Start Up Blog

Brand voices are now a collective

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 20, 2010

You Can’t Control Social Media
Marketers and advertisers alike are largely aligned when it comes to their views on social media. We all know how to use it, and why it can be so valuable to brands. But there is one area which is most often the area of heated debate,
and that is this:

Can we really control the output of our social media?

It’s clear what big brands want – A single voice to represent the brand personality. On the surface this sounds reasonable, even rational, but the more I think about it I really believe it goes against what it is all about and here’s why:

The voice of a brand is the collective actions of all of its 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 and 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 (brand marketers and advertisers) 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 it is the word of the people, not the King. So let your people participate. All brand managers should run twitter accounts for their brand, giving updates on what they are planning and doing, a sub-communications strategy of sorts.

Create culture, don’t control output.

It’s an errant assumption to believe we know better than our front line employees do. It’s just not the case. What we need to do is educate our people in various levels of the business on what we want to be as a brand, the persona. We need to give them some guidance boundaries within which they can play, and some no go zones, and then 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 experience.

Trust creates value.

I find it curious that companies trust their employees with the keys 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 and mistrusted often act in the opposite way to what we desire. In a social media context we need to trust the average human outcome, rather than block all for fear of a single bad outcome. But again, this is where the boundaries come into play.  There needs to be augmented boundaries with clear repercussions for those who step outside of them.

The key point for brand marketers and entrepreneurs is this: 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. If we really want to create social brand value then all voices in the social value chain need to be heard.

This article was written for the Eye on Australia research program.

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