While brands still try hard to "crack the Social Media code," most seem to understand consumers no longer find the prospect of being friends with a brand more engaging than the single click it took to fan the brand page on Facebook. After all, what's so novel about the thought of a friendship with my butter? Precisely, nothing.
The impact of social media at the heart of new media is shaking up how brands think of experience design and what consumers expect from brand experiences.
Let's talk digital sociology. I'll quote three impactful points of view from Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. In his series called "The machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube and the politics of Authenticity," he describes the following (which I've roughly transcribed):
- "Media defines us while we define media."
- "We've shifted from media to mediated relationships."
- "Connections were the constraint, we now have connections without constraint."
How can these statements help us understand how to be better at building brand through social media and digital experiences in general? Here's a set of guiding principles to help you get beyond tactical earned media generation and enable you to create richer and more successful "social movements" around brands.
- You can shape the outcome, but can't prescribe it. Leave predictable outcomes behind. Successful social experiences all have one thing in common: They relinquish control. Bring your consumers closer to action and let them take over. When insights are scarce, leverage the good old reward method to get them to play, then watch them play. If your brand has risk and readiness constraints, consumer control is not a pipe dream. Make it a priority.
- From Communication to Connectivity. Your brand should no longer think of itself as an authority (even if it is one), but rather a facilitator or enabler. Its role is no longer to broadcast, but to connect. Understanding brand connectivity requires more than just digital listening and influence identification. Moving beyond single degree measures is crucial. Examining passions and motives within dynamic behavioral contexts is essential. Digital discovery (or anthropology) can help uncover motive "in action". Social media is an unbound source of insights, allowing limitless exploration of digital personas and their behavior. Your brand can engage and build connectivity through behavioral contexts it can associate with.
- Create mediated experiences. Focus on understanding the potential impact of various media interactions against consumer motives and apply that understanding to your experience strategy. Leverage YouTube as more than an outlet for brand video and search traffic. Instead, study how video sharing can promote the quality of the engagement and motives you seek to trigger. As you plan your experience, don't limit yourself… Define the media while giving it the opportunity to define you. Create experiences that are engaging but unconfined. Experiences that impose less constraint (or more connection) lead to a greater ability to mine insights from engagement. Branded widgets and social network applications can surely help amplify brand messaging but are really little more than evolved direct media. UGC campaigns with very prescriptive requests cannot allow you to measure much more than response rates.
- Listen to your experiences. Leverage digital listening to clearly understand how the media has shaped you. Extend your discovery efforts against your conversation to understand patterns of behavior, motives of engagement, audiences and other measures of how your brand is or can be more connective. Measure impact beyond response and conversion by putting your data to work across all sources to truly understand consumer behavior against key business metrics, both offline and online.
- Keep Shaping & Being Shaped. Whether looking to sustain successful initiatives or creating new ones, brands need to understand how to play in a fully dynamic context. Focus too much on the media itself and your efforts won't scale. Instead, focus on measuring and extending your "connectivity" step by step, creating a well balanced insights & experience machine.
While butter brands of the world now have their work cut out for them, I'm hoping they'll leverage Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or their own media as mere interaction vehicles while devoting their attention to understanding the essence of consumer engagement within the media. Only then can they design experiences that shape conversation, to then understand how those conversations have shaped their brand.
Nathaniel is head of Community Intelligence at Sapient Interactive. Part of a world class group of digital strategists, he works on groundbreaking social marketing approaches, platforms and offerings. Community Intelligence is all about creating marketing experiences that are focused on influence, harnessing its power across channels to trigger measurable digital engagement, action and communication. He's also a co-chair of the ARF Social Media Council. Follow him on Twitter: @mahumbaba.