social media and brand development and management

Social media is about the now, about the networking and the conversations positive or negative that we have with people who share our work and interests. And for consumers that is power. Consumers can now complain and find people who share their grievances with specific companies, brands or products.

Think about this, ‘positive news stories are repeated on average 3 times, while negative stories can be repeated up to 11 times’. On twitter and social media platforms though the figures for repeating negative experiences is far, far higher.

Just imagine what would happen if somebody who’s on Twitter has a bad experience with a brand. Chances are that they’ll share that with their network, some of whom will have empathy and re-share this with their own network. And so it starts, at the drop of a tweet, a brand can find itself at the centre of a maelstrom.

Companies and brands are now more sensitive that ever before to consumer criticism, which is why they are investing marketing and communications budget on social media.

But because social media is about real-time conversations, it also helps in brand development and product promotion. The walls that divided consumers and brands are blurring.

Since it was founded in February 2009 Media140 has focused on exploring the impact of social and real-time media in media, marketing and communications.

The first event in May focused on how social media is changing journalism, while the second this Monday, 26 October will look at how brands are using social media to stay ahead of the competition.

A full day of debate will touch on the pro-active use of social media for brands as well the power that consumers have and how brands can protect themselves from, well, themselves and the bad customer service that irates us all.

Guest speakers include Media140 founder, Ande Gregson, Head of Customer Experience for Easyjet Paul Hopkins, Daljit Bhurji, Managing Director of PR Week’s 2009 New Consultancy of the Year Diffusion PR and Hill & Knowlton’s Director of Planning Candace Kuss.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting from the event, so follow my twitter feed and visit us from 09.00 GMT.

And if you have any questions then tweet or email me.

Social Media - bringing people together
Social Media - bringing people together

Social media appears to be growing up.  The Financial Times ran a special report on Digital Business this week with a lead headline that said it all, “Business starts to take Web 2.0 tools seriously”.  Jessica Twentyman’s article highlighted how, “far from being frivolous distractions, social networking tools can help streamline processes”.

Certainly social media has had an image problem since it was born.  Days didn’t go by without reports of people being caught out and embarrassed by what people posted on YouTube, Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.  Naturally this only tarnished and held back the potential of social media amongst business decision makers who had the power to harness this new form of communication.  Some employers went as far as banning staff from using social media tools in and out of office time.  Their concern was that what their employees got up to out of office hours could damage the reputation and image of their business. I know of one top law firm that has banned employees from using social sites.

But while some businesses were paranoid in the early days about the damage to their reputation by the out-of-office activities of their employees others were busy finding ways to use social media to further develop their brands.  These businesses were keen to enter into a dialogue with the public, working to make them customers.  And this is not an easy exercise as the general public is more cynical than ever before.

Rightly so, business wants to see how “Enterprise 2.0 could deliver real business benefits”.  Translating this corporate-speak into plain English, this means finding how social media can help increase sales.

But there is another cultural problem, currently too many companies in Britain and around the world still see the internet as an add-on to their business models.  Stubborn scepticism amongst businesses leaders, who do not understand the purpose or reason for entering into a dialogue with the public, prevents them for investing into this not so new communication tool and channel.

The equally sad truth is that too many large communications consultancies also see social media as an add-on to the communications plans that they develop for clients.  I have on too many occasions the “we’ll develop a Facebook page for you” only to see nothing new or engaging.  Equally, the blogs that have developed for clients lack real dialogue between the business and the consumer, let it be b2b or b2c.

At a recent P2PR meet in London a number of us agreed that there is a lack of upward education from communications consultancies to clients about the potential of social media.  Having Facebook, YouTube or MySpace pages just isn’t enough.  Even setting up a Twitter account doesn’t make the difference while these are add-ons to clients communication strategies and campaigns.

Social media is about listening to the public and entering into a dialogue with them.  And these dialogues have to be regular, refreshing and rewarding.  It is about making the client a friend of the consumer and working to helping them become a close friend, who celebrates with you the relationship that you have with them.  And how many of us hate it when we don’t hear from friends for some time.  The same applies to social media in business, dialogues have to be constant and creative, bringing in your customers into the business and making them feel part of the experience.  This is how you develop loyalty, or, saying it in corporate-speak ‘brand-loyalty’, which is what all businesses strive for.

Social media is changing.  It is growing up and it needs to be at the centre of communications planning, to develop the brand and protect the company.  This obviously has a cost, but the rewards are for the long-term. Businesses decision makers might think that they can only invest in social media if the metrics tell them that their interaction with clients leads to increase sales, the thinking that has driven adverting for decades.  Well, social media can be measured and communications consultancies can no longer get away with not offering this service to clients.

