What motivates social interaction with brands?
Take away all the external incentives, such as coupons and sweepstakes, and the idiom for social communities could be, “It’s not what you say, it’s what you say about me.” As individuals, the choices we make in “liking” or “following” a brand on social channels become a direct reflection of our character. Every candy bar, every car, every magazine, every restaurant says something about us.
Brands, including publishers, are faced with understanding the more complex reasons behind why people will like, follow or pin a brand and its products and services. Is the goal to thank them? Is it because people want to help a brand succeed by spreading the word? Is it because people can’t wait to hear more about how they deliver great taste, whiter teeth, faster shipping, or whatever the brand’s unique selling proposition happens to be?
The answer to all of these questions is, in most cases, no. The truth is that for most people, their actions are more self-serving. We recognize or follow a brand on social channels because of what it says about us, not for some altruistic reason. We’ve all been there: “I’m about to ‘like’ Kingsford charcoal. My friends will see it. What does that say about me?”
The new motive for liking a brand
Brands have become one of the key tools people use to construct and maintain their sense of self. In today’s culture, consumers are an evolving puzzle of pieces that, together, paint a picture of who they are and what they believe. Brands are important pieces of that puzzle, and have become powerful cultural symbols we use to reinforce our own beliefs, values and worldviews.
There are a few companies that really bring this idea to life. Ben & Jerry’s is one of them. They have a sharp, witty attitude and an established and transparent belief system. As a result, Ben & Jerry’s has become a cultural phenom, often making mainstream news. They even appeared on a recent episode of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Ben & Jerry’s are also social activists – see their “Get the Dough out of Politics” campaign. So when somebody “likes” Ben & Jerry’s, they’re making a loud and clear statement about who they are and what they believe in.
Other brands with strong, cultural or value-based significance are TOMS, Subaru and Starbucks. Yet even less “platform driven” brands make a statement. Ford Motor Company, American Express, Martha Stewart Living, Hooters … they all say something about the person who follows them.
Recognizing cultural followers by delivering content
Understanding this motive is key to developing a successful content strategy across social channels. What a brand talks about and posts, the content and experiences it delivers, and the personality it promotes should take into account the larger motive behind the follower’s decision to “like” them.
Still, most marketers continue to use social as a means to extend the conversation about what they do, not why they do it. This is a missed opportunity – and it’s evident in the data and analytics readily available within these social channels. A recent report from eMarketer shows that brands are continuing to share too much promotional information within their social communities: while 61% of brand posts are promotional, these posts only receive 11% of consumer responses. In fact, the majority (69%) of user engagement with brands is with posts that do not specifically promote a product.
Here’s an example – Solo Cup. Yes, the red plastic cup we fill up at parties. Their Facebook page embodies the idea of posting on culture, not on product. Note, this is not a page for the company Solo; this is a page for Solo Cup. They realized people had an affinity for this product specifically, and Solo leveraged that. Rather than posting coupons, new product announcements and the obligatory backyard BBQ picture, they post lifestyle content. They created posters for people to search for, unique uses of Solo cups, Solo cup sightings and games. And their fans eat it up, posting pictures of themselves with Solo cups, giving product innovation suggestions and commenting on photos.
All of this emphasizes that companies need to understand their audience and deliver experiences that are reflective of their brand and the value it brings to a person’s life, particularly as it relates to their powerful social and online personas. By continuing to rethink social content strategies with this in mind, brands will begin to see that their social efforts are not just about marketing their products or services, but about branding their consumer community as well.
David Grzelak is EVP, brand planning and insight at Engauge, a full-service marketing agency for the digital and social age. The company has offices in Atlanta, Columbus, Orlando and Pittsburgh.
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