The Backbone of a Social Brand: People and Their Stories

Why social strategy must be people-powered
In the age of amplification of social influence through digital channels, brands that remain rooted in the advertising age face an existential threat in the digital age. Social platforms are designed to connect people, not sell products. And brands that embrace people’s stories (not product testimonials) are the ones that successfully drive social engagement. Engaging customers through personal stories and insights from an audience is a way for a brand to behave more like a person—and interact on the basis of ideas and experiences. This mode of being social has the potential to establish a relationship based on personal interests and values rather than by a transactional value proposition.

On being authentic and contextual
The word authentic contains two key themes within it—one being truthfulness and the other being the relatability to the storyteller. And this is often where highly polished advertising, even with featured testimonials, fails to make an impact on social channels, even if it works on television. Social platforms offer a meta context for participation—in other words, the interaction is framed around people responding to a stimulus. And in the context of people sharing 3rd-party content, personal experiences and observations, likes, wows, yays, etc., it seems trite for a brand to post an ad and have no framework for interaction with people. An organic opportunity for a brand to be more engaging on social channels is to create “social stories” that are experiences or impressions that would engage its target audience. There is a company called ZERO-G (founded by Peter Diamandis) that offers high net worth customers a chance to experience zero gravity on a specially designed jet on a hyperbolic flight path. The company was largely unknown until it posted pictures and videos of Stephen Hawking floating around in zero gravity; the tremendous social impact of that did more for awareness of the company than if it had spent hundreds of thousands on advertising. A better-known example, though an unplanned fortuitous incident for Kohl’s, was the instant lift in brand awareness thanks to Candace Payne’s Chewbacca mask video and the follow-up from Kohl’s. Over 30 million people viewed the video posted on Kohl’s Facebook page.



Defining the appropriate social storytelling model for your brand
Not every brand is going to be able to successfully integrate customer experiences into its social strategy. But there are other people-powered stories that many can leverage—for instance, the personal story of the inventors—GE takes a step in that direction with its GE Inventors initiative but doesn’t pull it through to their beliefs or ideas and experiences. Another approach is to create social participation in ideas around a theme—GoPro does a great job of integrating user-generated content around the outdoors into its brand experience and so does Dove with the evolution of its #SpeakBeautiful campaign. And on the shallow yet big end of the idea is Coke, which has put people’s names on its cans. In short, there are finite ways of creating a social storytelling platform but infinite stories to tell within it.

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