Consumers Using Social Media To Manage Brands

Not familiar with BRM? Perhaps you are more familiar with its cousin CRM, or Customer Relationship Management. As technology has improved CRM tools and functionality, it has changed the way marketers connect to people by helping to organize and filter information about buying habits to better serve customers going forward. But with people connecting more and more to brands on social networks, the next wave of marketing may be providing people the information they need/want through social media, making it a "Brand Relationship Management" (BRM) tool.


People may not be thinking about using social media to proactively manage their brand relationships -- but then again, that's sort of what people are doing already. Connecting to brands through social media is a much more tangible connection, allowing for an increased flow of information from brands to consumers, and offering consumers a better way to organize and filter information about the brands they are connected to.



This may be another way to think about the social media buzzword "dialogue:" if your brand communications are going to be sorted and filtered by consumers for relevance, it can help inform your practice of social media communications. What is too much noise? What is not enough information? And the big question: When a person connects to your brand through social media, what type of communications and information are they expecting?

It's just thinking about social media connections from the consumer's perspective, instead of from a corporate communications or media plan perspective.

Now, let's address the inevitable "this has been going on forever, stop acting like you/social media are discovering the wheel." People have been managing the amount of information they receive from brands since the beginning of direct mail, email and most recently, do not call lists. But marketers have been practicing Customer Relationship Management since long before What caused the revolution was technology making the practice far more scalable and efficient.

When people connect to brands over social networks like Facebook, this has the potential to offer that type of scalable, efficient control for people to manage their brand relationships. It gives consumers the ability to research brands, beginning to assign personalities to brands based not just on their appearance, but on a brand's behavior and interactions.

What are your thoughts? Drop me line on twitter @ and/or leave a comment below.

6 comments about "Consumers Using Social Media To Manage Brands".
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  1. Eric Bradlow from The Wharton School, May 12, 2009 at 12:43 p.m.


    I really enjoyed your piece on using social network sites as a CRM/branding tool and completely agree that this is not new.

    However, I want to point out that one downside of using social network sites in this way is that you "lose control" of your brand. Anyone you friend can post stuff, and hence through various degrees of separation appear on your page. One should think strongly about having separate professional and personal networks, or have an ability to monitor closely ones' "friends" and to de-friend people when necessary.

    Eric Bradlow
    Co-Director, Wharton Interactive Media Initiative
    K.P. Chao Professor
    Professor of Marketing, Statistics and Education
    The Wharton School

  2. Bill Byrne from Remedy PR, May 12, 2009 at 1:07 p.m.

    Smart comments Joe and Eric. Here are some additional thoughts:

    Eric - The second your brand hits the market, you lose some control. It could be a digital mashup someone scans and posts online, graffiti on a billboard or something else. In my experience, a lot of major brands don't engage online because they can't control the conversation. Well, the conversation is happening online and off. Better to be a part than play ignorance.

    Joe - This line " this has the potential to offer that type of scalable, efficient control for people to manage their brand relationships," hits it. In the future, I see consumers shunning brands online because of the way they communicate (I call it anti-social media).

    Similar to a brand sending emails to you too frequently, a brand that tweets incessantly or makes mundane social network posts will find itself alienating fans and followers.

  3. Richard Monihan, May 12, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.

    Henry Ford didn't invent the assembly line. He just took it to the next level.
    Social media didn't invent BRM, it just took it to the next level, too.

    Either way, there's nothing new here. In fact, there's almost nothing of interest, except in how people perceive things. As Bill points out, some degree of brand control is lost the minute it hits market. In fact, it's probably valuable to let go of more control. Controlling things never adds value, though some people think it does. Managing things, on the other hand, adds tremendous value.

    Why? Because controlling the brand requires high costs and effort, and the repayment may be good, but is never as good as it could be by letting go of the brand and letting consumers make of it what they will. By allowing consumer to control the way they see, interact with, and value the brand - you add value to the brand itself. The brand becomes personalized, and is worth more to the consumer, even though the brand manager doesn't get to play as big a role in telling the consumer how to think about it.

