Social Media Branding - Better Ways To Improve Engagement And Audience Growth

When social media first came on the scene, and for many years after, continuing to today, many marketers thought, and still think, that the way to social media success is to throw money at the platform, buy branded advertising, boost those posts, and you're naturally going to grow your brand and your business.

Indian celebration of colours
Brand is culture. Culture is brand.

While there is a lot of merit in buying the advertising that will give you the reach you're looking for, and while it's always good practice to begin geo-targetting your audiences and A/B testing your content, and this will always drive some interest and some sales, there is a better way to spend your money to create and expand your brand engagement, marketing, and sales efforts in social. In a worthwhile article published in Harvard Business Review, the author notes that many of the biggest brands deployed traditional branding and marketing techniques by spending billions of dollars on millions of hours of branded content in social media channels, and didn't get the effects they were looking for; even, in cases, finding that their brands were diminished through a traditional branded content strategy. This is because social media doesn't act like traditional advertising; social media is owned by the people who create accounts, the same people that make their own content and generate their own followers. Social media is about content communities made by and for people, not advertisers. Herein lies the problem and the solution for brand strategists and marketers: How do you crack the code of social media to bring your brand to life in the lives of those you're trying to influence? The author calls social media a landscape of "crowdcultures", which is distinctly different than the one-way communication of traditional advertising. He says: "The issue is, social media has transformed how culture works, in a way that weakens certain branding techniques. It has united once-isolated communities into influential crowdcultures. Crowdcultures are very prolific cultural innovators. Their members produce their own content—so well that companies simply can’t compete. Consider that people making videos in their living rooms top the charts on YouTube, which few companies have managed to crack.

"While they diminish the impact of branded content, crowdcultures grease the wheels for an alternative approach, cultural branding. In it, a brand sets itself apart by promoting a new ideology that springs from the crowd. Chipotle did this successfully when it made two short films critiquing industrial food, tapping into a movement that began in the organic-farming subculture and blew up into a mainstream concern on social media. Other good examples come from personal care. Axe revived its brand by becoming an over-the-top cheerleader for the 'lad'." Culture branding is an essential strategy and tool for brand marketers, through which you can craft a more powerful social media strategy. For instance, we are engaged with several companies in manufacturing, commercial hemp production and beverages. These are all distinct sectors. But, where they overlap, is they all have their own "crowdcultures" beyond what they make as products. Finding out what drives their "crowdcultures" is a way to have organic content made by those cultures, directed at and for those cultures, content geared to the bigger picture of their beliefs or ideas about themselves and the world. This goes beyond branding or marketing what companies sell in any conventional way. It means becoming a champion for the beliefs and ideals of communities, of involving them in the brand and making them the originators and generators of that branded content and the culture around it. In the author's case of Axe, they set the stage for engagement by being the champion of lad culture, that was then taken up by those who identified themselves as part of that culture. In the case of Chipotle, the company found an ideal their customer communities believed in, and gave them a tool (short films) that gave voice to those ideals. I can recall a soap company doing the same thing, by creating a documentary about the destruction of the rainforest, how the company themselves believed in environmentalism and sustainability, and this was then taken up by the culture of people who also believed in those things - and who also happened to be the biggest purchasers of luxury soap. Even when you're looking to raise money for, say, a new Capital Campaign, you could go out and ask for the money directly, which you should anyway, and you could mount a campaign that speaks to the ideals and beliefs shared by the culture who needs, uses or believes in your children's hospital, your local food bank, your national charitable organization, or, even, your local golf course. The key here is not to push your agenda into channel and expect anyone to really care. You need to create a story around what you're selling that comes from and anticipates the "crowdculture" you seek, all the better if you can find evangelists within that culture who will help you spread the word, who will share your content, create content of their own that aligns with yours, and who see themselves in the brand you're trying to convey. This is a way to better social media branding success. It takes more work to do and demands some creativity, but the results will be better and more long-lasting. Ultimately, listening to what your customer communities are saying online is a great place to start your planning.

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