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Breaking down brand and realtionship paradigms through social media

March 8, 2008

Where is social media in business headed?   There is an evolution underway, and many businesses are following along the curve, but therein is part of the problem – following.

Individuals are blogging, and have been interacting in forums for years.  Many companies have launched their own blogs or forums to interact with their customers.

Participation in closed communities like MySpace, Facebook are also in the playbook for some.  Technologies to enable interaction are all well and good – certainly foundational, but to evolve, we need to move past the tools and focus on changing the nature of the underlying relationship.

I contend that the next breakthrough is going to be based on evolution of the content which will reflect a change in the relationship.   The interactions in all these Web 2.0 mediums are being constrained with Web 1.0 relationship thinking.

Thinking and behavior appears constrained by respective roles of client and vendor, customer and supplier.   Us and them.  We attend the party and chat, but we wear the same clothes and keep the same name tags which constrain perception, our roles, and the possibilities of radical change. 

Traditional marketing / advertising efforts try to shape messaging about the brand in terms of attributes.    The company image is formed around the brand, and presenting the business as a collective entity.   

Outside individual perception of a collective – a government, a corporation is that it should act consistently, that all of it’s members should be interconnected, and that all members should have knowledge of all areas.   Consider our personal engagements with a bank, a utlity, a consumer goods or service provider.  We expect the person we are contacting to be cognizant of all prior interactions, and be ready to honor past agreements made by others.   The capabilities and limitations of the individuals and processes are all hidden from public view.  What if social media were used to humanize this?  To reveal the master-brand is actually comprised of hundreds or thousands of individual employee brands?

To illustrate my point, consider professional sports.   The team brand has a particular reputation and image, yet that brand is built upon the highly visible identity and performance of star players.  Suppose, through social media, individual players within businesses and brands were highlighted.   What if you have a brilliant engineer, designer, inventor and he or she were featured?   Some companies are already doing just that.   Yes, this company makes great products, but why?   

The people, specifically a small number of influential and visionary people.    Suppose a company provides great service.   Why?  Process?   Policy? Tools?  Individuals?   Who put those in place? Who is leading that charge?   Suppose social media were used to highlight more of these influential people within corporations.  Would customers follow a brand because of it’s people?

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