Over the last couple of days, many people are asking the question: Can brands be social? The vision of social media relations, to me, sees consumers interacting and conversing with a brand. So the question becomes, what is a brand?
Way back in the day, a brand was a symbol burnt into the hide of an animal to symbolize ownership. Modern day branding burns a stream of messages into consumers’ minds to reinforce the image or idea a company wants. A brand can also be identified by its logo or trademark, but traditionally a brand symbolizes a promise or experience a company aligns with a product or service through consolidated messaging.
Over the last couple of years, the notion of “brand” itself has been changing. With social media, consumers now have the ability to publish and spread their own messages about a brand through forums, blogs, Facebook groups, etc. This can create a sort of schizophrenic branding: Corporate messaging vs Consumer perception/messaging–also known as “reality”–clashing for the loudest voice. As Dell proved, modern brands have to step up to the plate and accept, interact and engage with the consumer, or they come across as being abstract and aloof from reality.
But consumer voices aren’t the only ones vying to be heard in the modern brand. In many companies, you have employees who blog. The new media tools allow all the voices within the company to have a chance to be heard, unseating the talking-head spouting corporate values/messaging from the ivory tower. As the blogosphere grows, I think these voices will become more splintered, but still add to the discussion and image of the brand. For example: Not that I would consider Todd Defren the ivory tower, but his blog combined with my blog, the SHIFT employee blog Unspun and Marie Williams’ Flackette blog help shape the brand image at SHIFT Communications. People looking for our services can find these voices and get a sense of what we are about as a firm.
The Twitterverse will be progressing more like the blogosphere. Since Twitter requires less effort than blogging, pretty soon you will have several people from a company Tweeting. For example, there are several of us that use Twitter at SHIFT. We engage with each other and our followers in a series of small conversations. As more tools come into play to harness the power, people will be able to follow our team (a micro-community), creating another extension of SHIFT Communications’ brand.
Since the new brand, to me, is the conversation that the corporation, its employees and its consumers are having, the new, evolved brand will need to get social, embrace social media or get passed by.
What do you think the modern brand is? Which came first, social media or the splintered/schizophrenic brand?