One of the most fascinating aspects about the launch of Google+ is the way it reframes how we, as individuals, interact with our communities. As Brian Solis so rightly points out, the initial Facebook model of creating a single social graph of up to 5000 friends must now be compared to a series of what Google+ calls ‘circles’ that expand and contract as we pass through various life stages, jobs, relationships and experiences in our lives.
This contrast is very instructive as to the future, and is particularly important for brands trying to engage with their customer communities. By now, most brands have overcome their reticence to participate in social media, and have exhausted their knee-jerk reaction to buy their way to a sizable social footprint comparable to their competitors. But brands now face more complex challenges.
The framing of how we relate to each other within and across social media platforms will continue to become more sophisticated and nuanced in their expression of how we structure our relationships in our real world lives. Whether or not users have the time or patience to build out their contacts lists into ‘circles’ or any other format is yet to be seen, but this does change the fact that brands must make sense of these dynamics if they are to engage and expand their customer base online. Ultimately, it’s possible that social media platforms will be designed as templates that the users themselves customize in terms of the best way to express their community and experience of life, and brands will have to simply follow suit.
What this means for marketing is significant. It is already challenging to engage and maintain the interest of your customers in real time across multiple platforms, especially as many brands are still fighting the inertia that inevitably comes with hierarchical corporate structures that were designed with control in mind and therefore don’t lend themselves to real time engagement. But now, as the social business marketplace becomes increasingly fragmented into media specific, micro-communities (for example Path or Instagram), brands face the prospect of reaching an increasingly fractured audiences engaged in multiple conversations within different communities in real time.
Perhaps the most effective way to describe the approach a brand must take is to think of themselves as social cartographers. By that I mean that brands must simultaneously inspire, engage and maintain a series of conversations taking place within certain cultural landscape specific to their business goal. To achieve this brands must define the agenda for the map in terms of their business strategy, identify characteristics of the cultural landscape relevant to the map’s purpose and then simplify execution by eliminating elements that are not.
With map in hand, a brand must then engage in a series of targeted conversations that each achieve sufficient resonance that they intersect and amplify each other to create broad based cultural impact. If one was to create a metaphor for what an effective campaign might look like based on Google+ circles, you can imagine what rain looks like on a pond of water. Each drop creates its own circle of impact and ripple effect, and each of those circles impact each other, creating movement on the surface of the water.
It’s hard to know how long it will be before a new social media platform gains sufficient adoption to reframe how we relate online. And it’s still uncertain as to whether Google+ will reach this threshold. But as the half-life of technology shrinks, the distance between the way brands traditionally use advertising and how their customers like to relate to each other, is growing larger every day. As such, brands need to fully engage with social media, both internally and externally. That way they can play an active role in shaping the way conversations are framed and maintain their real-time share of voice giving them some sense of control in a fast-changing business marketplace.
What’s your image of the future of social networking? Do you prefer the approach taken by Facebook or Google+?
Not since the digital revolution in the early 90's has technology placed such a comprehensive burden on business, employees and individuals to reinvent their business plans, services and products, and themselves to keep pace with the changing marketplace. The way customers relate to brands and how profit is generated has changed so dramtically almost every professional is being challenged to reconsider what they do in order to stay relevant.
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This week I’ve been exploring how brands are bringing their marketing savvy, creativity and heart to bear on pressing social issues. One exciting new example is the annoucement by Buick and General Motors Foundation of the 1100 Buick Achievers Scholarship Program, including 100 outstanding students from across the U.S. who will each receive a scholarship of up to $25,000 that is renewable for up to four years.
The focus of the initiative addresses one of the most pressing issues in the U.S. today – the need to help more students reach college to realize their potential. Obviously such efforts have enormous benefits for the reputation of a brand improving the likelihood of more customers choosing the Buick brand over others. As the Edelman 2010 goodpurpose® Study revealed, 86% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests.
Yet the benefits to the brand are multifaceted. “One of the aims of the Buick Achievers Scholarship program is to strongly encourage today’s brightest young minds to pursue fields of study that will prepare them for careers in manufacturing industries,” explains Bob Ferguson of the GM Foundation. “By doing so, we will help improve our nation’s global competitiveness in fields that are driving economic growth in the 21st century.”
What’s more, such scholarships transform the lives of the recipients. Many of the recipients had already overcome enormous obstacles in their lives and nearly half of the scholarship recipients are the first in their families to attend college.
My hope this week was to dramatize the creativity that brands can bring to their purposeful engagement with their customer community. Whether it’s education, the environment or homelessness, customers are looking for brands to add meaning to their lives and such efforts resonate deeply. As such, the core values of a brand are more powerful marketing tools than ever as they enable a brand to make an emotional connection with their customers using social media. Each of these efforts should be celebrated as permission slips for other brands to do the same, and by working togther the private sector can have a dramatic impact on the lives of millions of people and the well being of society at large.
What other brand initiatives have changed the way you think about a brand? what would you like to see more of from brands?
I wanted to share a new app which I think makes a powerful statement about where the emphasis needs to be in the social business marketplace. It’s called We&Co and launched in Atlanta this week. Building on Foursquare’s API, We&Co shifts …Read more
In We First I promote brand and cause partnerships because they provide benefits to both parties. Building on Part 1 of this story that examined the benefits to brands, today we examine what is the benefit to a cause that partners …Read more
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This morning I was reminded of one of the many reasons I believe social media is a valuable addition to our lives. In contrast to those that say social media is breeding “arm’s length intimacy” or slactivism, I believe it’s …Read more
I’m excited to share today a new downloadable We First manifesto that is kindly being published by 800ceoRead. It’s called ‘We First: How Brands and Consumers can partner to Build a Better World.’ My hope is that the manifesto can …Read more
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Simon Mainwaring is founder of We First, a social branding consulting firm that helps companies, non-profits and individuals use social media to build communities, profits and positive impact.