Brand Approach to Social Media: Where’s the Party?

December 19, 2012
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing

written by former LiveWorld employee, Ryan Morris

As brands have rushed toward social media and now attempt to evaluate what it’s doing for their businesses, we’re all very interested in how it’s going. What are we getting out of it? Who’s doing it best? What are they doing that makes it better?
We’ve always thought of social as a gathering of people — a party that the brand throws for its customers. Sometimes brand execution matches that metaphor, and sometimes it’s really more like plain old advertising or promotional campaigns. The question is, how do people react to what brands put out there, and what do they do about it.
We’ve all been to that party that never took off. Maybe you attend a gathering  where you don’t really know the hosts very well, but you feel flattered to be asked; you have high expectations. At least you have some expectations that motivate you to go; maybe other guests you expect to meet, or some announcement or special event in the offing.
But when you get there, no one seems to be in charge. Every now and then someone makes an announcement about where you can find the refreshments, but no one actually speaks to you, welcomes you, or notices you’re there. People tend to sit around the sides, waiting for something to happen (maybe looking at their watches and making comments about needing to leave early because of the babysitter). No life of the party around; no life in the party.

The Party Core

Here’s a way of thinking about it that often works out better:
social media party planning
At the core of a party are the hosts; in the case of social media, the brand. When the brand takes and accepts the host role, you feel it. You sense that someone is present, attentive, and interested in you. Like a good host, the people who speak for the brand are noticing who’s there and interacting with them — involving the guests in the party.
You also sense there’s a program, and someone is making it happen. You can think of this role as the party planner and/or the DJ. Or, in your very own home, it could just be your sister-in-law, who’s letting people know which room has the football game and where the non-fans are playing cards. These folks make sure the guests know what’s going on — what we’re trying to do here. They understand the atmosphere the host wants to create, and they’re helping to make it happen. At a big party, you may even run into numerous helpers, or ushers (or even bouncers), who make sure you’re comfortable and know how to find everything you need.

The Guest Role

At a great party, the guests really get involved. It’s their personalities, their willingness to contribute, and the connections that they make with each other and with the host that really bring the life to the party. When you make the invitation list, you may already know who some of these folks are going to be. For brands, they’re often called ambassadors or evangelists. They like you, and they can be a big help. Most importantly, their charisma and energy influences other guests. They get people talking, they involve people, and they often bring their friends along with them. It’s these folks who most readily pick up on the tone the host is trying to set, and they naturally respond and amplify it. That’s partly because it’s in their nature to be very social; but it’s also partly because they like and support the host — and want to help. Most brands know these people are out there and reach out to them. But it’s not always evident in Facebook or Twitter efforts that brands recognize, value, and encourage these folks as part of their daily conversations. Luckily, these folks will often help out anyway.

Fun is Contagious

Often because of the efforts of the host (the brand), all the party helpers, and the core party participants, the next circle of guests gets enlivened and joins in the fun. And that’s the case if by “fun,” we mean an intense discussion of serious themes. They’re feeling the atmosphere, whatever it is, and participating enthusiastically.
Because of all the good vibes created by this time, even the folks who typically just sit on the sidelines begin to enjoy the party. It’s not necessarily in their natures to be out on the dance floor, but they like the energy and they don’t leave. In the social media world, these might be the readers of your page and the comments that other people post. They don’t necessarily post their own contributions, but they keep reading and they share something from your page now and then with their own friends. They also may buy a lot of your products. Most importantly, they like the atmosphere you’ve created and they’re influenced by the energy of other people. The good news about your party spreads — and that’s good news for your business.

