Start Up Blog

You can’t control social media

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 22, 2010

I was recently invited to Social Media Club Melbourne to appear on a panel with Scott Kilmartin of Haul and Sahil Merchant of Magnation. The topic was Building Brand Buzz.

The three of us were generally aligned on our thoughts, with varied executions using social media tools given the differences in our businesses. I’m a big fan of Magnation, but there was one area in which Sahil and I disagreed, and that was that he preferred to control the output of social media. His contention was that he wanted a single voice to represent the brand personality. On the surface this sounds reasonable, even rational, but even a week later I really think it goes against what it is all about and here’s why:

The voice of a brand is the collective actions of all of it’s representatives. Not the CEO, the marketing director or the advertising they put in the market. Just ask anyone about their opinion of banks in Australia. It has nothing to do with the voice banks project, and more to do with the customer interactions. The voice is what the people hear & experience on a personal level, not what the brand stewards say.

Social media can’t be controlled. So why try? There is nothing worse than limiting the voice of your people. They will talk anyway. They’ll share links, write about your brand and talk about it on line and off. They will have real interactions with customers, and if what the authorised voice says (Sahil in this case) doesn’t match the reality of the brand in action, then it all sounds contrived and is useless anyway. It’s more likely to have meaning and be authentic if its the word of the people, not the king. So let your people participate. Give them their own Magnation twitter account, a sub brand of sorts. Be a collective. Be real.

Create culture, don’t control output. It’s an errant assumption to believe you know better than your people do. It’s often not the case. What we need to do is educate our people on what we want to be as brand, the persona. Give them some guidance and let them represent us, make mistakes and be human. People love dealing with companies who have a human voice and mistakes are part of the human.

Trust creates value. I find it curious that companies trust their employees with the key’s to the building and the cash register and not their voices. It’s best to approach it like a parent does with a teenager. Give a bit, let them prove themselves and then loosen the lead a bit more. Trusted people usually over deliver to expectations. People who are shut out usually react in the opposite. In social media context we need to trust the average human outcome, rather than block all for fear of a single bad outcome.

The key point to me is, if you want a controlled voice, then social media isn’t the right vehicle for a brand. More traditional media would be more suitable. The word social is the giveaway here, because social implies conversation, not lecturing or monologue. All our people should be part of the conversation if we want to create real value.

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5 Responses

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  1. Pat said, on March 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Heya Steve, Pat here – got your blog url from Hsuen – will follow! :)

  2. Scott Kilmartin said, on March 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I thought i handed the mic back and forth [Johnny Farnham style] between both punters rather well.
    Almost fumbled it once, but luckily no milk was spilt.

  3. Mathias said, on March 23, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Totally agree with what you are saying. Also, many companies wants to “control” the way the message about them are portrayed, because they are afraid of the customer interaction.

    Social media is, as you mentioned, a new way of doing promotion and increasing brand awareness. I think it is better to let the word out and let the customers say what they think about your company. Bad and good. If there is any bad things said about your company or the products/services you offer, then you should interact with those angry people who think you are “full of shit” and try to resolve the issue constructively (trying to solve the issue so that that those angry customers can start to support you positively instead of negatively).

    Social media is a totally new ball game in the world of promotion. In the old days you did your marketing etc and customers came in. But there wasn’t that much talk about bad word-of-mouth trends. And in the old days (before the internet era) the word was spread very slowly in deed. Today, the word can be spread around the world in 1 hour or less. So today, more than ever, it pays to be a pro-active company and be helpful instead of scornful and ignorant. The best marketing you can get is that of your customers. And besides: you can’t recieve any cheaper marketing than that of your customers. So it is a win-win.

    I say like you: why have only one voice when you can have millions of supporters pushing your product/service? For free? It doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to one voice which you need to pay for as well.

  4. Michael Darby said, on March 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Building Brand Buzz was my first #smscmelb event and won’t be my last. Enjoyed it immensely and got alot from it.

    I think discussion on different view points is what it’s all about. Stimulates great debate and allows you to see different aspects off an argument to enable you to form your own informed opinion.

  5. Luke Moulton said, on March 25, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. And Scott did a very nice job of being the diplomat in between.


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