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Personal connections trump affinity

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In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, players for both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants spent their days practicing, attending parties and concerts—and tweeting. “Morning world, another day to get better!!!” texted Giants wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan the Friday morning before the big game. “Almost at 100k followers, thanks for the support everyone,” tapped out Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch. The Giants edged out their rivals in the Twittersphere as well as the game, with 34 player accounts versus 29 for New England, according to Tweeting-Athletes.com. They join almost 1,300 other NFL pros, along with countless other athletes, entertainers, politicians and other public figures who have chosen to speak directly to their fans via social networks. These celebrities are shucking the press agents and middlemen who have long separated them from their fans, and they're finding the experience exhilarating. It turns out that famous people are just people after all, and the humanizing effect of social networks is bringing a new dimension to their fan relationships. “I was 1 of those people who was like twitter is stupid now I'm tweetin my a** off lol,” Denver Broncos cornerback Tony Carter told his 5,000 followers. What does this have to do with b-to-b marketing? Plenty. One of the distinctive characteristics of social networks is that they're about people. The personal connections they create are more powerful than any kind of brand affinity. While brands have their place on social networks, the services are rigged to favor humans. LinkedIn requires members to interact in groups as individuals. Facebook enables brands to participate in conversations, but only people can have profiles. The staff at Dell Inc.'s enterprise-oriented Tech Center discovered its Twitter community became energized once the experts discarded a branded identity in favor of individual profiles. Southwest Airlines has a popular Twitter account but also maintains a public list of 182 employees who tweet on their own. Some marketers will find this unnerving. Part of their job has always been to purge company communications of personality in the interest of staying “on message.” But it turns out that even mundane details of life—yes, including what people had for lunch—create the opportunity for human connections that transcend messaging. We are about to see a tidal wave of companies unleash the power of personal connections between their people and their markets. Sprint Nextel has designated nearly 2,000 employees as social media “ninjas” and imbued them with the knowledge and authority to engage with customers in whatever channels they choose. Its goal is to grow that number to 8,000. Marketers have long understood the value of media-training their executives. Imagine the potential of media-training the entire company.
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