How the Social Web is Redefining Community and Brand Legitimacy

by Eric Tsai

Recently I gave a presentation on social media in which I mentioned that one of reasons social media is gaining great momentum is that it fosters the creation of community.

Naturally, we all have the desire to be part of a community, to become an insider on something that we’re interested in.

I gave the example of how two fans who loved Coke created a Coke Cola Facebook fan page that became the 2nd most popular page on Facebook with more than 3.5 million fans and yet they don’t work for Coke.

I was then asked “How do I build our community?  Where do we find them? On the internet?” To that I replied “Start by looking around your office, the community should start here, with your employees first. Internet just makes it easy for brand enthusiasts to gather and share their collective values.

That led to a discussion about how internet is redefining the concept of community as we can now gather and form any online community revolutionizing the idea of social capital (connections within and between social networks) and embracing personal brands among audience members.

This is why social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are so popular because they champion the idea of social capital enabling people to form interactive communities to freely express and connect.

It’s impressive to see that Facebook is approaching United States in terms of its population if Facebook were a country.

facebook_population

(Re)Defining Legitimacy: Opportunities and Challenges

For a long time traditional media has been perceived as the hegemonic manipulation of public opinion and consciousness by media authorities until the explosion of the internet.

We went from limited media sources (newspaper, TV channels, radio) controlling what gets passed through to virtually unlimited sources exchanging diverse and counter-hegemonic viewpoints.

In my opinion, this is one of the contributing factors (besides technology, economy of scales etc.) to the acceleration of social media into the mainstream spotlight.

People are seizing control of their own media experiences determining the spheres of legitimacy themselves amongst the social capital.

Particularly with information consumption, instead of being forced to accept and absorb the limited selection of perspectives offered by media controllers, consumers can now also become producers through participating in social media.

This create opportunities for individuals but problems for companies especially the more traditional organizations.

While social media fosters fresh thinking that challenges authorities, it’s actually a double-edged sword that also fragments communities.

To further compound this trend, people may trust information obtained from their social community much more than they do information from your company.

This is why many brands aren’t yet ready to join the social media party even as the distributed web has matured.

In addition, as the global markets shift into “conversation” mode on the social web, consumers are doing things that traditional marketer didn’t expect – taking ownership of those conversations often completely bypassing the hierarchies to fulfill their need for information about products or services.

In other words, social network instigated problem solving and value creation towards connections between people, allowing open influence within the networks.

The bottom line is that mistakes made by a brand in the social networks could trigger widely publicized compilations of the negative tweets, blog articles, images, and YouTube video with unpredictable reactions from all the open communities.

To understand social media, companies must first understand the power of people is in numbers and the beauty of the network is its pervasiveness.

Every company interested in getting involved in social media should develop its own strategy that can benefit from the open transparentness of the network.

The goal is to be perceived as authentic, interesting and personable.

If you are concerned about your social media presence, it’s time to re-evaluate your brand strategy from your customer’s perspective.

In this economy, consumers are rethinking their choices and are more conscious about making smarter choices, informed choices, and more up-to-date choices.

I’ve developed a model called (MEDIA) as tips that I use to help brands in the social web:

Monitor the Conversation

Get into the habit of monitor conversations proactively and listen to what’s been said about your company, your people, your competitors, and adapt accordingly.

Regularly check what’s already out there on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so you can be ready to react.

It also helps to track your competition’s conversation since both of you have shared audiences.

The goal is to build tailored brand advocacy programs based on these insights and form a formal process to help drive brand credibility from the inside out.

Engage with Meaning

Follow Warren Buffett’s quote to deliver value: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

In this case, the time that people take to engage with your brand is what they pay, so engage with the idea to bring value and elevate the conversation (read my last post to learn why social engagement is about conversations).

During your next conversation with your customers offline, think about where the conversation starts and how it ends.

Would you say something different online than what you say offline?

Define Sphere of Legitimacy

Align promises to expectations and draw your own circle of trust and stick your brand in it.  In the context of social media, brands are being perceived as a person thus making mistakes is not where the problem lies, but how you handle the problem when they occur.

There are many examples (search Google) on how some brands got burned doing the wrong thing with their hand caught in the cookie jar.

Simply put, either plea not guilty and be ready to defend yourself or plea guilty and apologize gracefully, know where you stand in the sphere of legitimacy at all times.

Integrate with Brand Strategy

Social media is simply one aspect of your marketing arsenals that’s part of your brand strategy.

In fact, social media should be integrated into your marketing strategies to build influence through communication that consistently and accurately reinforce your brand to your audience.

Try leveraging existing social media resources to help promote your brand such as building a widget, starting a LinkedIn group, or creating a Facebook fan page.

The goal is to integrate offline and online marketing campaign that clearly defines your brand.

Analyze and Apply

Take the above steps and analyze the outcome focusing on the fundamental of the consumers’ online behavior.

Let people know why they should stay and be part of your community.

Focus on the experience of community, the shared emotional connections where members foster the sense and spirit of your community.

The idea is to constantly improve your community and to do so you need quantitative analysis to track the results of your engagement so you can apply what you learn on a larger scale.