Social media is about more than gaining followers or stumping for “likes”; you should always focus on building a community of brand evangelists willing to participate in discourse about your brand not just with you, but with one another. This provides the opportunity to create a culture around your brand, partially by your management of the community and partially by the input and activity of the community’s members.
A major hang-up many companies can’t (or won’t) overcome is the necessity to relinquish your brand to users and consumers; the Old Ways of micro-managing interactions and relying on one-directional communication are still heavy in the minds of many business owners and brand managers, but the truth is that there’s an immense amount of liberation and growth to be found in releasing a brand to an interactive audience. An engaged community can provide market research and consumer feedback that, while lacking the scientific rigor of formal research, can nonetheless prove illuminating and valuable in shaping strategy. Moreover, a properly engaged community can become a valuable resource in directly contributing to brand growth through crowdsourcing.
As a natural extension of social media, crowdsourcing has become a colossal trend; worldwide brands have gotten hip to the fact that allowing consumers to determine their own degree of interaction stokes a considerable amount of brand loyalty and converts consumers into brand evangelists with relative ease.
Take, for instance, Mountain Dew’s incredible “Dewmocracy” campaign, where a year-long campaign relied on consumers to join a community and collaborate to develop three new, distinct Mountain Dew products all of which came to market; after a three-month period, consumers were again asked to vote online for their favorite flavor, which then became a permanent brand extension of the Mountain Dew product line. Customers were freely contributing creative capital to Mountain Dew projects; that’s something no amount of media buying can accomplish.
Outside the realm of consumer packaged goods, Facebook has become the platform of choice for Iceland’s constitutional overhaul. The country essentially cut-and-paste their previous constitution from Denmark in 1944 but following the 2008 economic crisis, leaders decided there was no time like the present to encourage their citizenry to mold the country’s primary document. Aside from Facebook, Iceland has built a Twitter account and YouTube channel to communicate with users and share information from the country’s constitutional council. This is an approach applicable particularly to NGOs, PVOs and NPOs, who need to offer meaningful engagement opportunities to activate online “slacktivists” that might otherwise fail to contribute or educate themselves on important political or social causes.
Websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo offer crowdsourcing vis-à-vis “crowdfunding,” allowing users to contribute money to user-created projects ranging from creative ventures to charitable causes; users can opt to fund films, novels, photography series, craftmakers, disaster relief efforts, musicians, comics, designers, dancers, consumer goods, food and much, much more. This concept takes the notion of a marketplace of ideas to a very tangible level and for some entrepreneur and business owners represents a very real opportunity to develop their own brands and community within that of another site.
Entertainment properties like Warner Bros. forthcoming sequel “The Dark Knight Rises” have also utilized social media innovation to increase awareness and participation; theirs is a campaign indicative of the level of involvement some communities will go for content. A page with nothing more than an audio loop launched the same day principal photography began on the film; intrepid fans found the page, downloaded the audio file and figured out by looking at the audio spectrum a Twitter hash tag – “#TheFireRises” – was embedded within. Word spread and it soon was discovered every time someone used that hash tag, each user’s profile image became a pixel of a larger mosaic to reveal a picture of one of the film’s characters. Massive publicity coverage plus community engagement in one fell swoop.
These are just a few incredible examples of what can be achieved when you harness a community through social media; it’s of the utmost importance to strategize how you’re not only going to attract new users but retain the users you’ve already collected. Better yet, how can you benefit from a massive crowd of customers gathered around your brand? Devising a means to convert social media users to customers – meaning sales, be it brick and mortar or e-commerce – as well as encouraging them to share your information and assets is the ultimate goal of social media. Once you’ve rounded up enough worker bees, you’ve simply got to be smart about turning them loose.