Why Big Brands Struggle With Social Media – And Why You Do Not Have To

Social media continues to grow globally in terms of adoption, usage, interest and impact in a massive way. It’s undeniably changing the way that content and information work particularly in terms of the publishing of consumer opinion.

This has transformed the way that consumers relate to brands and the way that brands should operate, driving direct interaction, transparency and a more consultative approach. However, we still operate in a system defined by the old media world and consequently big brand involvement is still in the main tentative and sporadic.

From my experience of trying to get big brands to embrace the social revolution, there are a number of reasons why they have yet to embrace the real opportunities that involvement can deliver:

1. Social Media is often viewed as just another marketing channel: It is of course so much more; it is a completely different approach to interacting with consumers and customers.

Of course, you can advertise in a social media environment, but the true return on investment comes from developing communities, creating content to be shared, and talking and listening directly with consumers.

2. It does not fit into current structures:  True social media falls somewhere between marketing, PR, communications, content production and web development. No one is quite sure whose responsibility it is and who should ultimately deliver their organisation’s social media strategy.

3. Communities and content are global: Users of social media connect, consume, and share content globally with little care for international borders.

Marketing and PR departments and objectives are set up nationally or regionally. Very few organisations have a truly international structure and perspective.

 4. Social media needs a long term approach: To build community, distribute content, or get people actively involved in an application takes time. Marketing and PR work on short time frames and are wedded to sets of individual campaigns or short term objectives. Social media is not a campaign, it’s a permanent approach.

5. No guaranteed results: You book advertising and it’s guaranteed to work. For, example you book a web campaign on page views and you keep going until you reach your goal. This is what advertisers call a push medium, i.e. you choose when people see it. Social media is a pull medium; usage and interaction is totally dependent on the user choosing to do so. If it’s not relevant or lacks creative brilliance it will not work. This makes it hard.

 6. The metrics are new: Companies are used to the big numbers of advertising, but these numbers are different. Advertising is measured in booked exposures, i.e. page views, while social media is measured in direct interactions, i.e. number of friends, number of views or number of users. These numbers will always be smaller, but not necessarily any less measure of success.

How do big brands take the proper approach to social media?

Fundamentally, it is about putting in place the right organisational structure with a social media department, which is responsible for a company’s long term approach to open their companies up to consumers and have a permanent social media presence. They should also work with marketing and PR to make sure that advertising, product development, research and communications all fit into the social media picture and all aspects of the company and the product are socially optimised.

Certain forward thinking organisations, such as Intel and Ford, have already done this and this is the approach that should be followed. There is also need for more and deeper research, to understand and quantify the value of engaging with consumers in social media versus traditional advertising. This is an emerging area that will see a lot more investment over the next year or so as is needed to show the financial case.

Lastly, companies need to look long term and understand the value that social media can bring to cultivate lifetime advocates of their brand. This is not about campaigns, but a permanent positioning. Hopefully, the current economy can help companies take this long-term perspective that has been lacking in the boom years.

Your Thoughts?