Building brands in a changing society

Social Media Demands that Brands Take on a New Role

Marketers who want to take advantage of all that social media can offer need to first understand that social media has forced brands and consumers into a new relationship. At its heart, advertising is the act of storytelling. Not too many years ago, marketers could say without a doubt that brands are the tellers of their own stories. A message was broadcast through one-way media channels—television, radio, out-of-home, print—to an audience that was only ever intended to receive.

Today the roles are recast and who gets defined as audience versus a teller is quickly shifting. Brands are no longer in charge of how their stories are told. Instead, consumers are now telling those stories through comments, tweets, blogs, images and videos across all types of social networks.

In fact, any consumer engagement on social media should be seen as “the brand convening the conversation about itself,” according to Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at Blue State Digital, “and leveraging the most positive and creative voices of the people that are its fans.” Gensemer is best known for initiatives that became broad-based movements, including the 2008 Obama campaign and the anti-bullying project It Gets Better.

Does this change mean that the brand should simply surrender its voice to the consumer and hope for the best? Not at all. Today, a brand’s responsibility in social channels is to actively manage the right narrative, to set the conditions for consumers—particularly influencers—to circulate the right stories.

A strong brand idea is what makes this achievable. When a clearly articulated brand idea is at the heart of all communications—whether it’s Kit Kat and “the break” or Coca-Cola and “happiness”—consumers are primed to accept stories that align with their understanding of the brand and reject those that seem inauthentic.

In my next post, I’ll look at social media’s hunger for fresh content and whether every brand can realistically be a content brand.


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