Breaking the Clutter.
A decade ago a brand could break the clutter of rapidly fragmenting media with a big spend, a sharp concept or by somehow being idiosyncratic. There was no defined entry point, somewhat of a defined formula and not a lot of downside to getting the message out there. Consumers simply had to exist and messaging came to them. New brands could elbow their way in (remember those dot coms?) and established brands could expand their lineup at will (how many kinds of M&Ms are there?)
The Conversation Begins.
With the advent of social media things are certainly different. In the last 2-3 years there has been a proliferation of “the conversation” as some call it. Some brands have jumped in and are doing just fine. Others have awkwardly stubbed a toe or two. While others—like wallflowers—are sitting on the sidelines, contemplating their departure. Which leads to an interesting question: Are we nearing an inflection point where brands that are late to social media are in danger of being shut out? Of missing the train?
Participation and Overshare.
Breaking the clutter asked nothing of consumers. Conversation requires participation. At what point does it become overbearing for a consumer to participate in multiple conversations with brands? And when? If a Best Buy Twelp Force member helped me with a home electronics purchase, do I still want to fan Wal-Mart on Facebook? Do I need to? Should a car company communicate with a current owner in the same manner to someone who has never driven their product?
Beyond Trust Lies Relevance.
Trust has been pointed to as a big part making a brand relevant to a user in the world of social media. It’s certainly a necessary ingredient in the conducting of a meaningful conversation. But trust was part of the brand experience prior to the rise of social media. Would you buy a car from a manufacturer whose commercials sowed seeds of doubt? Or a soda from a brand whose packaging left you feeling uneasy about the product? No. Of course not. In order for a user to have a meaningful conversation with a brand there has to be relevance. Relevance requires engagement and understanding. It’s out there beyond the free iPod giveaway on Twitter. The newsflash on a Facebook page and the one-hit wonder novelty of a one dimensional iPhone app. Relevance comes from utility based on understanding, timing, and context. Without relevance a brand is just standing on a chair shouting at everyone. or saying the same thing to everyone at the same time. What trust they began with gets quickly squandered.
The Train Whistle.
Certainly many of the questions asked above are easy to answer. It’s the asking of these questions in the process of defining a social media approach and then making an investment in that approach that will be demanding. One thing seems certain. It’s getting harder to find a place on the train of social media. And it’s getting harder to build and keep an audience engaged there and most likely the price of entry is going to follow suit.
HDR photo of Milan Train Station via Stuck in Customs on Flickr.