I recently had the opportunity to examine some cases of companies that did, and did not utilize social media as a part of their branding and communication strategies. Social media has a variety of powerful uses for an organization, some of these I have discussed here on my blog. However, one use, commonly overlooked by many organizations, is the customer-brand relationship strategy.
The fact that many firms overlook the ability to build their customer brand relationship through social media (in fact I would argue social media is the easiest way to do so) is definitely unfortunate. Companies spend millions in advertising and branding in non-conversational channels to build brand, but customer brand relationship is unique in some ways to our classic view of “branding”. The most obvious way being that it is a two way tactic.
Customer brand relationship takes two most common forms, both of which have power and purpose, but they apply to products in different markets and times. These forms include Loyalty / Intimacy and the other is Passion. Loyalty / intimacy requires a great deal of interaction, but investment in this strategy means that a brand becomes more protected from severe reputation swings or damage in the face of a disaster. The passion relationship is known to drive interest and buzz, but tends to lend less credibility and trust to the brand.
Building out a social media strategy that accomplishes one of these relationships with your target consumers is complex and requires dedication. I would recommend doing research to see how other brands have accomplished the task (see a case study on how Commonwealth Edison did it a few years ago). I can assure you, taking the approach of simply sharing neat things, will not get you there. It is surprising how many firms have yet to realize that there is so much more value that can be pulled from social media than driving people to one of your blog posts or pretty picture (see Home Depot’s Twitter account).
How much is investment in something like this worth? I would say, quite a bit for sure. Organizations spend a great deal of time and money on risk management, crisis management and reputation management. A dedication to building a consumer brand relationship of loyalty / intimacy gives you a foothold on each of those, and if your network is large enough, and your strategy is targeted, your brand becomes far more protected in a time of crisis. Take a look at the Nestle – Greenpeace, Palm Oil case. Had Nestle taken this seriously, and taken Greenpeace’s social network capabilities seriously, they would have avoided significant brand damage from the occurrence.
So my recommendation here is this, determine which consumer brand relationship your company, product or service would benefit most from, then research how to achieve this relationship and then create the strategy to make it happen. Far too many companies still overlook social media’s true potential. In this case, it is brand protection, risk management and reputation management, all wrapped up together.