A recent Northwestern University research study spearheaded by Schultz found that heavy users of social media care less about specific brands than those who use less social media. This is a worrisome finding for organizations that have watched their careful brand-building efforts be turned on their ear by the democratization of the Internet.
Is social media killing brand value?
Traditional brand-building efforts were built by one-way mass media. In the pre-Internet era, organizations were able to tightly control what was said publically about them. Carefully crafted messages were broadcasted through advertising and the media.
The public was expected to absorb and trust these messages. All the power of creation, communications and economics were on the side of the organization; brand marketing became simple manipulation.
But with the advent of the Internet and specifically social media, the social contract between people and brands has changed profoundly.
Brands would love to drive conversations about how great they are within social channels. But these efforts can often lead to very explosive and negative results.
Such as when McDonald’s promoted to use of the #McDStories hashtag for users to share their great burger and fries experiences on Twitter.
There may have been some positive stories shared, but many were negative — and worse — some were shocking or grotesque.
Guess which ones were retweeted the most?
The ones about fingernails in Big Macs, how unhealthy the food is, pink slime, and other such lovely tweets.
— Michelle Hardy (@GreenerBigApple) January 18, 2012
One time, I clogged my arteries with saturated fat and overly processed, chemically modified “food.” Good times. #McDStories
— Emily Wolfrum (@EmilyWolfrum) January 18, 2012
#McDStories I just read that McDonalds chicken nuggets have a foaming agent in them, similar to products used for building materials
— CATE STORM (@Cate_Storm) January 18, 2012
Within days, the campaign was already being lambasted as a huge failure2.
Even more frightening than a fingernail-burger is that the negative tweets were still coming over a year and a half later!
— Chantal Hanse (@Chariko84) June 19, 2013
Consumers now have much more power. They, too, now have a place to broadcast their likes and dislikes about their brand interactions. And they expect much more3.
This is where Schultz’s study becomes uncomfortable for brands. Consumers looking at their favorite brands online now expect engagement, humor, consistency, personality, and lots of information and content.
They don’t like naked one-way promotion or spam. And if they deem the company’s social media efforts as unsatisfactory, they will find a competitor’s brand to “like.”
So yes. Maybe social media is killing traditional brand building.
It just means that brands have to adapt. To paraphrase Seth Godin, brands no longer own market share; they rent it. Every single interaction becomes a branding opportunity. And if they decide not to engage, they’re out of business.
The fact is, social media lead conversion rates are 13 percent higher than the average lead conversion rate. This amazing statistic just goes to show you that social media absolutely has a positive business impact4.
Brands are learning that what worked a decade ago no longer does, that their carefully controlled images can crumble in an instant. They must offer value in their online communications. They must build relationships and provide personalized and relevant content.
Will social media kill branding? Maybe we should ask instead: Is social media changing how we build brands — and isn’t that a good thing?
Photo by Community Connection