I recently went to a trendy cocktail bar in Sydney. I admit my small town girl roots mean I still get pretty excited about the glamour of these places and all the beautiful people who go there.
I was unpleasantly surprised however, when I had to wait almost 15 minutes to be served a drink and the bar person who did looked at me like it was totally cramping her style to even be talking to me.
Post my belittling bar experience I scuttled back to the safety of my friend, who obviously clocked my deflated face, “don’t worry about it – they recruit here for attitude. It’s part of their whole ‘exclusive’ brand experience” she mocked. “You should feel lucky you get to be here!”
I looked back at the bar, with its dismissive beautiful people looking miserable and moodily out onto the crowd and thought how utterly bizarre, yet brandedly brilliant this was.
There is something fascinating in a person physically purposefully ‘being’ a brand in their approach and interaction with others. Supreme Skateboards are a brand famous for their purposely arrogant, and almost obnoxious attitude to credibly be seen as a relevant skate brand tapping into the subculture around that scene.
We also see this in recruiting people to work in our own organisations – whether they posess our company ‘DNA’, but because people are all unique in our own ways, we always bring a little bit of ourselves to our representation of our brand. Plus, we behave differently on different days, different times, with different people and in different situations. We typically have more layers than a brand onion. You can never fully control an individual being the bar person. Nor would you want to, because that is what makes the interaction more real, more human and feel right for the social situation you’re in.
Is social media any different to this? We use our social networks to interact and communicate with our friends. As people we expect to interact with other people in this forum. Not plastic, unpersonalised brands. We don’t want to hear it. In fact, as Grace Gordon pointed out in JC’s blog a few weeks ago – we are switching off to being targeted by the “beast that is facebook” and restricting to our inner online circles where we can interact with other people we have relationships with.
Trying too hard to be perfect?
Online, we have the ability to put in processes that have ultimate control over everything we say. Unlike the bar or the skate shop, where an individual can become their own interpretation of the brand, in social media every word we publish and respond with can be scrutinised and in some cases, be legally approved, before being broadcast, but my impression, like or dislike of you will still be judged on how you behave in the social context of where we are and if you feel like a ‘person’ I want to talk to and potential have a relationship with.
An example of that this week was when Cussons tried to tell people about their ‘amazing’ products on Twitter. Again and again, the same, shiny, polished ad copy was pumped out. Presumably to ensure no-one missed the valuable information they were giving us.
What happened? No-one really cared, except being met with retaliation.
With brands though, it can’t all be freestyled either, we know we have to be careful about what we say and what we do online, while the guy in the Supreme store might break his aloof poise to help the cute girl who visits the store that day will go unnoticed, the internet never forgets, it captures every interaction and its open for all to see, including the senior members of staff and the legal department.
So, how do we balance behaving like people in social spaces, while abiding by brand law? How do you define your brand’s approach for social spaces in such a way people want to share and connect with you? How do you create a relationship they will get something out of too?
3 potential approaches I’ve seen.
1 – Be a person(ality)
People and characters are more interesting than brands. They posess characteristics we can empathise with and enjoy interacting with and they can adapt their behaviour in a more natural way to the environment they are in.
When I went home last year to the UK I was shocked at how popular a character created for a financial services comparison site had become. To the extent people could buy soft toys, pencil cases and even garden ornaments of Aleksandr Orlov, the Meerkat.
Whilst social media allows us to build a more 3 dimensional character to engage with for fans, that we have control over, I think there will always be a reliance on other media featuring that character to build an awareness and a desire to interact with them online. Bertrum Thumbcat pulls in more fans than the Cravendale Milk ad he’s in, but I suspect the TV ad has a lot to do with his success on facebook.
Characters can be a good way to play in this space in an interesting way. But you should also ask why and what you are willing to invest time and budget in developing a whole character that will build a relationship with your audience, what that says about your brand and what it will do for you.
2 – Be a real person behind the brand.
We are seeing more and more that brands who do a customer service job in social media space allow the people doing the work to attach their name to the post and response. I like this approach, because again it allows us to add a more human layer to the interaction and you’ll often see the customer start to refer to the team member by name.
3 – Be the entertainment
At any party or social occasion there is the band, the comedian or the storyteller at the table that keeps the conversation going or just keeps people smiling - which gives us a more positive, happy vibe.
We know the internet is full of lurkers who watch and love stuff out there, but may not ever interact with it. When using Facebook’s Sponsored Stories I found it interesting that the posts getting the highest number of views interestingly weren’t always the ones with the most interactions.
Whilst being a great way to engage people with your brand, it may be the toughest to measure the impact of your work.
Two of my own personal favourite pages that do that in the US are
Again, you need to decide if that is the approach that is right for your brand and if you have a credible service or product to do this without cynical backlash.
Can brands be social?
Yes. Its a great way to have more of a personality that people can build more of a relationship with your brand around. Essentially, so they’ll just like you more. However, you need to carefully consider who you are, what the environment is and how you will behave in it. Think about how you yourself would want to be perceived before entering a party, what types of people would want to talk to you and why? What will make you interesting for them? Otherwise, you run the risk of being that daggy, dull person that everyone awkwardly ignores.