I’ve just finished a new HBR article by Doug Holt, entitled “Branding in the Age of Social Media.” It’s excellent, and I won’t rehash it here; you should read it. But the reason I mention it now is because Holt is grappling with something I’ve been thinking about as well: why brands have been very bad, generally, at building engagement on social media. There are some obvious reasons. As he points out “What works for Shakira backfires for Crest and Clorox. The idea that consumers could possibly to talk about Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of Ronaldo and Messi is silly.” Well, actually I personally could talk a lot more about beer than I can about soccer stars or celebrities, but point taken.
Consumers in general don’t take to Facebook and Twitter to discuss brands. Well, unless they are vociferously complaining about those brands. And while they may watch a brand-sponsored video, they share them less, generally, and discuss them less. This isn’t to say that content such as brand advertisements isn’t shared quite a lot, it can be. But far more consumers go to sites and social channels to talk about things they like to do, watch, etc. and far less to sites where they can discuss laundry brands, soft-drinks, etc. But isn’t this as it should be? Do marketers actually expect to attract even avid brand fans to the company’s social sites as part of their lives? Holt gives plenty of examples that seem to demonstrate that marketers do indeed expect that. But that search for the holy consumer engagement grail has never really made much sense to me.
In the offline world, I may talk with family and friends about comedy I like, books I like, music I hate, the fact that I don’t get visual art, politics, how our kids are doing in school. I may even ask or give recommendations on brands in those, or any other, product-market space. We don’t spend a ton of time chatting about products and brands. Okay, so maybe we talk about beer brands… But in my personal time online, why would it be surprising that I spend most of my time “talking” with family, friends, and the wider world about books, music, politics, and children, and very little, if any time, about brands. I mean, I drink Coke Zero, but it never occurred to me, ever, to visit the Coke social sphere online. I watch John Oliver on his Youtube channel, but watching Youtube content from a product brand doesn’t occur to me unless I need examples for class. This seems to me to be as one would expect, which is also Holt’s point. So, how do we advise marketers? Should we be the one to break it to them that their investments in a brand-focused social world for consumers likely won’t work? Shouldn’t they already know this?