Getting sociable

There is a word that is stalking the corridors of marketing departments throughout the land.  That word is Social Media (yes I know that’s two words but you know what I mean).



Over the past few months I have been asked to comment on or design several new Facebook pages for major brands.  As a good IA my first question is what is the business requirement for a having a Facebook presence.  To which the project manager usually develops a haunted look and mutters something along the lines of the Head of Marketing at the client has read somewhere that they ought to have be involved in Social Media and so they have set up camp on Facebook and Twitter and now want something to put there.

“But what is their aim of being on Facebook?” I ask.

“They’ve heard that there are 500 million Facebook users, there has to be a market there,”  Says the PM.

“Very true” I say.  “But do they know how to communicate with them?”

“Well, they’ve put up a poll asking which of their products the users like best.”

“You mean they are doing cheap market research.”

“No, they are offering some of the products as incentives to take part.”

“They are doing cheap market research.”

“No, they want to engage with their audience,”

“How are they doing that?”

“They are putting up some amusing and thought provoking images,”


“Which click through to....”


“...the product  web site....”

Unfortunately, many companies who are jumping on to the social marketing bandwagon simply haven’t thought through what it means to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter and see it as yet another means of delivering marketing messages.  Or else they are coming up with off the wall campaigns that often have little to do with the product but pray will “go viral” (patron:  St Alexander Orlov).

What they don’t do is want to set up something that will actually generate a real conversation with their customers – for example employ a moderator who will act as the voice of the company and answer questions and generally act a mine host on the site.  To begin with that sounds too much like an open ended financial commitment when most campaigns have a fixed budget and secondly it might invite visitors to post negative comments or at least ask awkward questions like how ethical the business is.

However, if businesses really want to generate a community around their product – or at least their Facebook page – they will have to start asking themselves hard questions about what people use Facebook for.

Primarily, they use Facebook to talk to their friends or they join a group that has similar interests or they play Farmville.  What they don’t particularly do is go onto a product Facebook page unless there are ‘incentives’ they are after.

Now there are sites which are developing a proper user community – the Lush site for example.  But this site has a lot of things going for it that appeals to the involved Facebook demographic – it has an ethical, campaigning image and it sells a product range that the demographic uses a lot.  On the other hand, the BP site has neither of these things going for it – and it shows.

So first rule.....Does the demographic fit your product?

Now I perfectly understand that brands don’t join social networks to be sociable.  They have targets to meet and product to shift and all this costs money.  However, social networking is about engaging with your customers.  If your customers have little or no interest in Facebook no amount of left field ideas and wine fuelled brainstorming sessions is going to give you a return on investment.

Second rule...Let your social media campaign be social.  I have had several conversations with account managers who tell me not to include comments on the facebook designs I am producing.  They are horrified by the prospect that someone might say something slightly derogatory about the product and they (quite rightly) don’t want to employ some poor soul to monitor the comments 24/7.  However, if you want to get social you have to allow conversations to develop whether you approve of them or not.

Finally, don’t expect Facebook to be something it isn’t.  It is not going to shift more product directly or “raise awareness” of your brand.  In fact, the punters may not be interested in your brand at all.  Facebook is a social media product where people arrive to check out what their friends are doing or discuss hot topics of the day that interests enough people to get a conversation going.

If you are lucky they might just choose to chat with mates old and new on your site.  If they happen to click on one of your ads while they are there that’s a bonus.


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