Offering freebies does not make a brand social
The Latin phrase quid pro quo means "something for something." Literally speaking, this is an equal exchange of gifts between two parties. Both sides have to contribute something for the other to receive fair value; it cannot be one-sided. Too often social media takes a more cynical approach - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
The community aspect of social media implies a kindred spirit amongst consumers and brands. The idea is that people will like a brand so much they want to interact with it. The reality is somewhat more base. In so many cases people only follow brands to get something for free. T.G.I. Friday's gave away a free hamburger to people who befriended them on Facebook. The promotion probably boosted T.G.I. Friday's bottom line, but I am skeptical of its long-term impact on building a fan community. Incentivizing people to join a club is nothing new, but since when did we pretend it was anything but a bribe? Coupons are not bad in and of themselves - they can encourage sampling and boost sales. But let's face it, some coupon clippers are only loyal to saving money.
The number of fans a brand has is relatively meaningless. On Facebook, Wine has 763,954 fans but Ice Cold Beer 903,108 fans. However, the number of fans does not tell the whole story. Instead, consider the number of interactions. Every time Wine posts a message, several hundred people leave comments. By comparison, the fans of Ice Cold Beer barely respond at all. I would rather engage less people more often if it means deeper, more meaningful interactions. Here the quality of engagement is the key performance indicator, not sheer reach. This is true community building.
Since it takes only a few seconds to become a fan, online relationships are transient at the outset. Brands have to convince people to revisit the page, and couponing alone won't suffice. To create a more meaningful relationship, offer value propositions like utility, information, entertainment or connectivity.
Utility - Years ago a local Indian restaurant gave me a tiny street guide that fit in my wallet. The card has an incredibly useful formula for locating the cross street of any address in Manhattan. Today the Indian Cafe is my first call when I want samosas. Offer utility to create a permanent place in people's lives.
Information - Brands can ingratiate themselves with consumers by providing information. Recipe finders are useful for spicing up boring food staples. Weather conditions are important for outdoor enthusiasts. Aligning with contextually relevant information positions the brand as a helpful resource.
Entertainment - Branded entertainment dates back to the 1930s soap operas. Today brands can entertain consumers in a variety of ways, not just video. Within social networks, brands can offer games, music or simply jokes. Creating amusement transcends the commercial relationship. This is how brand halos are created.
Connectivity - People want to connect with each other infinitely more than they do with brands. Brands can facilitate that by creating micro social networks. American Express started a social network for small-business owners. That company is uniquely qualified to assist such discussions and will reap the intangible benefits. Consider how you feel about the person who helped you get your last job. Fostering connections engenders loyalty and gratitude.
Providing these valuable services creates deeper, longer-lasting relationships. Distributing coupons is not social media. Besides, traditional fsis can do that far more efficiently. Marketing in social media means exchanging real value. Give consumers value and they will give you their hard-earned dollars.