Till 'Unfollow' Do Us Part

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, May 30, 2014

You won them over. At some point, you impressed the consumer with your products, store experiences, purposeful cause, entertaining content, etc. You mattered; your finger was on the pulse. They not only watched you, but from time to time, they shared your stories, images and experiences with others. Things were going so well. Then things changed; the flame died. Maybe they evolved and you stayed the same. Maybe someone else caught their eye. Or, maybe you stopped working at the relationship. But they are distant and something tells you it will be nearly impossible to get them back. Not only did they fall out of love. They want a clean break. They clicked “unfollow” – the brand love affair is over.

Most of us enjoy a dramatic love story and envisioning the rise and fall of a real-world love affair between two people can help us learn lessons about creating and maintaining strong social strategies. Yes, I made that analogical leap but I do so as a former American Association of Marriage and Family Therapist in training (media is more fun). Once you look at the dynamics of intimate relationships and contemporary consumer relationships, they are not too dissimilar. You commit (click “like” or “follow”), you participate, you try to learn the other’s interests and quirks, you anticipate needs, and you work at it everyday. Like the fragile first stages of love, though, it can end quickly if your commitment wanes. Below, I argue that intimate relationship learnings can help us create and maintain better social strategies. 



1. Know what you want, first. At some point in your life, you have likely asked yourself “what do I want out of a relationship?” If you know what you want, you’re more likely to find the right person to meet your needs, right? This same can be said for a good social strategy. What do you want to accomplish and with whom? What is the business and brand challenge? Do you want to communicate new product news to your most loyal consumers? Do you want to convey business strength to your investors? Do you want to build brand equity with potential consumers? Do you want to borrow equity from another much-loved brand? Do you want to appear more premium, responsible, fun, etc.? All of the before-mentioned business and brand needs are valid but each requires a unique social strategy utilizing differing social platforms. Simply “saying anything to whomever listens in any forum” is a poor plan for getting needs met.

2. Understand what they want, deeply. Knowing only what you want out of a relationship is not enough – it’s selfish. You need to both meet, and exceed, the requisites of your desired audiences in order to make them want you in return. This is the fundamental of good branding – offer more than the commoditized product. In a content-rich digital world, exceeding expectations is a must. Maybe they like candlelit dinners and flowers weekly or maybe they desire a once-a-month kink fest with handcuffs and whips. You’ll never know unless you try to know. Media research, big data, trend reports, and in-depth interviews are just a few of the means available for identifying relevant themes, parallel media interests, consumer behaviors, attitudes, and even use of time. When you have a detailed profile of the person you want, you will learn to exceed their expectations. 

3. Listen more than you speak. Social listening can be your never-ending focus group. It is a must for any company that takes social strategy seriously. We all know the cases where some person misrepresented the brand via social media and created a PR nightmare with a real bottom-line impact. But are we as aware of those cases where the company was listening more than saying. Recently in the U.S., Ford Motor Company created a compelling site called “Ford Social”; it’s a portal where Ford listens more than it speaks. With sections like “Your Articles, Your Stories, Your Ideas,” Ford is committing to placing their consumers in the driver’s seat of their content and product development plans. Of course, we don’t all have Ford-level budgets for building and maintaining social listening sites but there are still some actions to take today to ensure your social strategy is at least up-to-date on the given social platforms. For example, do you get buzz reports from your media or social agency? Do you know how to create and populate a social war-room if needed? Have you seen your social and content strategies? Does your marketing team understand and advocate your social objectives? If you answered no to any of the above, you should have an authoritative word with your media, social and ad agencies ASAP. The aforementioned are basics, not rare communications industry innovations.

4. Be yourself.Dating can be exhausting, even more so than work, and that’s a sure sign you are doing it wrong. We all present our best side when we start dating so as not to turn off the other person but we should never act. We should always stay “on brand.” When you have a confident sense of self, you are unlikely to be swayed by others’ interests or expectations. It may seem like an oxymoron to both meet your audiences’ needs and be yourself, but it’s not. After all, if you have a product and brand without a marketplace, you have many more problems than can be helped by a social strategy. So assuming there are people that love your offering, be true to the fundamentals that earned that affection. Don’t follow the latest funny-kitten-video-gif craze if it is incongruous with what you stand for. Recently, I witnessed a laundry detergent brand trying to convince me on Facebook that they were making lives better, everyday. No, you’re not, laundry detergent brand. But, you might be able to make my day a little bit brighter. Don’t try to be more than you are when what you are is more than enough. 

5. Marriage will not fix it.Collecting “follows” is like the dating practices of Carrie Bradshaw; it might make you feel validated (e.g., KPIs), but it will be hugely unrewarding in the end. You may even be stood up at the alter – okay, I got a little carried away with my “Sex and The City” example. But my point is this, collecting “likes” and “fans” was a metric of success in social media before we actually knew what success was. Success is not fans attached to your unique page that you set up for a campaign and now looks like a digital tombstone in an internet graveyard as you haven’t actually posted anything in a year, month, week, or day. Oh, and here’s another secret, often the ones that rush into marriage are in it for the wrong reasons – they might be “gold diggers.” Free coupons, discounts, prizes and other deals will always collect a few clicks from a certain type of person, but will do very little to help build a meaningful relationship with mutual long-term benefits. Collecting “follows,” “likes,” and clicks is not a plan in itself, it’s a ball ‘n’ chain. 

6. Kids will make it harder. Portfolio expansion and brand stretch are byproducts of growth and with every successful new offering, one must consider how to entertain and foster more than one relationship – a master brand social strategy can be a nightmare. Many differing consumers with differing interests can create a motley mess of comms. In these situations, social targeting can help. Let’s use Hyundai as an example. While the master brand may use Facebook as a social platform, it should not communicate with the i10 and Equus drivers in the same conversation. Knowing points of commonality and points of differentiation helps guide social targeting. Just as with digital ad placements, social conversations can be targeted to keep some people close and others far away – even under the same master brand voice.

I’m aware that the tips I’ve outlined can make one jaded about social strategies and relationships in general. To help sum it up, here are some quick questions to ask yourself before starting, or continuing, your relationship:

        1. What is my business need?
        2. Who is my audience?
        3. How can I delight my audience?
        4. What social media platforms matter to my audience?
        5. Do I have systems in place to listen and respond?
        6. Am I being authentic?
        7. Have I planned beyond collecting “likes” and “follows”?
        8. Am I using my Media partners to better target in social spaces?
        9. Do I have a plan for collecting and refining data via social platforms?

Wishing all the best for you and yours.

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