Abstract: The rise of social networks is creating huge
opportunities for marketers, yet huge liabilities loom for inauthentic
brands trying to vie for consumer attention.
For all the technology geeks out there, peer to peer computing is a familiar concept-- harnessing an interconnected mesh of network bandwidth for information sharing and distribution. Companies like FON, a peer to peer approach to wifi, and Joost, a peer-to-peer method of distributing video are two fine examples of services that use peer to peer computing very well. The key concept in each case is that networked members (computers) share their collective bandwidth and computing power to process and deliver information.
The rise of social networks like MySpace, Facebook and popular blogs that invite reader interaction like The Huffington Post, FARK, and Boing Boing are driving a new (and obvious) form of peer to peer-- social P2P networking, where the collective bandwidth of social networks is used to distribute and share information. For a recent example, look no further than the 12 hours leading up to the presidential election when huge numbers of people 'donated' their Facebook status to supporting Barack Obama. In doing so, the P2P network of one's Facebook friends became a statement about who's voting for whom, and the collective weight of how many became obvious.
Instead of sharing network bandwidth, connected groups of people are now sharing their collective brain-bandwidth on trends, what to believe, what to consume, who or what to like, hate, engage with and so forth. Again, in Facebook, you see this reflected every day in people becoming "fans" of products, services, people, such as Tina Fey or the iPhone. In his excellent book, Here Come's Everybody, Clay Shirky describes the power of organizing outside of organizations brought about by the openness of the internet and the means of connecting groups with similar affinities. This is enormously powerful stuff, as it means that connectedness and sharing have huge power to influence purchasing of products and services, and therefore all marketers should be very interested if they want to prosper, nee to even survive!
For brand marketers, the obvious challenge is finding the means to tap into these networks to leverage their collective power. This is particularly important as people shift TV viewing time and other time slots for advertising consumption over to time spent interacting with friends via social networks and blogs. It's not an easy process, as networks are elusive, difficult to enjoin, and impermanent. There's a lot of writing out there on how marketers should approach and appeal to social networks, but one issue is missing from the discussion altogether, and I think it is the most important and challenging for all marketers-- is your brand authentically living up to its promises.
brands such as GM have had complete latitude to define their brand in
the mind of consumers. Using TV, print, and radio advertising, ideals
such as "Like a rock!" have been poured onto the consumer, along with
images of apple pie, Americana, and hard working people. However, in
the Spring of 2006, when GM asked their customers to make and submit their own commercials,
the gap between brand sending (GM) and reception (their customers) was
painfully exposed, thanks in part to social P2P. GM was shocked to
discover how many consumers were not buying their GM promise, and had
other messages on their minds, like "You're melting the planet," and so
on. And, herein lies the biggest challenge for all brands in the new
connected world of P2P social networks-- if your brand promotion is
inconsistent with the consumer's true brand experience, your marketing
will not only fail, but it will fail spectacularly as connected
consumers use their bandwidth to distribute that failed brand promise.
It's one thing to be laughed at by a single magazine reader, or roomful
ofsuperbowl viewers, yet quite another to experience the collective ire of blogs like hatewalmart.com. Some brands, such as Scion, Red Bull, and even BaconSalt (and Baconnaise) are creating and living up tp authentic brand promises for their consumers, and this
reflects in the promotional fan and consumer communities that have
sprung up on soical networks (Facebook has 395 groups for Scion).
Again, closing this gap is not a luxury-- -it is a strategic
imperative for marketers as consumers come to rely more and more on
their social networks to find, share and categorize their brand
experiences.What it requires, however, is a dose of honesty that more closely resembles a conversation with consumers, and not a core dump of self-important messages and imagery. This will be the topic of a subsequent post.