Look at Your Social Media. You're Seeing the Future of Your Brand

Forget Backward-Looking Metrics -- the 'Right Now' Is Your Crystal Ball

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Glenn Engler
Glenn Engler
By now, every organization is at least aware of social media and probably has a LinkedIn group, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter handle, among other things. Some are also using various listening tools to follow conversations online and even respond to so at least they appear as if they’re engaged with what’s happening with their consumers. But what most still don’t realize is that what they’re seeing, reading and hearing is actually a look into the future for their brand.

It’s a revolutionary concept for organizations set up and trained to focus on backward-looking sales or brand funnel metrics -- data that is three to six months old. But every event that impacts a brand happens somewhere at some time. Today you can actually watch a meme start, gain steam and explode, or die, all in real-time.

Take a high-profile event, mix in some conversation and growing chatter, watch the organization ignore or mishandle a few responses, add more voices and conversations over several weeks, and you can be certain that future brand health reports will show a drop. What’s happening right now in social media is a leading indicator of a brand’s health over the next six to 12 months; the good news is brands can impact outcomes, if they do it the right way.

Look at Citi’s marks in the recently released Interbrand Top-100 study. The March-August 2010 timeframe was not kind: policy changes ($60 fee for inactive accounts; potential of seven-day advance notice before withdrawals) were met with outrage and countless blog posts in North America. Then a Citi-branded card titled “What women do to sabotage their careers” was made public and broadly shared in social circles, causing an additional uproar. Interbrand’s take? A 13% drop in brand value.

Toyota is the obvious poster-child for this phenomenon, in part because its brand health was so robust before their recent debacle. Take early rumors of acceleration issues, zero corporate response, increased voices/blogging/complaints, recall announcements leaked from other countries and then leaked internal emails. Over 8 million recalls later and millions of conversations, Toyota’s brand health had a 16% drop according to Interbrand. Those “voices” are a leading indicator of brand health and Toyota suffered the consequence of ignoring them.

Some other examples to watch:

Groupon burst onto the scene as the hot business model. Success drives competition, jealousy and a spotlight. Turning down a $6 billion offer from Google fueled discussions. LivingSocial stole some thunder with its Amazon partnership. Then the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Groupon’s Super Bowl spot led to waffling between support and blame of their own leadership and agency. Add another issue around Valentine’s Day and you have all the combustible components. I predict a brand health drop.

Nokia? Start with several customer-service complaints, and a growing volume of discussions around design and functionality shortcomings in its smartphones. Add in a last place JD Power ranking, 24/7 Wall Street ranking Nokia one of the 15 most-hated companies and then a cynical response to the recently announced partnership with Microsoft -- you can bet brand health will be lower in six months than today.

Finally, take your pick between Microsoft and Yahoo. The former gets clobbered for the way it has responded to Google’s search “sting,” plus continued issues around its mobile platform (see Nokia), dwarfing any uptick from Kinect. Yahoo? Consistent missteps and organizational changes, plus fast erosion in core content areas (jobs, personals, real estate) and email. Should we take bets on where brand health is headed in the next six to 12 months?

Then there’s Best Buy. Barry Judge, chief marketing officer, has been a leader in the space and the organization continues to innovate -- from Blue Shirt Nation to IdeaX to TwelpForce. And when their CEO, Brian Dunn, talks openly about the monitor in his office showing the social activity of their brand, it’s clear to Best Buy that social is more than conversation -- it’s a critical piece in how the executive team runs the business, and that’s reflected in the health of the brand.

CMOs need to make sure their organizations are engaging aggressively and participating actively social media to create value for their customers, prospects, and partners to drive their brand . Waiting until those quarterly, rearview-looking brand-health studies come off the printing presses just won’t cut it anymore.

Glenn Engler is CEO of Digital Influence Group, a Boston-based digital agency with social at its core.
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