Stop trying to control your brands Social Media

It is very easy to become neurotic over what is being said in social media forums about your brand. Relax.

The whole point of social media is to understand what the customer is saying about brands and life in general. Try to stifle the dialogue and your brand will be the lesser for it.

Embracing anarchy

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google said “The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had”. It is precisely this great experiment in democracy that is so invaluable.

No longer do marketing executives need to indulge in expensive and often fatally flawed focus groups to get insights into what people are thinking, feeling and how they are behaving. They just need to click onto the social media sites and forums and read. This is not fool’s gold. This is the real deal unencumbered by intermediaries with an agenda.

The power of word of mouth

Customers’ word of mouth has always played an important part in the development or decline of a brand. Hoteliers for one have discovered the power of customer advocacy through websites such as Trip Advisor which has en-powered customer opinion.

Fiat engaged customers through the web to help design the Cinquecento, and Comcast to improve their service. If you have a cable problem in the US, Comcast use Twitter to ask customers “Can I help”. When customers respond, Comcast send out their Field Support Teams to solve the problem.

Through this process of finding customers to help, Comcast develops a reputation for pro-activity in customer support, reinforced through relevant and timely interaction with customers in need. This experience produces a word of mouth endorsement that is another powerful dimension of social media.

Word of mouth sells

Indeed the experiential, word of mouth, advocacy is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions according to McKinsey: “Its influence is greatest when consumers are buying a product for the first time or when products are relatively expensive, factors that tend to make people conduct more research, seek more opinions and deliberate longer than they otherwise would.

And its influence will probably grow: the digital revolution has amplified and accelerated its reach to the point where word of mouth is no longer an act of intimate, one-on-one communication. Today, it also operates on a one-to-many basis: product reviews are posted online and opinions disseminated through social networks. Some customers even create Web sites or blogs to praise or punish brands.”

Adjusting to a new paradigm

Marketing professionals need to adjust to this new customer democracy. It will take the savvy marketer on a wild and exciting journey that is more far complex than conventional channels of communication where dialogue was absent or paid lip service to. It is a journey where the marketer can win friends and just as easily lose friends. In many cases the marketing effort must change: from less focus on brand advertising at the initial consideration phase to developing internet properties that help customers gain a better understanding of the brand when they actively evaluate it.

This may mean that a process change is necessary from pushing a brand message onto customers, to providing information, support, and experience of the brand (even if just a virtual one) that engages the customer in a dialogue so that they can make their decisions based upon their authentic experience or that of others.

This is the power of social media’s free speech and experience exchange. Embrace it and learn to let its freedom to express an opinion help to sustain and develop your brand.

Garry Titterton , Intelligent Positioning, April 2010