Selfish Brands Are Failing Social Media's Promise

Brands Are Self-Centered: What Ever Happened to Listening to the Consumer?

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The emergence of social media carried the promise of a new social contract between brands and marketers. A contract based on more reciprocal one-to-one communications. But brands remained self-centered. Brands scheduled the communications. Brands pushed the same content to everyone, with the vast majority of content irrelevant to a consumer at any given time. Worst of all, brands talked mostly about themselves, and always expected consumers to come over to their place. Their place was often a poorly optimized web page or an inconsistently managed fan page. If social media is a relationship, it is a largely unsatisfying one.

This failure is redeemable. Marketers now have the ability to understand the intent behind communications in social media -- how a consumer actually feels about a particular product or a brand at a particular time. Yes, every conversation matters, especially from the perspective of customer care. Common sense suggests that if a more influential voice, a prominent blogger or a top customer posts about the brand, the brand should take extra care to listen.

However, we know that some conversations are even more valuable than others. If social media is to deliver on its promise, marketers must deliver ROI around what matters most to the brand, such as purchase intent and sales -- not likes and follows. In this hour, there are more than 1 million conversations happening domestically in which consumers are expressing intent to buy a new car. This intent ranges from research to purchase. These are the conversations that matter most to marketers.

As creative thinkers, we can generate better insights by better understanding where a consumer is in his or her relationship with the brand. Then, we can share different social experiences based on where a consumer is in the buying journey. Is a consumer browsing, researching or readying to buy? Consumers don't want a .gif file of an LOL cat at their moment of purchase decision, or a coupon when they are first learning about a new product. In short, marketers need to organize the social experience around the individual, not the brand, or even the community. As a result, marketers will be able to speak to consumers when and where they are emotionally engaged. This is the promise of social media: the right message, at the right time, in the right channel, through earned media.

Beyond redemption awaits fulfillment. Fulfillment begins by embracing the belief that social is a behavior, not just a set of channels. This behavior -- driven by the collective biological need of humans to share and socialize -- dominates purchase decisions today. This behavior is interconnected across social, search and email, the holy trinity of purchase decisions. Search begins most purchase decisions; social indexes highest in search; and social auto-sends email alerts. This is the bulk of the customer journey.

Before we called it social media, it was new media. It also included a promise -- the promise of the user controlling the media. Brands must realize that the consumer is already in charge by taking note of the following realities:

Consumers continue to trade privacy for utility. They are conditioned to looking at a pair of shoes on Zappos, then having shoe ads stalk them online. The success of this intent-based social marketing requires that the brand offer genuine utility and value in every engagement.

Timing is everything. Brands must balance community-focused efforts with marketing to individuals.

Location matters. Approximately 30% to 40% of intent-based conversations include geography, which is vital for creating local experiences, such as getting a consumer to a dealer or store.

Marketers must de-silo social marketing. Social media marketing was never meant to be its own discipline; it was meant to link together the entire customer journey. It cannot achieve its promise if organizations silo social media solely under reputation or engagement.

Consumers trust friends, and even strangers, more than brands. Brands must shift the focus of their social media marketing strategies from driving consumers to their own channels to reaching consumers where they are.

Consumers have had time to develop habits in regard to social media. They see themselves at the center of their experience online. We are at the end of the beginning, but change will be achieved only if marketers rediscover their appetite for invention.

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