Do global brands really care about social media?

16 June 2010

I was always intrigued by how active my Italian friends are on Facebook and now I understand from the Nielsen blog  that Italians are some of the heaviest users of social networking sites, alongside the US, averaging six and a half hours. Apparently we’re spending 66% more time on these sites than a year ago, whereas Japan trails in last places spending on average just over half and hour, proving that when thinking global we still have to “act local” when implementing any strategy.

For those companies trying to figure out how to develop their social media strategy it’s important that you’ve first thrashed out your brand values and who your target customers are before creating any social networks. As Fresh Networks have identified in their recent blog  there are some surprising results as to which UK companies are attracting the most social network followers. Who would have thought that the Tate would have the highest number of Twitter followers but when you think about the number of memorable offline and online events they have created, is the task any different to creating a strong affinity to your brand? However the value is not in the number of followers but in the quality of the interaction.

I listened to the branding and design expert Nick Talbot from Seymourpowell at the Institute of Travel and Tourism conference last week speaking about commitment, enjoyment, belonging, pride, desire, excitement, compassion and authenticity which are all states that many brands aim to engender with their target customers. Social media is just one channel in which to achieve this together with all the other complementary channels such as direct mail, your marketing campaigns, press promotions, competitions, events, games and other mechanics that help to deliver the right brand experience.

The key difference with social media is the transparency of that customer experience and it’s whether you are happy for your dirty linen to be washed in public when things don’t quite go to plan and you make a service recovery in full view of the world. It’s about training up your people to respond in a way consistent with the brand values and that’s a tough call when you don’t know what situation will be thrown at you e.g. volcanic ash or an oil spill. Luckily a board member was sitting on the Virgin Atlantic flight recently and was able to recover a situation which was about to go pear shaped with their inaugural flight from Ghana. However how many times do board members moderate conversations in social networks? BP executives could start to use social networks to run some open forums to invite constructive conversations on solutions to the oil spill issues as they unfold in the Gulf of Mexico. I visited and found a Bryan Pendleton “grad student, tinkerer, hacker, husband and father” with a few Twitter sympathisers who reckon it sucks to be Bryan Pendleton. Maybe global brands don’t care about social media yet

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