If brands want to succeed in social, they must learn to let go

I’ve spent three days at a conference listening to brands share stories on the rapid developments of social media, where a common theme has been difficulty in convincing senior marketers to buy into the idea of allowing “super fans” represent their brand.

Ronan Shields

It’s understandable that marketers may be hesitant in absolving control of their brand to (not always accountable) third parties. But if a truly effective social media strategy is to be put into practice, brands must be prepared not to have it all their own way.

However, over the last three days I’ve seen plenty of best practice examples to demonstrate how trusting online communities with their own voices can both improve the impact of a brand and even help reduce overheads. Something that can help marketers win fans in their finance department – a rarity indeed. 

Brands simply must accept that if they have any kind of an addressable audience people are going to start talking about them online – be it on MySpace, Twitter or even bespoke forums – and forward-thinking brands are taking part in these discussions. Not trying to take control of them.

Take TomTom for example, Kenneth Refsgaard, manager of online support, told me the launch of its online communities forum was prompted when it learned that people were discussing its services and products on third party sites.

Fully aware of the potential for failure, the company took the decision to invite these audiences to lead content on its online forums.

Refsgaard maintains the net effect has been improved organic search results, meaning they don’t have to invest as much in their SEO activity as its forum indexes among the top results when people search for the brand. He also maintains that this is saving cost on customer support calls.

As further proof, Richard Haring, director of digital for US cable giant Verizon, maintains that opening its online forums to user content now means these pages regularly rank within the top five search returns against non-branded queries on its industry sector.

Put simply, that means that Verizon is now the leading brand in its industry category in search due to trusting its “super fans” to contribute content.   

However, this is not without risk. Just about every brand discussed the potential implications of things going wrong and leaving themselves open to criticism on their own forums over the (inevitable) mishaps. A scenario that is every marketer’s worst nightmare.

However, Lithium CEO Rob Tarkoff, whose company was hosting the event, maintains that it’s simply a risk brands must take if they are to truly operate as a social brand.   

“Trusted content is the new corporate asset, but it’s not necessarily something that brands control. It’s customers that will establish what a brand stands for,” says Tarkoff.

In an era that is increasingly being labelled as “the age of the customer”, brands have to establish a new socially viable mode of operations, even if it brings with it big risks, he adds.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I could not agree more that getting your "super fans" to be contributors to the brand story is a key element to success for social and SEO in todays environment. I know it is scary but CMO's must remind themselves that the bad conversations are going to happen regardless. With an open environment inside your owned media you are giving the audience at least a stage that you know for those conversations.

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