Jonathan Salem Baskin has an interesting theory about social media. He thinks tools like Twitter aren't some dream of customer empowerment, but rather the nightmare reality of the broken relationships between consumers and brands.
"Responding to online complaints is a tax that companies pay because of the chronic mismatch between what consumers expect from brands and what they ultimately get," he wrote for Ad Age. "An individualized response might momentarily bridge the gap, but it won't fix it. Never will."
His overall theory is that social media is similar to a penalty levied by consumers. It might be partly true, but it depends on the company. It depends on the relationship. It depends on the intent of the communication.
A Quick Brush-Up On Branding And Communication.
The secret of branding isn't found in advertising, marketing, or public relations. It's found in a promise and the ability to effectively communicate a promise, deliver on that promise, and prove the promise was delivered.
This is what all customers base their relationships upon, with all of it being underpinned by communication. Consumers do too, except they base their beliefs on nothing more than their perception.
Communication is powerful for companies in its ability to present the brand promise (advertising), establish transaction guidelines (marketing), and reinforce that the promise was met (public relations). It was that simple, multiplied out by how many people the company could reach.
And then came social media. Consumers could suddenly reach as many people as companies (often more) in a space where the companies weren't communicating (leaving unanswered untruths looking like truths). That presented a problem for some companies because those companies could no longer contain distractors like they did the media* (in some cases) and the Internet provided a wealth of new alternative products and services.
*Side note: media tended to be much more limited in its scope, preferring to promote promises, report on broken promises, and occasionally undertake investigative assignments that revealed delivery flaws or uncovered consequences associated with delivering on a promise (e.g., sweat shops in foreign countries). Most, but not all, tried to remain true.
Social Media Doesn't Change All Brands; Just A Lucky Few.
When many companies adopt social media, they generally focus only on one or two communication areas: promise (advertising), customer service (marketing), and proof (public relations). Few focus on all three.
The net result is a flawed strategy much like Baskin says. Many companies act like they are paying a penalty.
However, some companies are different. When they can broadcast the right promise, deliver on the promise, and provide proof that they delivered, social media becomes an opportunity and not an obligation. The opportunity is that social media provides another environment where companies can adjust the promise, adjust the delivery (or expectation), and share the proof.
In such cases, social media can provide the environment to change the brand, but it's still the people (inside and outside) who shape it. Of course, this only works if the company is open to change (unless they already meet this criteria).
Most companies don't. Many just want you to buy the product and shut up, unless you're convincing other people to buy too.
And that's why I think this topic merits further discussion. So, over the next couple of days, I'll share some insights on what happens when companies only employ advertising, marketing, or public relations in their social media programs as opposed to those companies with a much more integrated approach. I hope you enjoy and join in.