The Party Metaphor Applied

People are more creative when they understand what’s going on — they have boundaries, props, and a sense of culture for a given place. Arriving at a flat venue to read announcements without cultural context is disorienting for people. You have to let people know what your party is about.
Facebook is a great place for this type of creativity. Over the past year, LiveWorld has been helping a major retailer elevate their Facebook presence to one of the most engaged and engaging brand Fan pages on Facebook.
Working closely with the social engagement team, we’ve been able to analyze the participation of the party guests (the fans/posters on the page) and let the host (the brand) know what types of hors d’oeuvres, activities, or music (content such as photos, links, videos, questions, etc.) don’t just get a lot of likes, but result in an on-going dialogue between the guests (the real-life customers) and the social media team. And furthermore, which guests get interested and active about what? In some cases, it has brought to light that certain guests need or deserve more attention and focus.
By gaining insights from staff observations and categorizing of the reactions people have to brand content, the company’s then able to kick the party in overdrive, giving fans of the page more of what they want, and coming back for more. That “want” is satisfied through a well-developed content mix — just like well thought-out progression of event activities or the music mix of a party DJ.

The Social Balance: Analysis and Posting Ratios

When hosting a good party, you can’t play only one genre of music, as you’ll bore anyone not interested in that style of tunes. A smart DJ observes the real-time guest reactions to see what is performing well or not — watching closely to see what’s getting people to dance, but also what’s generating good conversation, and thinking about how to accelerate that interaction. You may never get the wallflowers to leave their cozy corner of the room and get on the dance floor, but you can still keep their interest in the party by playing the hits (good content mix with interesting conversation).
On the web, while posting images of kittens is cute, and “cuteness” always seems to perform well, what does it do for a retailer’s brand? Well, it’s important for recreational relief and adds to brand personality, but in doses appropriate to the brand’s business goals. We’ve found the content mix of 30/40/30 to work best with this company. That is, about 30-percent of the content is social (such as funny images, viral videos, and purely social questions), about 40-percent is brand-related (content that speaks to the core of the company’s identity) and the remaining 30-percent, category-related (relates to a particular category of item the retailer sells — such as clothing style trends — but not necessarily a particular clothing product).
Many brands do better with 30-percent social; 20, brand-related; and 40, category-related. It depends on the brand, what it’s trying to accomplish, and what its constituency is looking for.

Keeping Things on Track

You’d never throw a party, invite people to your home, and then go out to the movies, telling people to lock the door when they leave. That would be way too risky, and certainly wouldn’t meet your goal of connecting with your friends and showing them a good time. You stay and pay close attention to what’s going on, keeping your party moving along the way you intend it to.
Similarly, we work closely with our example retailer to monitor how things are going. This involves hands-on 24/7 personal observation, responding to people socially, thanking them for their positive comments, answering their questions, raising flags when issues arise, and escalating any signs that indicate guests are unhappy, concerned, critical, or not getting along with each other. Those are all signals that the host needs to get involved.
But unless you’re watching closely, you can miss it. When we first got involved with this company, it was thought that getting 2000 comments on a post meant that they should do more of that kind of post. However, when a little elbow and grease and analysis was applied, it turned out that 1600 of the posts were off-topic and 1300 of them were negative. Clearly something needed to change.
In this case, close attention to topic mix and addition of prompt brand interaction reduced off-topic and/or negative posts over a short period of time.
Often, things can be turned around by a brand participating closely: recognition and acknowledgment for people who have problems, helping them get resolution, or even just moving a topic back on track when it’s gotten derailed. Even kidding around with people is helpful; people appreciate being heard. We’ve seen that when such attention and intervention is in place, negative comments have gone down dramatically over short periods of time.

It’s Still About the Business

In the party metaphor as it is applied in a real-world example, it’s all about the relationship the retailer has formed with its online audience — which consequently turns into real-life dollars at the store level. That’s because people stay tuned in for the interactions as well as the brand announcements. A connection forms — not only with brand, but more importantly with the fun, energy, and activity around the brand. People don’t like to miss out 😉
Today, most companies and their digital agencies have run toward Facebook with a promotion. They build a fan-count base, rather than building a relationship structure. Now that’s typical in new-media form, and there’s a lot more talk now about which is better: 10 million fans, or 10 million that you engage with?
But really, the right question is, which is better: 10 million fans, or 1 million fans that actually engage with you?