social brand

Building a Social Brand

In a generation that can’t stop sharing, it’s hard to imagine life before hashtags, emojis and retweets. Since the advent of Apple’s coveted iPhone, our social mania has reached global proportions. Experiences are measured out in “likes,” identities defined by bathroom selfies. And suddenly, “pics or it didn’t happen” has become our unspoken, collective ethos.

It’s no surprise that brands are picking up on the social revolution. Diverging from a fractured media landscape, social networks are like the wild west — offering incredible scale and untapped databases, rich with millennial gold. But while brands scramble to stake a claim, their efforts are hit or miss at best. By nature, social trends are as ephemeral as Snapchats, and viral campaigns are almost impossible to reproduce. Still, amid shifting theories, the best social brands follow a few simple rules:

Rule 1: Be yourself (and fans will follow).

Paid ad space is a tempting shortcut… which usually leads to a dead end. “But my boosted post reached 50,000 people!” you protest. Unfortunately, those people either live in Bangladesh, churning out page likes for pennies, or they’re idle spectators with little personal investment in your brand. Either way, they won’t stick around. Hashtagging a campaign won’t make it go viral, and begging for followers won’t cultivate brand ambassadors.

The most important trait shared by social brands is hard to define, yet critical to their success: realness. By focusing on quality over quantity, these brands engage with consumers in an authentic way, and know that fostering passionate influencers takes time. They don’t try to be something they’re not, or attempt to net the largest audience possible. Rather, they target the right audience, listen to them, and give them something truly valuable.

Take Jet Blue, the first American airline to religiously use Twitter as a customer service platform. Around 20 full-time employees are dedicated to tweeting updates, responding to customer complaints, sharing travel tips, and offering exclusive discounts. By staying transparent and open to feedback, Jet Blue has garnered 1.7 million Twitter fans. (Far more than Southwest, which spends about eight times more on advertising.)

Rule 2. Capture hearts and minds.

What makes a social campaign sticky? While self-aggrandizing brands might churn out promotional content with little pay-off, the social savvy know that great campaigns aim for something deeper than coupons or contests. They connect with audiences on an emotional, personal level. They strike a common chord that inspires us to share.

When Dove’s research revealed widespread insecurity and self-criticism among modern women, they launched a campaign that sought to reverse social expectations. “Real Beauty Sketches” encouraged women to embrace their flaws and celebrate beauty in all forms. By exposing an intimate, relatable truth, Dove prompted people to talk openly about their body issues, fueling a mini-movement across the world. To date, the film has been uploaded in 25 languages, and viewed over 114 million times.

That kind of earned media makes women buy shampoo. Within weeks following the campaign’s release, Dove’s sales were up 1%, contributing to a 3% rise to $1.5 billion for the full year. The point? Emotions will always be a more powerful driver than external reward. When you know your audience (and what moves them), you’ll craft more relevant, hard-hitting content.

Rule 3: Create memorable experiences.

Finally, social brands find creative ways to interact with consumers, and recognize that meaningful interactions should happen on and offline. Uber, a company renowned for its clever social marketing tactics, thrilled consumers with their “kitten delivery” campaign. Partnering with local animal shelters, Uber offered people a 15-minute petting session with adorable kittens, delivered to their doorstep. It was a stroke of genius — not only did the campaign raise money for a good cause, but its cute factor alone triggered massive social participation.

Creating these kinds of social-made moments doesn’t always require a huge marketing effort. Sometimes, they’re found in memorable details. Inspired by Pizza Factory’s chef mascot, we printed mustaches on the restaurant franchise’s napkins. Much like the shareworthy kittens, people couldn’t resist posing for a mustache-napkin selfie at their table. Before long, a small design decision sparked an Instagram sensation, which continues to delight customers and define the brand’s playful personality.

Building a perfect social strategy won’t happen overnight. For every unexpected hit, there are always a hundred more regrettable flops. But with the right storytelling, brands can convert passive consumers to loyal advocates, and generate long-lasting value.

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April Geer
April Geer

April is the Digital Services Director at JStokes Agency and a sports-loving, mother of two from surftown Pacifica, CA. She leads a team of digital stars with a well-rounded mix of technology, strategy and design chops; along with the ol' fashioned common sense and problem-solving determination necessary to tackle the digital challenges that come her way.

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