There’s no denying the fact that social media has revolutionized the way brands and businesses communicate with their customers. To see evidence of this, think about the language we use to describe the business-to-consumer interaction. We’ve gone from transactions to relationships. What was once an advertisement is now a conversation. Marketers and ad people use words like personality, culture, and dialogue. As weird as it sounds, the rise of social media has led brands and businesses to act, think, and speak like people.
We are, of course, still in the early days of this shift, and there are many mistakes and missteps being made as brands navigate this new territory of acting more human. However, there are some important lessons we can learn in terms of how brands and businesses present themselves to the public on the social web.
One important lesson is that consumers have unprecedented power in this relationship, and they know it. The average user on Facebook has over 250 friends with whom they can share details of the relationship and experience they’ve had with a business, both good and bad. Companies like McDonalds and United Airlines have felt the sting of social media, as a result of both online and real-world interactions.
This shift in power between brands and consumers has led some brands to become more transparent, others to become more guarded. Gary Vaynerchuk’s 2011 book The Thank You Economy is a good primer on this phenomenon.
Another lesson is that video is playing a huge role in communication on social media. While video doesn’t have the immediacy of a tweet or a post, it does act as a great catalyst to getting dialogue going. It is also giving businesses and brands a face, a voice, and the ability to stir emotions (again, human qualities). And while video and film has always had these abilities, the way in which they are now being used has changed.
With traditional linear media, brands used commercials and carefully scripted videos to put a face to their business, a face that usually wasn’t their own as they carefully managed and controlled their image. Today’s audiences, particularly on the social web, are seeking a more authentic experience. A more human experience.
They want to see and meet the people behind the product, and get a sense of the culture. They also expect to get some form of reward for their investment in time. This could be entertainment, inspiration, or education - whatever it is, it’s got to add value to their lives in some way. There’s got to be a payoff.
Consumers have never been more powerful, and word-of-mouth has never been more effective (or potentially damaging); we’ve got to keep that in mind with every point of contact we have with customers and clients. That includes our marketing materials.
We can forget about trying to be something we’re not, or making promises we can’t keep, because now there’s nowhere to hide. Let people get to know you and what you’re all about. Use video to put a face to your business, and describe what makes your business unique in your own words. Don’t be afraid to show off your culture and your people, and let your clients and customers get to know you.
And lastly, think of ways you can add value for your audience. Can you entertain them, inspire them, or educate them through your videos or content? Are they likely to share it with their friends and networks?
These lessons can be applied to any business using the web or social media as a marketing platform, not just the big brands. And while we’re certainly seeing a shift in the way marketing is being executed, things aren’t getting more complicated, they’re actually getting simpler. Social media is bringing us all back to basics, back to being human.