagement online and get your brand spoken about without you having to bait the conversation.

There are a few things that brands need to keep top of mind when engaging with social:

  1. Keep the experience top of mind — your audience is not as engaged with your brand as you are — they are far more interested in the experience they will have with it.
  2. Find the social influencers within your specific industry and ensure that you are well positioned to “use” them to the benefit of your brand.
  3. Don’t try and sell.
  4. Engage in conversations that are already happening in your industry or sector. Don’t always think that you have to start a conversation. Some of the best brand interaction can come from a conversation you didn’t start.
  5. Don’t forget about LinkedIn. The groups on LinkedIn are excellent sources of information and can act as gateways to other social networks where your audience is conversing. This is arguably a real B2B action point but, depending on your market, you can still find your target audience here!

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