    Is there a downside? Of course. But far less than the downside of a badly controlled brand

    Thanks for social media such as Facebook, I've gotten to reconnect with a number of brands from my past through "friend" pages. I've also increased my interactivity with other brands that I currently consume using the same application. In addition, the "Post a Link" and "Add a Video" applications have allowed me to present other brands I use in a manner that suits me. Is this bad for the brands? Some managers may think so - but I say no. Brand managers may not always like the way I distribute my views of these products, but at least they are being introduced or represented to my circle of friends in a manner that is familiar to all of us, and in a way we can all appreciate them.

  4. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., May 12, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    I think this is _very_ new. Back in the dark ages (say, 20 years ago) when we didn't have so many hundreds of complex, nuanced, costly and transitory relationships with branded, upgradeable and disposable products and services (from financial instruments to gadgets to software running _on_ gadgets), nobody thought in terms of "proactively managing their brand relationships." Today, for responsible consumers, it's inevitable -- the driver being that if you _don't_ "proactively manage your brand relationships," you get ripped off outright (e.g., by being left to pay a higher cell-phone bill, despite being eligible for lower-cost packages) or otherwise lose opportunities to optimize your spend.

    Clearly, people are seeking tools to make this easier -- and social technology looks like a first step in the right direction, based on the notion that businesses exploiting social media are actually engaging, and that this engagement is authentically personal, potentially bi-directional, and valuably informative.

    Really, however, it often isn't -- and these are the wrong tools. They're conceptually useful in that they posit an association (i.e., "friendship","followerhood") between consumers and vendors around products and services. But it's not hard to imagine much more powerful systems for processing and managing this kind of association, without the (fundamentally unwanted except in marketers' fevered imaginations) 'friendship' overlay.

    At this point, many classes of product are on the way towards becoming what Bruce Sterling calls 'spimes' -- which are products conceptualized as the temporary real-world instantiation of their design, raw materials and manufacturing chain, history, marketing, documentation, compatibilities, options, and the web of potential relationships among all these actors and consumer/users. Twitter and Facebook are not the right tools for articulating this data and context. But tools (likely based in standards for XML and semantic markup) are conceiveable that would permit Joe Consumer to buy (or merely shop for) a gadget, and be automatically connected to the web of history and transactions and relationships it subtends. And from that comes real power for consumers to actually manage brand relationships for benefit.

    Ultimately, I suppose, the model is unitary -- that is, one 'Relationship Management' application, seen through different viewports, serves both the vendor and the consumer.

  5. Michelle Bonat from RumbaFish, May 12, 2009 at 3:33 p.m.

    Great post Joe! I like the term BRM we may leverage that :) Our customers tell us that keeping some control over the message is a key component, in addition to letting the user generated content flow which keeps it personal and relevant ... particularly for the big brands.

  6. Antonio Montero from El Informador, May 14, 2009 at 2:02 a.m.

    As some of you point out, one of the side effects of people using social media is that brands are losing control. Power is shifting more and more to consumers and communities. In fact, some major brands are not in control anymore. Want some examples? Well, Facebook couldn't change its terms of service. Twitter had to retract when it tried to change its reply policy.

    This shift of power is inevitable, and as Jeremy Owyang from Forrester pointed out recently in his report entitled "The 5 eras of the Social Web", it's the beginning of what will become a new social contract between brands and consumers.

    However, I think that instead of seeing this as a threat, brands must see this as an opportunity. They must realize that the way that they have been doing marketing for ages will no longer work and they need to adapt fast.

    The web is becoming more and more social, accelerating the speed at which ideas spread and sparking conversations about brands everywhere. So, brands must listen, and listen carefully. And when they engage in conversations, they will have to do it in a honest, open, and caring way. Brands that try to control conversations will suffer greatly. Brands that decide to not join conversations will be perceived as not caring and risk suffering PR disasters that leave permanent marks.

    Before, brands controlled the message: when it started, who could see it, when it stopped, what it was about. Today, thanks to the social web that's no longer true. People are talking about brands everywhere: twitter, blogs, review sites, communities, videos... and there is no way brands can control this. Brands are no longer in control, they should get over it already and should better start thinking how to embrace this new marketing paradigm.

    Antonio Montero, Web Strategist at @amontero

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