From 'Me First' to 'We First': Five Tips for Social-Media Marketing

Your Brand Must Become a Celebrant, not a Celebrity

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The effects of social media on marketing and branding have caught many CMOs off guard. Just five years ago, it was conventional wisdom that social media would quickly peak and fade in importance. Then two years ago, CMOs found themselves scrambling to launch Facebook fan pages and Twitter streams, trying to catch up with consumers who appeared to be migrating in droves to social networks and smartphones.

While the 30-second TV spot has held its own, the evolution of social media marches on. It continues to grow, and is entering its third stage of evolution. It is now becoming the focal point for consumers and citizens to form strong links and communities centered around shared values and common goals to persuade corporations to participate in building a better world. A few brands have caught on with cause-conscious marketing initiatives like the Pepsi Refresh Project, Starbucks' Shared Planet, Walmart's Sustainability Index, Nike 's Livestrong partnership, and Procter & Gamble's "Clean Water Blogivation" effort, to name but a few.

Social media represents a significant and permanent change that CMOs must embrace. Disingenuous efforts to fast track your social-media footprint simply by stockpiling "fans" will not only prove ineffective but will backfire. Savvy social-media customers know when there is no authentic commitment to engage with them.

The key today is CMOs must shift their strategies from trumpeting their brand as the "celebrity" (with all attention directed inward on themselves) to being the chief celebrant of their customers' community. This shift entails rethinking many fundamental elements of your marketing strategy. Here is a step-by -step strategy for brands to build customer engagement by leveraging the evolving tools of social media.

1. Define Your Core Values. Rethink how you want to define (or redefine) your brand. What are its core values? Its purpose? The answers should not be framed in terms of admirable but empty promises, but authentically humanistic values that are constructive and shareable within your brand community.

2. Get Leadership Buy-in. As CMO, you need to facilitate the adoption of these values throughout the company. It starts with getting buy-in from your CEO, and must extend down through the leadership and management ranks. You cannot let the inertia of the hierarchical organization become a stumbling block.

3. Align Employees Around the Values and Purpose. Your employee base is your first line of loyalty and word-of -mouth advertising for the brand, so you need to ensure that your brand's support for social cause resonates with them. A powerful way to do this is to invite the CEO to craft a video message or contribute to a blog especially for employees. Also, promote employee volunteer activities and celebrate the good works they do on their own time within the company culture.

4. Celebrate Your Customers, Not Your Brand. This step is one of the hardest for CMOs who have built their success on traditional broadcast thinking. It involves transitioning from a push to a pull strategy, from "me first" to "we first" thinking. One of the key shifts here is to share the brand's storytelling with your customers. You must invite them to co-author the stories your brand is telling and allow them to be partners in the distribution of content about your brand. The guiding principles of a pull strategy are as follows:

  • Recognize that your story is now your community's story.
  • Lead with listening rather than talking about your own brand.
  • Start treating customers as living, breathing people with concerns about the world.
  • Invest time and energy in building relationships as well as making profits.
  • Expand from a sales focus into a service mentality.
  • Become a day trader in social emotion by constantly monitoring your brand's reputation.
5. Focus customer service on engagement. Be mindful of the social footprint of your customers and see them as partners in disseminating your values rather than as purchasers of your products.

Taking these steps may feel uncomfortable at first, as they probably go against the grain of existing business models, profit centers and incentive schemes. But they are reflective of the new marketplace of customers that gravitate to social media at every chance they can to talk about their brand choices. Your goal is to authentically inspire your customers to become emotionally invested in the company's success not only because they love your brand but because they respect your values and purpose.

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a social-branding consultancy that helps companies, non-profits and consumer groups build a better world through changes to the practice of capitalism, branding, and consumerism using social technology. He is the author of a new book, We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World. Simon blogs at and tweets @simonmainwaring.
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