Wired's front cover

And as social media grows up, we should be aware that the technology is moving our communication thinking forward, ahead of the game.  While in Hong Kong in January this year I picked up a copy of Wired magazine, which lead with “Inside the GPS Revolution” an insight into how mobile smart phone technology is transforming how users “make connections and interact with the world.”  And these interactions are not just with friends but with businesses as well.  One of their reviews was for Shop-Savvy, a tool that will help you scan a barcode with a phonecam ad tells you how much the product not just costs online but in shops nearby.  It can also pull up reviews to make sure you are not skimping a little too much.

The technology is here.  It is driving business decision-making and driving pricing.  Shouldn’t we be bringing in social media into the centre of communications planning?  Is having a branded Facebook page enough?

Adidas's Facebook page

I’ll tell you something, I’m on Facebook and I am a fan of Adidas.  I signed up to their Facebook page some time ago, hoping to get updates from the company.  I didn’t get anything.  There was little dialogue from them, until I got a message telling me how they’d had a ‘secret party and I could see the ‘cool’ pictures of what looked like a celebrity bash somewhere.  Erm, I signed up online so that I could be one of the first.  That message they sent didn’t bring me in to the brand and it did not make me feel closer.  It was not the social media experience that consumers should be subjected to.  Adidas, in my mind, doesn’t get it right.  Will the rest of business understand it?

It is up to us PR and communications consultants to champion social media.  Communication helps and in these challenging times we have to be creative and use new tools for us and the benefit of our clients.

Heston tucks into a Little Chef special
Heston tucks into a Little Chef special

Channel 4 are currently running a great fly-on-the-wall documentary on Heston Blumenthal’s attempt to rescue the once iconic Little Chef roadside restaurant chain.  The ‘Big Chef Takes On Little Chef’ programme appears to give an insight into the challenge that Heston faces in reinventing this once great roadside diner.  The show captures everything, some things that must have PRs for Little Chef running for cover.

Founded in 1958 Little Chef grew to become the name for food on the road.  Many people have memories of eating a fry-up there.  For some it was a great break from a long road trip.  Yet with little money being invested in updating the look and menus throughout the 90s Little Chef restaurants ended in administration in January 2007 before being rescued by private equity group RCapital.

The new owners bought the chain and the brand for £10 million in the belief that nostalgia alone would net them a profit.  Yet as you drive past Little Chef restaurants today they still look confused and tired.

Enter three Michelin star holder Heston Blumenthal.  Viewed by some, especially Little Chef MD Ian Pegler, as a celebrity chef.

Heston tackles Little Chef Ian Pegler
Heston tackles Little Chef Ian Pegler

Watching the programmes you just have to wonder if this is a PR stunt by Little Chef to net them some much needed exposure.  If it was then they should feel like they’ve thrown the brand out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Reality TV can be a great way of securing plenty of exposure, on many occasions great exposure.  Yet, Reality TV thrives on conflict and unscripted drama, areas that PRs should keep clear of.  Under no circumstance should they put anybody from their company or client in a situation that would make viewers squirm, especially if there is a celebrity in the programme who is likely to receive sympathy from the viewers.

Anyhow, tonight we have the final episode of the programme.  Will Heston get his way?  Not likely.  Will Little Chef boss Ian Pegler continue talking about ‘blue-sky’ thinking and magic-menus?  Most probably.  Will we think that Little Chef is a place to stop on the road?  Well, that’s up to you!

It is sadly nearly four months since Yves-Saint Laurent died.  A leading figure in fashion, he led from the front.  He worked tirelessly on making everybody look good.  Yves himself said that “dressing is a way of life.”  He was an inspiration to many with his stylish pret-a-porter lines.  In fact, before him fashion was only available to the few.  Yves was committed to making sure that we could all present ourselves better.

Our appearance is shaped by our clothes.  We are what we wear.  Words in many cases are second to what people see of us.  And that is down to designers like Yves.  Designers like Yves make words that we PRs play with redundant.

If we look good, we start better, which is why for many PRs dressing up our clients for the media and their benefit is part of our job.  As they say, first appearances matters.

In the lead up to the last Paris Fashion Week Yves Saint-Laurent house commissioned the following promo.  They wanted atmosphere and style, items so important when presenting a brand like YSL.  The video was shot in London and shown behind-the-scenes after their show in Paris earlier this year.  It is the kind of promo that presents a brand as it should, without any compromise.  Brands like Yves Saint-Laurent understand the value of visuals.  They dress us and the promos that we make dress, for many PRs, the companies we work for.

See for yourselves [and I suggest you go big screen!].