Debating the Rules for Brands in Social Media

In the latest issue of Advertising Age, the memorably-monikered Taddy Hall lays out Ten Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media.  Given the conflicting viewpoints regarding leveraging these platforms, these types of lists now clog every marketing outlet.  As someone clever once noted “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made” and advocates from all sides have leapt into the fray looking to profit.  But as the former chief strategy officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, Mr. Hall is no self-proclaimed spittle-lipped social media expert.  Instead, he drew data from hundreds of brand clients of his company Meteor Solutions to generate this shortlist of actionable insights based in proven fact.

Two of his essential rules really stand out as emblematic of the fundamental mindshift necessary for incorporating social media into marketing.  First is what he calls “The 1% Rule” where a tiny fraction of site visitors drive the lion’s share of total site traffic.  In case after case, his data demonstrates the power of heavy influencers to drive web behavior.  Importantly, that behavior goes beyond simply increasing site traffic to include a higher share of conversion.  For marketers, this means it is critical to identify, engage and reward ‘super-influentials’ when working in social media.  Historically, identifying and enlisting influencers on behalf of brands has been the province of PR.  Now that social media has grown so mainstream, that discipline must converge with general marketing if we want to effectively integrate our efforts.

The second is his “New Media/New Pipes” rule which shows that what consumers say about your brand means far more than what marketers say.  This is more quantified proof of the power of word of mouth and the need for a radical rethinking of how we present messages to the market.  More than anything, it means we must find more and better ways to cede control to consumers.

That’s hard.  Anyone with more than a few years of marketing experience has been steeped in the need to resist even looking at ideas from consumers for fear of legal exposure: brands must be managed, communication must be one way.  Except that today they aren’t, whether we like it or not.  Social media provide a mass channel for opinion.  More critically, that opinion can have more sales impact than our messages alone.  Content spread from consumer to consumer drives purchase intent far more powerfully than content directly from brands.  As an example, Mr. Hall says that brand content posted on a Facebook fan page has far less impact than the same content posted to an influential individual’s page.

The rest of his list makes for very worthwhile reading as well.  So much misinformation and conjecture fills the debate over social media; having guidelines culled from data, not mere experience, make this list actually worth reading.  Thank you for that Taddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79