The value of social media lies not in what your brand in saying, but in what
other people aresaying about your brand
No one really cares about your brand’s last status update. Your followers
probably didn’t read your Tweet.
At least, they weren’t that bothered until one of their friends
‘liked’ your status update and it appeared in their newsfeed. Or retweeted it
and sent it to their own followers’ streams. In other words, what you have to
say about your brand is often more valuable coming from someone else than from
Mark Zuckerberg was quoted this week as saying that a trusted
referral is the ‘holy grail’ of advertising. It comes in the wake of a $10m
settlement for a lawsuit against Facebook’s right to feature user’s names to
endorse a brand you may have once liked or shared.
Despite a vociferous privacy backlash, these ‘sponsored
stories’ are up to three times more effective than a standard Facebook ad,
according to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Once, word-of-mouth meant a casual mention over a coffee or an
impassioned blog post. These days it’s an inadvertent affiliation of a name with
a brand – achieved via a simple click of a ‘like’ button, a comment, or a
As the Facebook settlement has shown, social media users have
proved that they can’t be duped into having their name exploited for commercial
purposes. They want – and deserve – the right to control how their name is used.
So, how do you get people naturally talking about your brand
and sharing on your behalf?
It’s all about content. If you’re posting about a great offer
or something funny that happened at your office summer party, chances are you’re
not going to get much engagement from fans. Nor is social media a sales channel
purely for pushing products.
Instead, find and create content that your audience will find
interesting, novel or funny (depending on your brand’s values) and are therefore
more like to share. Innocent Drinks is a pro at this, posting frivolous and
occasionally outlandish content that is novel enough to disrupt the banality of
their fans’ newsfeeds. (Recently they ran a sequence of comic-book style posts
in which the next frame of a story was determined by comments on the previous.
Fans were even working Innocent products into their answers.) It works, because
that’s who Innocent is: frivolous and occasionally outlandish.
Social media 101 presumes you already know what people are
saying about your brand from a customer service perspective. But to gain your
audience’s trust and to make them more likely to talk about your brand in
general, you need to know what they’re saying about everything else. What does
your audience like? What are they doing when they’re not ‘liking’ your status
update? Join conversations that people are already having.
This does not mean you should jump on every bandwagon and
start hijacking hashtags. Be selective, be appropriate. If you’re in travel, are
you watching and commenting throughout the right travel shows? If you have an
affiliation with sport, are you Tweeting throughout a game?
Social media, like friendship, is a two-way deal. Half a
social media manager’s job is listening: your home feed is one of your most
important tools. And if people feel like you get them, they will vocalise
Another way to encourage people to share is to start
conversations that people want to be involved in. Create conversations that
people want to contribute to and it’s likely that their friends want to join in
too. Ask questions, elicit opinions.
‘How is everybody doing today?’ is not a conversation starter.
‘Marmite crepes?’ is.
Not only is this a great way to build your brand’s visibility,
but it’s also a tool to get to know your audience. Never before have marketers
had such an open forum of opinions and questions. Take advantage of this; you’ll
get more honest answers than any focus group. And you don’t even need to provide
Lastly, it’s important to remember that your audience is
likely to be more socially savvy than you are – they have the power to control
conversations and express their thoughts – good and bad – to an unquantifiable
crowd. And they have a secret weapon – they’re probably in bed with your
In this sense, you need to exercise respect. Social media has
changed the brand-customer dynamic: remember, they’re no longer your customers.
They’re your friends.