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How does social media in the U.S. help brand building?

by Nigel Hollis | October 08, 2012

This is the second blog post in the series where we look at social media in different countries. In this post, Anne Czernek, Senior Research Analyst and Ali Rana, SVP & Head Scientist, of the Emerging Media Lab, discuss social media in the USA. 

How do people use social media in the USA?

Social media is pervasive in the U.S. and is becoming increasingly integrated into the entire media landscape. From a consumer point of view, people use social networks in a few primary ways:

Connection. Facebook is far and away the most popular social platform; as it’s grown over the last 8 years, Facebook has gone from connecting college classmates to being the central social network. Facebook’s wide reach means many people are becoming more selective about what they share, and have higher standards for what they consider relevant or interesting on the platform. 

Nicheworks. More active social users are turning to what we call “nicheworks” that have a more specialized interest or functionality and smaller circle of sharing. Sometimes this means sharing similar information, but more in-depth or with a different audience (for example, professional information on LinkedIn). Other platforms, like Instagram or Pinterest, are focused more on image sharing where users upload and post content based on certain topics – like recipes, crafts, travel, or other hobbies and interests. 

Discovery & Sharing. Twitter is the most open information platform and has become a cascade of data consisting of personal updates, news and politics, and TV. But it also tends to be the sharing platform of choice for users of nicheworks: when those users create or find something cool, they share it more broadly on Twitter. As Twitter has grown both as a “pure-play” social medium and as a distributor for many smaller networks’ updates, it’s become a microcosm of what’s happening across nearly all of social – and traditional – media.

What do consumers think about brands using social media to reach them? What challenges do brands face in the U.S. when using social media? 

Consumers are tolerant of brands but tend to be somewhat transactional in terms of what they want in exchange for their “likes” – they want something back for their attention. Ultimately, almost no one voluntarily wants to interact with ads, so it’s up to brands to change their messaging strategies to offer something genuinely interactive and interesting. This also means brands must have a much stronger arsenal of content at the ready, and they need to be limber and experimental in how they deploy it.

What brands have you seen succeed and fail in the social media space? 

The brands that do best in social media are the ones who are genuine, enjoyable, and/or useful. Our FanIndex norms for Facebook pages show that the following factors can set brands apart: community, variety, useful information, and interaction. Some brands excel by creating a hub for fans eager to connect, like Weight Watchers. Others are more flip and funny, like the recent Oreo/AMC interactions. The trick is to stay true to the brand personality, and make sure that social fits in with the overall marketing strategy, while remembering that it is not all about pushing product.

Brands trip up in the social media space when they are not prepared to talk to fans or users on their terms; it’s not a matter of pushing out content and sitting back. Fast feedback from fans can be affirming – but the potential downside to engaging is that you may get push back, like ChapStick did on its Facebook page when it posted an image that many fans found offensive. Instead of engaging in constructive dialogue, ChapStick deleted the negative comments (never a good move). Facebook may not have a “dislike” button, but that doesn’t mean your brand is keeping everyone happy all the time. Social can be a means to engage with consumers (and even grow sales!), but it’s also an opportunity to learn from them how you can serve them better. 


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  1. Liff, October 10, 2012
    Brands may have all the best strategies and techniques they could use to "interact" with consumers, however it is also a fact that there are different reactions they can get from the general public: positive, negative and so-so or some doesn't even care..
    From the positive feedback: brands can get inspiration to keep doing what they do and would find ways to become better.
    From the negative feedback: (probably and usually from the competitors side) brands should learn to deal with it maturely.
    From the people who doesn't really care: Brands have all the opportunity to turn them into likers or unlikers!   ^^,) 
  2. Joe Gonzalez, October 09, 2012
    Some brands will have a much more difficult time successfully interacting with consumers via social media, while other will have it easy. Weight Watchers is inherently a social brand that has a lot of good will going for it, while a brand like ChapStick is old, dusty, and in a category that has limited buzz-worthy potential. That's not to say it isn't possible, but brands in the OTC category have to be really clever to achieve and maintain social media popularity. That said, I think that for all brands, social media is a great way to get consumers to engage with them, but it is still in its infancy. FB needs to find a way to allow brands to engage consumers in mobile, which is where the future is at - and give up the investor pressure to think of it as old-fashioned "advertising".

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