Top Ten Things a Brand Must Be to Go Social

So often we hear that a brand wants to go social – that is, to be organically shareable, a hub for substantive conversations around mutual concerns and values, a place where customers return as a focal point in their lives. Yet in my experience that often isn’t possible because a brand hasn’t done the basics, the simple things that must occur before any social media strategy can succeed. Here are my top ten.

1. BE DEFINED: Brands don’t know who they are. There, I said it. If I had to name the number one problem I encounter among brands, and the single most effective way to overcome any number of marketing problems, it’s to take the time to interrogate who you are, what you stand for and what your goals are. How can a customer know your brand, decide if they want to be loyal or buy your product if they don’t know who you are?

2. BE SIMPLE: It takes time to penetrate pop culture and that means your message needs to be simple. The best way to do that is to frame the conversation in terms of your customers’ needs (rather than talk about yourself). So stand for something, say it simply and then keep on saying it in different ways. At least then customers have a hope of knowing what you stand for and whether they want to be involved.

3. BE HUMAN: A self-absorbed brand is as annoying as a robo-call or automated message. Social media affords intimacy so a brand needs to have the capacity to be human so that real people can relate to it. Banks are no longer financial institutions. They are places where you and I try to make our dreams possible after having had our fingers badly burnt last year. Supermarkets are not retail outlets but where we take care of our families and, ideally, the planet. Every brand needs a voice, but that voice also needs a heart.

4. BE INSPIRING: It’s not enough to be knowable or even consistent. You need to be a source of inspiration. Brands have enormous impact in our lives from the deluge of messaging that fills our days to the familiar products we find in our pantries. If brands want more than acceptance, if they want loyalty from customers who take pride in their brand, they need to inspire their customers through their products, behavior and values because that is worth talking about.

5. BE CONSISTENT: The most successful brands do this very well and hold themselves to it. The less effective brands shift their strategy with every new CMO or chase what they think is the next shiny penny that consumers want – and they simply end up looking schitzophrenic. (Usually because they haven’t done #1). We all have enough crazy in our lives and don’t need any more from a brand.

6. BE ALERT: Listening ability is the most important, overlooked and under-rated attribute of a brand. Gone are the days of brands dictating consumer behavior, pushing information on customers or telling them what to think. Today, brands must harness the same dynamic but it is flowing in the opposite direction. Firstly, that means a brand must be tirelessly vigilant to its customers’ needs. Secondly, it must be reactive, ever ready to provide a timely contribution to a real time conversation or do damage control if necessary.

7. BE INTERESTING: Boring just won’t cut it these days. There’s simply too much competition for the customer’s attention. The good news is that if you know who you are and what you stand for, you can bring that to life in infinite ways. You can even poke fun at yourself. It only makes you more human. But whatever a brand does, it can’t be a reason to go somewhere else because you just know YouTube or Twitter just posted a video with a kitten dancing on the head of a baby while rollerskating.

8. BE SURPRISING: Every now and then we all need a little change up. So just when your customers feel like they’ve got to know you and like you, give them a little surprise. Appear where you normally don’t, raise your voice a little or lend a hand to someone else. Just do something that keeps you a fresh and gives customers something to talk about. In doing so you can discover new customers and keep the ones you’ve got.

9. BE BRAVE: Everything is changing so fast its almost impossible to keep up. Especially when you have to take a huge infrastructure, network of relationships and long-established mindset with you. That’s why every company needs a Chief Bravery Officer who jumps in feet first to new territory rather than let competitors wave as they pass you by. Sometimes a brand will make the wrong choice, but there’s no more costly mistake than an unwillingness to jump.

10. BE GRACIOUS: This is a new day. Brands live or die on the good grace of their pro-active, connected customers. They can be your greatest allies or quickest destroyers. It is a privilege for a brand to enter their lives and any attitude short of that is a fast track to self-absorbtion and self destruction.

There is no end of reasons not to make these ten commitments (a few are listed below), but once a brand does, its chance of going social is exponentially increased. I would also like to add BE TRUSTWORTHY, BE TRANSPARENT and BE ACCOUNTABLE (but that would be greedy). Do you have any others to add?