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Why social media can really work for your brand

January 26, 2011

(updated below)

The currency all marketers are trying to deal in is believability. I’ve sat and listen to many, many people who think they have a “great product” that everyone would love, if only they heard about it. These people (lets call them engineers) think the best way to sell more product is to make it better. They aren’t entirely wrong.

The problem is, you still have to tell people about it. And that means marketing.

Super Bowl Sunday Crystal Ball
Image by circulating via Flickr

The other problem is, people don’t really believe or trust marketers.Think about it: that celebrity hawking the latest gadget, soft drink or fast-food joint is being paid. When the winning QB of the Super Bowl walks off the field saying he’s going to Disneyland, it isn’t because he loves Disneyland, it’s because he’s getting paid.

As consumers, we get that.

As marketers, we also get that. That’s one of reasons for using real people in ads. Testimonials are simply real people saying nice things about a brand. Look, the brand says, this person likes us. We’re not saying it. This real person is.

You can believe them.

Everyone agrees that word of mouth is the best form of marketing. That’s because believability is inherent in the conversation. If I tell my friend to try (or buy) a product, he knows I have no vested interest in suggesting the product, so he’s more-likely to give it a whirl.

Marketers get that too. The issue used to be scale. Sure, marketers can try to encourage word of mouth on a one-to-one basis. But the scale is so small that the effort doesn’t earn the results.

Then along comes social media. At the core, social media is platform for word of mouth. Okay, social media is many other things, but for marketers, social media is a platform for word-of-mouth. For consumers, it’s a platform to talk to each other about the shit they find interesting. All a marketer has to do, it says here, is insert themselves into that stream when they are talking about the right category.

Not so fat: social media is not about pitching. It is about getting people to pitch their friends.

That sounds callous and opportunistic. And maybe it is. But it is also really hard. Because to get people to pitch their friend, they have to trust the brand. And believe in it.

To do that, brands have to be relevant (being irrelevant is the very definition of SPAM). Additionally, brands need to offer value to the best customers, something that gives them an idea that there’s something in it for them.


Because more and more, people are aware they have a platform. I know that if I post about a product on this blog or on Twitter, then I’m reaching more people than when I talk in our lunchroom. I also happen to know that my personal brand is tied up in the things I recommend. If I tell you to try a website, or product or blog post and it sucks, then I’m associated with the suckiness which hurts my brand.

So if a marketer is going to ask people to talk about their shit, they should fully understand why their consumers might share something. Understand it, and perhaps the brand can create an incentive to promote the desired behavior.

Again, easier said than done.

Bottom line: Marketers seek to increase their amount of believability. Communities are an excellent source of believability. Create the right community, and create believability.

My guess: before Aaron Rodgers says he’s going to Disneyland, we’ll see a lot of ads during the Superbowl that tell us to see what real people are saying on or Twitter.

Because we believe that shit.

Update: this video demonstrates believability about as good as anything I’ve seen. The campaign was about real people. This response is to the inevitable doubt that the people are uber-real. (link)

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