Brands need to rethink social

8 October 2014

LONDON: Brands have misread the nature of social media and ought not to get involved in trying to create communities or direct user conversations.

That is not to say, however, that they should give up on the channel. Darika Ahrens, a former analyst with Forrester Research, writes in the 50th anniversary issue of Admap, which looks ahead to the future of brand communications, that they simply need to scrap the idea of communities. "Then invest in the parts of social media that are working: advertising, customer service, and data."

In an article titled, Social's future is not community, she argues that, in retrospect, it was wishful thinking to imagine brands would be capable of recreating, for commercial gain, the complex social ties that bind communities. Or that consumers would even want them to.

Marketers had been lead down a blind alley by the world's leading social networking site. Facebook has wasted a lot of marketers' time, Ahrens suggested – first banning brands, then telling them to set up groups, migrating groups to pages which needed constant updating, then tweaking the newsfeed algorithm so that brands would no longer get organic reach.

Finally, she noted, brands were being pushed towards being advertisers on social media. "Advertising is the only space left for brands in social," Ahrens asserted, plus it has the advantages of being cheap, fast and measureable.

The notion of the community lives on in some respects, however, particularly in the context of customer service. Ahrens cited the example of Sony, whose European communities contain super-fans capable of solving many problems raised by customers.

Keen to avoid the company call centre, customers now go online first to find answers. "Consumers, complete strangers, help each other out to find solutions. That's the closest thing to community yet," Ahrens remarked.

But the true future of social media lies in using data to customise brand experiences, no conversations needed, with Amazon pioneering the way by getting customers to connect their Facebook and Twitter accounts to their Amazon account.

"Doing this allows Amazon to access my social graph," Ahrens said. "This reveals more about me and my true preferences, not just my purchase history."

Rather than persist with doomed attempts to build social communities, Ahrens urged marketers to take a non-disruptive approach and use the data they already have to deliver personalised brand experiences that both brands and consumers want.

Data sourced from Admap