The Social Shift
While many of us are “all in” on social media, there’s one thing lots of professionals have yet to recognize: Social media has created a fundamental shift in the relationships between companies, their brands, and their customers. The social brand has been set free.
Social media is a game-changer when it comes to branding and not just because of the possibilities it presents for marketers. What’s really compelling about the impact of social media on brands is not our ability to reach out, but the public’s ability to take what’s been given and run with it.
Think about the radical difference between a political dictatorship and a democracy. In the dictatorial state, all messaging and media is controlled by the government. The ruling party has tight-fisted reign over what its populace sees, hears and reads. Perceptions are shaped by the dictator, although the propaganda may not always be true.
Compare this with a democratic republic, where people are free to make and share their own messages. The government will still issue its own edits, trying to sway public opinion one way or another, but the people own the message, and they can vote for change on a regular basis.
When citizens under the thumb or a dictator have had enough, revolution happens. Radicals spread messages of hope and freedom, and passionate catalysts for change lead the charge to a free state.
The rise of social media has had this kind of radical effect on branding. In a sort of peaceful revolution, the growth of social media has heralded a change in control for brands, taking control of brand messaging away from corporate executives and placing it into the hands of the masses.
Branding in the New Era
This may seem like an extreme analogy, but it rings true. If you’re sitting in a corporate corner office, wondering how to regain control of your brand when the social media masses have attacked or hijacked it, you’ll surely feel the strain. You can fight it (which will likely be unsuccessful) or adapt to the new era.
For organizations that intend to harness social media as a tool to drive for business growth, this new reality means:
- You can attempt to manage opinions, but you must recognize that you no longer have full control.
- A company is now in the role of influencer, dependent on the public for support and validation of brand messages.
- Your brand is in the customer’s hands and they will accept or reject your positioning depending on how well it addresses their needs and beliefs.
Embracing this change to democratic branding is a critical success factor for effective use of social media in business. If you fight this concept and try to forcibly exert control, the likely response will be a strong and negative backlash from customers and social media users.
You Can’t Force the Message
Instead of trying to dictate every message, suppressing those who disagree, providing a compelling story your customers champion for you. When you hit the mark with honest and authentic messages, you can create an empowered community of social brand advocates can have a dramatic impact on the growth of an organization.
As in any free community, there will always (always) be those who disagree. That’s the beauty of freedom – everyone gets to have an opinion. Don’t sweat the “haters,” but focus on those for whom your brand message resonates. Bring them on board and help them spread the word.
While your brand is now free, this freedom comes with opportunity. Social media enables companies to extend the reach and impact of their sales, marketing, and operational strategies in new ways, giving a competitive edge to companies that embrace the change.
So love your brand, and set it free.