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Social Media Needs to Get Back on Brand

February 5, 2014

One of the most interesting things about Super Bowl Sunday – beyond the game (not this year) and the ads (so-so) has become the ‘second screen’ experience. Brands have turned social media – especially Twitter – into the equivalent of a political campaign’s rapid response operation.

This has led to great, impromptu moments with true social currency – such as Oreo last year. This year featured a JC Penney plot to swerve the audience, which succeeded in getting a lot of buzz and prompted other brands to tweet directly at JCP. While opinions about JC Penney mitten-tweeting vary, one can’t deny the attention it created (for a fraction of the cost of a Super Bowl ad).

All of this has gotten me thinking about where our world is today in terms of social media – Finch Brands is a branding agency, yet social media strategy and management is an important service for us and our clients. We have been involved in managing client pages for four years or so (which, I guess, makes us middle aged) and we sort of lucked into it. We were working with two major retailers, neither of whom had felt comfortable enough to step a toe – as trusted authors of their brand strategies and voice, they asked us to take it on.

So here we are. We have learned by doing and also imported specific strength to make sure we are delivering not just brand-aligned content strategies and promotional vehicles, but are on the cutting edge of how best practices are changing (daily). Meanwhile, just about every company in our industry – from PR firms to web developers to traditional agencies – has added social media to their services set.

Yet as the consumer dialogue has changed, there’s reason to be concerned that social media is losing its potency as a brand communications mechanism – here are 3 suggestions to help get your social media program back on brand:

1. Great social media springs from a brand knowing itself – your team must ‘get’ the brandJust as the soul of a brand drives product development, advertising and all manner of go-to-market strategy, it must be the heart of social media. This has to do with content, but also voice and design. We see many pages that are trying so hard to be viral or ‘clickbait’ that there is obvious dissonance. Make sure those operating your pages are not just savvy technologists or clever writers – they must be steeped in the brand story and values, for they are entrusted to be its mouthpiece.

2. Social media is perhaps the best place to showcase brand depth and textureTo their credit, at least JC Penney was trying to draw attention to an important brand association with the US Olympic team. We see many social media programs that tie only loosely to the major things happening in a company or its most cherished values. Social media properties are often the best place to go into depth or behind the scenes (a commercial shoot, store opening, product development process, etc.) of what a brand believes and how it operates. Social media can make brands three-dimensional.

3. Social media is an engagement platform, first and foremost – the rules are different hereIf you don’t have the stomach for any negativity or if you see social as just another way to communicate in a top-down way or distribute coupons, don’t bother. Users won’t find value in only that. Some of the best social media properties create an equal footing brand dialogue with the consumer; others are used as a customer service triage mechanism or to surprise and delight those you catch ‘in the act’ of speaking about your brand. Only brands confident enough (or self-deprecating enough) to navigate these often-choppy waters should be focusing on social media.

The above are just a few thoughts. And I’d hasten to add that social media must reflect the brand, but it should also go farther – essentially, one’s social properties can accomplish a great deal, but must always wear the brand’s skin. That’s a topic for another day.

Those who like what JC Penney did will repeat the old adage that ‘all publicity is good publicity.’  Alas, what they don’t seem to realize is that not all publicity is equally good publicity and that most stunts are not long remembered unless they possess something deeper than ‘look at me’. Oreo was topical, but importantly, in alignment with brand values and personality, so it had a higher order connection. Put another way, it is easy to get attention but much harder to keep it.

Bill Gullan, President
Tweeting: @BillGullan

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