Why do we call it social?

I often wonder what the etymology of the term ‘social media’ is. Ironically enough, I could not find the answer online (there is an unanswered thread in Quora and a Google search throws up some useless links). For a while, I thought it was called so because of the things it did not stand for (like capitalist or dictatorial media) rather than what it stood for. But then again, it is quite capitalist – you can broadcast paid content; and also dictatorial – content can be moderated. In the end, I realized that it is called so because it empowers everybody in the value chain, in a fair, democratic manner:

  • Facebook benefits because I am a member, but I log into Facebook unprompted, in my own time. I post only the content that I precisely want to.
  • The advertiser can promote a trend on Twitter, but cannot force it to become a viral
  • A brand can moderate discussions on its page, but not without running the risk of losing followers. Or worse, infuriating them! (as Nestle will tell you)

So how does a brand win? ‘Twitterverse’ and the ‘Blogosphere’ seem to be filled with ‘social media experts’ who prescribe a lot of Do’s and Dont’s on a daily basis. But how much of it is ‘expertise’ and how much mere ‘excitement’? I wanted to make some empirical findings based on what has worked and what has not. Below are some learnings from what seems to have worked:

1. Create campaigns for your social community and not the other way round

A typical meeting with a brand owner begins with them telling the ‘listening’ agency that ‘they are planning a large TVC and they want to create a Facebook fan page as an extension of it. I guess the motivation for this is to maximize the reach of the campaign for which, big $ have already been spent. While it is the logical thing to do, is it really utilizing the potential of the medium? What happens after the campaign ends? What is the net gain for the brand from this exercise?

On the other hand, the brands who have successfully embraced social media seem to be doing this the other way. Porsche recently celebrated its one millionth fan, not by putting out a press release, or through a status message, but by adding the name of every fan onto their brand new 911 GT3 R Hybrid, which will be displayed at the Porsche museum. And this was just a culmination of a series of initiatives focused around their social fan base that included creating a family tree app (where people post pictures of their Porsches) and a ‘spot a Porsche’ app on Foursquare during a Dallas football game. These FB fans are not going to leave the Porsche fan page for a long time!

Ben & Jerry went a step further. They wanted to promote their ‘Fair Trade’ initiatives for farmers and also leverage the creativity of their online fans. They killed both the birds with one stone – The ‘Do a World a Flavor’ campaign. Where fans come up with creative new flavors and the winner gets to make a trip to the Dominican Republic to see the sustainable fair trade farms and what is more, the flavor gets added as an official Ben & Jerry product. Needless to say, the campaign as well as the community is an ongoing success.

2. Connect their social and the real worlds:

Adobe I thought did this brilliantly. Clearly, the youth on FB need something to carry with them beyond the virtual world in to their real life, to get their mind space. Adobe used a combination of cutting edge and old school – (read an FB app and a discount coupon) to achieve this. The FB app which was also high on fun quotient, challenged users to identify real pictures from fake ‘photoshopped’ ones. The ones who got it right, stood to win upto 80% student discounts on their products. The campaign was a great success, with the game being played more than 14000 times in a month and more than 6% of users clicking on the ‘buy now’ button for their real world use.

This campaign has got so many things right – right from identifying the perfect engagement point (FB) for the target demographic (students) and creating something exclusive for the FB fan community, to generating actual sales leads.

Closer to home, TATA Tea did probably the most successful Indian social campaigns till date with ‘Jaago Re’. Another initiative that ticks all the check boxes – relevance in the physical world, an opportunity for continuous engagement with the community (not just a one time TVC) and strong brand association with socially relevant themes.

‘Jaago Re’ continues to innovate with new apps and initiatives (like posting pictures of people who are ‘too busy to care’). With elections and corruption unlikely to go out of ‘front page’ news in the near future, this campaign is definitely in the run for the long haul.

3. Followers and fans are first subscribers

Mostly, the following exchange of messages should say it all.

While social media is largely akin to any other ‘word of mouth’, there is one obvious difference. Every single thing you say is cast in stone. There is no such thing as ‘off the record’. Like I mentioned in the first paragraph, your fan / follower base is not by any means a fan or follower in the real sense of these words. They are merely subscribers to whatever you have to say and them also liking your brand is only a best case scenario.

Also, there is a reason why ‘earned media’ is called that way. It is analogous to a party that your brand is invited to and there is no way you can gate crash it. While you may be the administrator of your FB fan page, you are hierarchically above your fans. You are merely facilitating their conversations. So, it goes without saying that ‘you gotta be nice all the time or don’t be there at all’.

What Nestle did in the above example was to pour gasoline on an already raging fire about deforestation in Indonesia related to palm oil. Probably the worst example till date of handling activism on a FB homepage. A close second would be Intel, which deleted comments of activists from Oregon (May 2010 – petitioning Intel to support the conflict mineral trade act), before realizing their folly. The following comment by Intel’s Kelly Feller sums it all up:

“Today we at Intel were reminded about the power of Facebook—and the effect of seemingly small acts, by both passionate advocates and by well-meaning social media employees. We at Intel would first like to apologize for deleting some comments and temporarily shutting down our Facebook page for comments for a brief period of time this morning. I can tell you that our intent wasn’t to silence the valuable opinions of our Fans. In trying to remain sensitive to all our Fans, we often delete messages that are political in nature or could be perceived as spam (messages with the exact same language repeated, instead of ongoing conversation or dialogue). However we should have been more sensitive to the very important topic at hand. For that we are deeply sorry.”