Must communicators and marketers consider social media in their brand strategy?

A while back, I took the time to put together my own taxonomy of social media and I blogged about it here at philanthrophile.  (To go straight to the taxonomy chart, click here to see it on SlideShare.)

Behind my little intellectual exercise were a couple of burning questions:

  • First, what makes something social?” Sure, Facebook and Twitter are social media, but strangers and friends also engage around other kinds of media.  Photo sharing sites/services, for example.  Are they social?
  • Secondly, what difference does it make?  Must a marketer or communicator incorporate social media to effectively disseminate and support a product or company brand?

Conclusion number one:  Many kinds of channels and applications meet the definition of social media (see definition below).

Conclusion number two:  Social media is becoming a requisite for brand-building, brand-protection (if such a thing exists anymore) and support.

Social media have the following characteristics:

  • They allow users to generate their own content – whether it’s photos, videos, posts or comments
  • They encourage people to reveal something about themselves in the form of a profile.  While organizations have a presence on many social media platforms, there’s something nice about knowing who the real person is who’s blogging or posting (and many platforms have a means of identifying and supporting multiple authors under one account)
  • They usually have privacy filters.  We can choose to make everything we say or post open to everyone, or limit who sees what.
  • They often have a “chime in” characteristic; they can “like” it, Digg it, re-tweet it (RT), “hat-tip” HT, etc.  They have many ways of jumping in and echoing or adding to the dialogue.
  • They are often accessed through more than one form of electronic gadget.  They may be viewed or engaged with on a computer or mobile phone platform.

So what?  A company or product has a brand whether it is managed or not.  It can be a compelling brand that increases someone’s desire to engage, or not.  Brand affects performance.  If people trust you, it will influence their willingness to make choices that give them access to your product or service.  Or even, to become employed by you.

Communicators and marketers need to engage with people where they are active and interested, in ways that appeal to them, especially in a time-challenged society (which almost seems counter-intuitive when you think about how much time is being spent on social media).  People want to engage where it feels good, where they find friends or like-minded peers.  While it may seem that many people are expanding their sources of information through social media, they may in fact be shrinking it.  The other day, I was asked to complete a survey if I listened to radio at least 30 minutes a week.  I couldn’t participate because I don’t listen to radio.

Social media may not be the best way to communicate one’s brand message.  It may not be the most efficient.

As audiences splinter, more of the relationship between the “target market” and the company will develop in social media neighborhoods.

I can’t imagine a scenario in which a company or product doesn’t need to worry about understanding social media, and finding a way to engage.  The tougher question is not whether an organization needs to engage, but how.

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