I’d Like to Teach the World to Share

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ADOTAS – Is a social marketing strategy synonymous with having a Facebook fan page? Brands have been able to create “legitimate” social experiences on Facebook with eager and willing audiences, but is this the only valid social framework? Perhaps we have become accustomed to the Facebook fan page format, constraining our imaginations to a 560-pixel-wide box.

It is time for brands to break out of that box and create a third space for connecting with socially engaged consumers. The days of richly branded websites are waning, and Facebook fan pages are critical but transitional. We must recognize that consumer culture has shifted, and we should create a way to participate without losing our identity.

The Coke Experience

The challenge of adopting and exploiting cultural change is not new. In the early 1970s, Coca-Cola was facing the aftershocks of Woodstock and huge cultural shifts. In one of the great brand shifts, Coke (with McCann-Erickson),

“began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink. . . . [I] began to see the familiar words, ‘Let’s have a Coke,’ as . . . actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’ And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be—a liquid refresher—but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes.”

Coca-Cola didn’t follow the consumer around, instead the company decided to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Coca-Cola feeds a connection created by a shared experience.

Today, this giant of a brand has more than 34 million Facebook fans. But when we look at Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, it feels like the genie in Disney’s Aladdin, with its immense, universal power crammed into an “Itty-bitty living space.” One of the most carefully nurtured and curated brands of the 20th century is described with the same 20-pixel Lucida Grande font as Knock Out! Panties.

 

 

Big Impressions With Little Effort

The key to the next phase of social branding is sharing. Brands need to execute programs that allow socially networked consumers to tell stories using their brands.

In the social realm, the sharing of content is an incredibly vital means of establishing and maintaining connections. People want to tell their story to their friends through comments, posts, pictures and videos, and those shared bits of experience and advice keep relationships fresh. People want to do this in the quickest and easiest manner possible.

Facebook has cornered the market on quick and easy. Status updates, likes and shares are their stock and trade. Take a cute picture of your kid, post it. Have an interesting commentary on life, share it with your world. Read something you find funny or empathize with, punch the “like” button. Sharing is caring, and sharing through a social network has the fringe benefits of low barriers, excellent distribution and low clutter.

Instagram, Twitter and even Foursquare perpetuate this fundamental truth: We want to make an impression with as little work as possible. For example, with Instagram, I can take a mediocre picture then add a filter to make it interesting and maybe even surprisingly beautiful, before sharing my “art” with my network. Little work, lots of reward.

Most brands have elected to set up a “kiosk” in each of these sites. A Facebook fan page and a Twitter account are de rigeur, and a YouTube channel may even be in order. But the cost is that your brand is literally and symbolically below that of Facebook or Twitter. These are the rules by which anyone who wants to get into the game must abide.

In some cases this can have real brand implications. Even if we get past the clutter and generic experiences, we face the reality that advertiser-supported networks run ads, and they are not usually for your company. It’s not uncommon to see a Twitpic ad for a competitor run alongside a brand’s shared picture. Generic sharing sites may be convenient, but this brand is your brand.

Marketers can get quick, easy sharing with brand integrity by using web pages and networks together. The social graph can be harnessed for user participation and reach while still keeping the brand together. The trusty webpage can be liberated from the site and introduced to social networks.

Web pages are the basic unit of interactivity and consumption. Yes, they contain more than 140 characters, but this allows them to unify image, action and editorial in incredibly powerful ways. But perhaps most importantly, webpages can carry the production elements of branding. This is critical. A well-produced page can communicate visual, narrative and experiential components of your brand in ways that shares and posts simply cannot.

All you have to do is be willing to imagine pages that are shareable social experiences, not components of a site or steps in a funnel.

A Social Branded Page

The goal of a social page is simple: Embrace the power of pages to create interactive branded experiences, while not viewing the social page as just another necessary site element. It is the content that makes a page shareable, so clean the slate of every web page you’ve seen before today.

Forget about your site pages. They are not social. Expand your idea of what a Starbucks or Coca-Cola page should look like or how it should connect and be connected. Involve your consumers, your fans and your partners.

This means that you will create hundreds and even thousands of pages with user generated content, not just one site page with a Twitter feed tacked on. It will also mean pages created in tandem with partners. In each case, ask how the page helps your fans and followers share a story that is better with you in it. It’s a much more authentic and sharable way to include your brand as part of the conversation.

I’d like to teach the world to share, because its what we are built to do.

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