Three key social media lessons that brands will learn the easy (or the hard) way

Credit: @gapingvoid /

There is no shortage of posts explaining how critical it is for brands to leverage social media, build a community and lead with a listening ear. I have written several myself. Yet the distraction of new technology – breathlessly hyped online – continues to lead many brands to believe that social media tools are an end in themselves, that twitter or Facebook or Foursquare can solve their problems, drive sales, raise brand awareness and ,better yet, take the “viral”.

The problems with this is that many brands continue to whistle past their own graves. If a company wants to use social media and benefit from the tantalizing dynamics at play in so many case studies (most notably of late, the Old Spice personalized tweets), they must first look to themselves for the solutions they seem to think lie somewhere else.

Let me explain. If brands do not do the following three things they are wasting their energy, time and resources on social media. At the very least they will never enjoy the results they expect and will probably become social media cynics. So before that happens, there are the three critical things a brand must do if they want social media success.

1. DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE: If you don’t know who you are, neither do we. If you don’t know what your purpose is, and the values that inform it, you will never communicate in a way that is human and emotional which is critical to social media success. This need is not unique to social media. In my experience most brands struggle to articulate their purpose, what with revolving CMO’s and the daily demands of meeting profit projections. But take the time to stop. Ask those that should know who you are and why you do what you do. Then tell the people that work for you. Only then will you stop broadcasting your schitzophrenia and communicateconsistently and effectively.

2. RE-FRAME YOUR COMMUNICATIONS: Frame communications in terms of a community driven conversation. Chris Brogan tweeted out a great phrase by Dan Blank yesterday: You don’t sell to a community: you support a community. This is spot on. For example, the Old Spice campaign did this on two levels. It advertised its product in the context of what women want from their men (to smell like Isiah!) and then distributed personalized video tweets that included the name of the original twitterer and recalled personal facts from their twitterstream. It’s that focus that builds and drives a community that then buys the product.

3. RECONSITUTUTE YOUR COMPANY: It’s hard for brands to know how to organize their social media strategy but its more important how they organize themselves. Trying to fit a outdated corporate culture with redundant job titles, hierarchical structure and media silos into the social media ecosystem is the proverbial square peg in the round hole. Once you know your purpose, once you re-frame your communications around your community, you can then structure your organization accordingly. This is no small ask with so much money, security and time invested in the old mindset, but to do otherwise will only lead to frustration and wasted time and money in the future.

These are challenging times for corporations and ad agencies alike but they’re also exciting. The future is characterized by accelerated change and we all must respond accordingly. Organizations must reconstitute themselves to become architects of community, listening posts and nimble social capitalists excited by the prospect of further change. To resist these demands means you take responsibility for your own irrelevance and imminent obsolescence. Business isn’t changing, it’s changed. It’s not enough to keep up, you must shape the future. Bravery is no longer the exception, its the rule. It’s terrifying, yes, but also exhilarating. Your customers want it and you may just love relish the chance to re-invent yourself.

What stops your company from changing? Do you blame management or the whole culture? Or do you think companies are now coming on board?