Big Brands' Journey Toward Social Business

B2C brands, because they have a history of engagement with mass markets, tend to be far ahead of B2B companies when it comes to social media. Lessons from Coca Cola and Bravo, who are leading the way among consumer brands in social media.

From what I can gather from sitting through the first day of Brian Solis's excellent PivotCon, is that brands are all over the map with regard to their use of social media in the service of business objectives.

B2C brands, because they have a history of engagement with mass markets, tend to be far ahead of B2B companies, which have a more difficult time developing a strategy around their business goals. Because B2B companies don't directly face the consumer, they thought they were safe from social. Now, they all agree that it's necessary to be engaged and adaptable in the social era—if for no other reason than to avert and manage crises.

Consumer brands Bravo and Coca Cola, which presented on the first day of the conference, go far beyond the mere use of social media tools. Both are on the journey toward becoming social businesses, because they actually co-create content with consumers. They have already learned that information flow isn't pushed out anymore, but is now "liquid and linked." Thus, their market research includes getting data on much more than what consumers drink or what they watch on TV. Research about the connected consumer looks at the entire range of behavior, establishing a complete picture or archetype, and then tries to design a holistic experience with which that particular consumer will want to engage..

For as long as I've watched it, Bravo has always been about driving conversations. Its programs are often reality-based and edgy, with the specific intention of creating buzz. But the network is always looking for ways to keep consumers engaged even between shows. For Bravo, Facebook is a good long term engagement platform, while Twitter is more useful for real time. They were an early partner with Foursquare, too, feeling that the risk of partnering with a startup was less than the upside value of being a first mover. Even failure would have been acceptable, because they would still be seen as an innovator.

One of the first companies to create blogs, Bravo has a social vision that starts at the top. But blogs were still pushing information out, rather than being truly interactive. "Social isn't anyone's job; it's everyone's job," said Ellen Stone, Bravo senior VP of marketing, who then admitted that " starting the conversation is easy. What's hard is the daily doing."

These brands have already discovered what early adopters know: to be successful as social businesses, they have to expand social roles outside of the marketing department to increase the range of available resources. We didn’t think so in the beginning, but now we know that social is resource-intensive and needs broad company participation. Many kinds of knowledge are necessary, and that knowledge must be available to customers in almost real time. No small department can handle that task for a global company.

One consequence is that every employee of a company like Bravo or Coca Cola now has to understand both the brand and the consumer. Until you know your brand voice as an employee, you can’t be social; it's too big a risk for the company if an employee becomes a loose cannon. New employees must get brand training.

For Coca Cola, brand training is even more critical, because there are no "in between seasons." Coke wants customers engaged with its brands every day. "We want to create as many on ramps as possible for the customer, and hopefully no off ramps. Our campaigns are never over," says Racquel Mason, assistant VP of marketing strategy at Coca Cola.

The takeaways from these two pioneering enterprise social strategists:

  • Be sure social is part of every group and not a separate department.
  • Social business has to be a company wide policy driven from the top down, and
  • Be clear about business objectives and your consumer insights and marry them.

[Image: Flickr user HannaPritchett]

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