What came first… Chicken or the egg?
It’s a fun little causality dilemma, stemming from the time of Aristotle, that’s supposed to get you thinking. Let’s take that idea and bring it into the modern digital communications realm.
As a brand facing the question of where to invest your time and efforts when it comes to social media, how do you go about making the right decision? Do you work on reaching out, connecting with potential fans, creating buzz and word of mouth OR do you try and create brand headquarters for others to find and gather around first? Let’s look at those options in detail.
Fans (or buzz) First
It’s a fact of modern communications that even though your brand may choose to not participate in the online world, chances are some of your customers have already created a presence for you, without your consent or knowledge. Often, as part of my presentations, we’ll do a live search for a brand name, represented in the audience. Most of the time, it’s quite surprising what we come across. Everything from negative reviews posted on highly specialized forums to very positive interactions described in detail on Twitter.
So, how does this fit our discussion? Well, if you are so inclined, you could reach out to these people who are already talking about your brand and begin to engage them in conversation or, if nothing else, just read their opinions and concerns. You could actively seek out bloggers, forum members, tweeters and facebookers who already share information about your industry and connect with them through an introductory e-mail, tweet or private message.
The idea behind the Fans First approach is to create buzz and word of mouth through channels other then your own, in order to reach a new market or to increase brand awareness. Borrowing heavily from WOM and PR stye efforts, this would be a very de-centralized approach to brand building, meaning that conversations about your brand would happen on all sorts of channels, far out of your control.
I imagine that last statement may cause some of your stomachs to churn, but consider this… most interent users trust the opinion of other real people (friends or other unknown consumers) much more then they do brand pages and such (link to report). Therefore, your effort in reaching out and communicating with those “others” may indeed be very rewarding when it comes to influencing actual purchasing behaviour. Of course, you would have to do this in an ethical and transparent way, unlike Sony in 2006.
Headquarters (or community) first
We see this quite often. In it’s basic form, this approach is used when a brand creates a facebook page, twitter account or a branded community and then goes about seeking “fans” and trying to bring them back to the headquarters in hopes they’ll stick around.
This approach is almost humorous because marketing managers will look at the number of fans as some kind of accurate measurement of success. Using old-school sales thinking, they look at it as a game of numbers.
“Well, if we have 10,000 fans and 5% of them convert, that means $$$ of revenue. Therefore, we should have more fans”
Did you know that you can buy fans on e-bay? How much are those worth? Do you REALLY think any of those will convert? But I digress…
Quite opposite to Fans First, this approach is very centralized. Your efforts are concentrated around providing incentives, value and findability in order to attract fans and keep them there.
Fact is — it’s getting much harder to get visitors to click that “like” or “follow” button. Facebook fans, for example, mainly look for discounts or sales (link to report) and are hesitant to click “like” because they DO NOT want to be bombarded with ads or useless messages. Internet users (well, all of us really) are becoming very picky about who they choose to follow and engage with.
So your work is cut out for you. By creating brand headquarters first, you may be fighting an uphill battle in order to attract and retain users. However, once they’re in your community, you’re well on the way to creating affinity and loyalty through smart engagement and communication (Target is an excellent example).
What is the right approach?
In short… I don’t know. It will largely depend on what you’re comfortable with, what kind of brand policies your company uses and of course the human resources available. Going Fans First will definitely require more human investment (time and consistency) and I believe it would yield far better results in the long-term, both from a revenue perpective as well as R&D (you have a direct feedback line to your consumers) and lower customer acquisition costs. On the other hand, you have to be willing to relinquish control and be very attentive to brand mentions and sentiment.
There is something to be said for a brand which has amasses such a buzz in their relevant online community, that it almost doesn’t matter if they have headquarters of their own. Their online reputation and brand sentiment is powerful enough to significantly affect purchasing behaviour (we talked about it in this podcast). Adding to that a well thought-out and attended brand headquarters, you’re sure to make a very visible ROTI (Return on Time Invested… or Indian bread if you’re not into marketing).
And just like Aristotle asked many hundreds of years ago… what do you think comes first? Fans or Headquarters?
Ernest Barbaric is a professional keynote speaker and social media consultant. He helps clients engage customers, reach new markets, launch products and transition into digital marketing. Sounds interesting? Get in touch today.