The role brands will play within social media communities is still in flux.
Facebook is one of the first social media platforms to embrace brands outside the context of paid-advertising with the creation of Facebook’s Brand Pages. These Pages are effectively business profiles allowing brands to share content and have friends just like regular Facebook users.
At a breakfast I recently attended several spoke up over the brands as friends concept, believing it absurd that people would choose to become friends with a brand. They questioned what benefits a brand could really extract from being on a social platform and doubted whether brands can gain customer loyalty through social media. I tend to disagee.
Readers of this blog know that the role which brands play among my generation is something I take great interest in. Here in 2008 you have no business if you have a weak brand. The era of the internet has allowed businesses to essentially build brands with unprecedented speak using techniques like waitlists, hype and buzz.
Whereas a company or product in our parents’ generation might have spent a decade or more building earning its brand, now a brand’s reputation can be built or ruined over the course of a week.
Take for example the chart below showing the popularity of search terms for Ford (one of the strongest traditional American brands) compared to iPhone and the Nintendo Wii. Pretty amazing, right? At certain points both the Wii and iPhone have dwarfed one of the oldest and largest employers in America.
I have written before about the role brands play in consumer self-identity, especially for high-end consumer goods like Vineyard Vines or Louis Vuitton. Owning such items allows people to offer signal, credentialing or conferring social status.
If Patagonia stopped selling products, it would still be a major force in outdoor sports due to its non-profit and philanthropy work and rich history of sponsoring athletes. Good Magazine is another example. Its core product (a magazine) is solid, but where it truly differentiates, is in vocalizing its mission, sponsoring parties and events, and interacting with its core demographic. You get the feeling that if you wrote them, someone would respond.
As described before, many businesses will use brand reputation optimization to ensure that all its new offerings and products meet certain standards: from quality to price point to mission.
If I am truly to be friends with a brand, it should be mutual giving and receiving: I get something of value and I provide something of value in return. For example, I’d be interested in an arrangement where Patagonia pays for 6 months of access to the Wall Street Journal Online. In exchange, I include a Patagonia logo on all my emails for six months.
Facebook’s Beacon failed to provide a mutually beneficial relationship. Instead, what if when I made a purchase at Overstock, Overstock then gave me 5% off this order — if I’m willing to let it share the news of my purchase with my Facebook friends? That would be compelling!
Brands have a long way to go in order to win the right to be my friend online — but they have a lot to offer. Eventually someone will get this right.