“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
This is a quote from Winston Churchill.
How should brands treat social media? With caution, according to Richard at AdLiterate. His slideshow on the subject (‘Brands and 2.0…Proceed with Caution’ ) captures eloquently exactly why social media is potentially such a problematic area for brands. It demands, he says, that you trade control for influence and if brands are uncomfortable with this then they should stay clear of it. It is also difficult to measure. And brands have to work extra hard to appeal. Media is now a conversation but ‘brands only have a role if they can make the conversation more interesting.’
Yet there is a seemingly unending consumer appetite for greater levels of communication and the technologies that drive them. Even as new technologies have come along, more traditional forms of communication (like post for example) have remained relatively healthy. They may not have grown materially, but neither have they declined. We still watch more hours of TV, buy more magazines, see more outdoor advertising than ever. Yet somehow we are managing to fit far more opportunities for communication into our waking hours.
The driver behind this is the insatiable demand for higher levels of social contact, particularly in the UK, where it is more prevalent than our European counterparts. According to work done recently by The Future Foundation, we are an extremely sociable bunch. We rate aspirations which involve social interaction highly, to the point where the overwhelming majority of people believe that such social aspirations as having friendly neighbours and being able to go out with friends and family is an ‘absolutely necessary’ part of their lives. Absolutely necessary.
For brands, they say, the fact that UK consumers "are actively seeking to gain interest on their social capital should be a given for anyone trying to communicate with them." More than that, it is an opportunity.
But first, some things have to change. For a start, change the language. The vernacular of planning is often militaristic. We speak of target audiences, bombarding consumers, strike rates. We talk about exploiting opportunities, delivering messages or targeting consumers, phrases which all imply things we’d like to do to an audience whether they like it or not.
The Fallon blog perceptively called participation, ‘The 5th P of marketing’ . Invitation, enticement, collaboration, sharing, consulting, contributing, community. As soon as you start using words like this, our objectives change. We no longer want to just get our message in front of our audience, we want to involve them in it.
The Brand Channel paper linked from the Fallon post ( How to Crash The Consumer-Controlled Party ), talks of a new hierarchy where brands are "like the kid at the park with potential, but they’re rarely picked to play in the big game."
So why are consumers like pigs? Because they respond to being treated as equals. They don’t want to be falsely idolised, nor do they want to be talked down to. The Internet is the greatest democracy on earth. It is the great leveler. It feeds from egalitarianism, fairness, opportunity, balance. So don’t abuse that – you’ll get found out. It is more critical than ever that brands adopt the right tone of communication.
And if our objectives have changed, then what we are measuring and how we are measuring it should also change with it. In short, we need to transform our currencies. What is the use in securing large numbers of eyeballs if none of them connect to the part of the brain that changes perceptions and behaviour?
The brands that get this will be the ones that will be able to generate significant social currency and, I believe, significant reward as a result. Brands are right to be wary of social media – if it means that they take more care to adapt their models, their criteria for success, their language. If they do this, the rewards will be great.
Image courtesy podchef