Personally, I can’t think of many brands with whom I’d like to be friends. Friendship is something I reserve for physical people.
Rather than “Friending” or “Liking,” what I would like from brands is to create value/utility for me. And to do that, they don’t have to be “Liked” by me or be my “Friend.”
To create value/utility, a brand most offer me something. That something can be a new and better experience using the product, it can be a better than expected repair experience when I least expect it, or great content which enriches my experience of using the brand. And it’s that value/utility which prompts me to recommend the brand to friends and family, whether through social media or a one-on-one conversation.
Research from PageLever shows that relatively few people re-visit a Facebook brand page after “Friending” the brand. This makes sense when considering that mostly people initially friended the brand in the first place in order to get a discount on something. Once receiving the discount, users don’t really have a need for their friendship with the brand. And that’s not really friending.
If there were ever a popularity contest among brands, the most “Liked” and “Friended” brand must be Apple. Yet Apple as a brand is barely engaged in social media (if it all). And they don’t have to, because they create products which bring real value/utility to users.
The reality is that 99% of companies aren’t Apple. And most product categories can’t elicit the kind of passion that users feel towards Apple. I can’t imagine many people being so passionate about their deodorant, laundry detergent or tooth paste as they are about Apple products.
The real innovation brought on by social media is that it made participating in the feedback loop easy. Anyone could post in a matter of seconds their feelings towards a brand in a place where anyone could see it.
But social media didn’t create the feedback, it just made it easier and more public. Marketers have known for years that “word of mouth” is the most effective form of marketing.
Unfortunately, too many marketers have jumped on the social media bandwagon and have pushed “Liking” and “Friending” as a way to improve the feedback loop to improve their relationship with their users. But merely liking a brand (just as merely liking a person) isn’t enough. That’s why research from Exact Target is warning of a potential backlash of ‘unliking’ brands (registration required — link thanks to Brian Solis).
Social media can provide value/utility if marketers use it in a meaningful way. Before every post, comment and tweet, marketers need to ask themselves if this post, comment or tweet is providing users with value/utility. It’s really that simple.