branded content down the digital pipelines and expecting consumers to swallow it. At the recent Social Brands 100 event in London, where brands with ‘high-performing’ social media strategies were recognised, customer engagement and interaction emerged as the key themes. US gaming company EA Battlefield was named as the top social brand, heralded for its ability to listen to what communities wanted, recognising their interests, and then providing rich, tailored content.
EA’s European Director of Web and Community, Simon Stokes, said that too many brands create content – and then measure its success. Stokes insisted that a social media strategy should be led by research and metrics, so that the content and messaging is relevant to the community’s current dialogue and interests. “The conversation out there would happen without us. It would also happen if we tried to stop it from happening,” he explained. “All we can do is facilitate and stimulate it, and try to be positive and encouraging.”
Interestingly, Vodacom was the only African brand to be recognised in the Social Brands 100 report, taking second place in the telecommunications category. According to Mike Stopforth, CEO of Cerebra (which implements Vodacom’s social media strategy), this is largely due to the brand’s constant engagement with its mas- sive customer base. “We’ve evolved their social media presence from pure marketing to customer service resolution, and now to the stage where hundreds of thousands of community members engage readily with the brand team on an hourly basis… This has fundamentally changed the way Vodacom sees its customers, and the way customers see Vodacom,” Stopforth explained.
Essentially, Vodacom is behaving as an active and responsible ‘ brand citizen’, which is, according to brand strategist Andy Rice, what makes a brand truly social in the current paradigm. “A social brand is one that takes the view that it operates within society and not just within a category,” he says. “Its responsibilities will therefore extend far beyond simply making a profit, to making some kind of positive impact.”
When it comes to using social media as a responsible ‘ brand citizen’, Rice suggests that brands should seek to provide useful and informative content as opposed to simply running facile promotions to garner Facebook likes. For example, setting up online forums where consumers can engage with industry experts or thought leaders is a way to provide people with tangible advice/guidance, while simultaneously driving brand awareness.
“Ultimately, a social brand is one that has a conscience about society and then acts on it,” adds Rice. And unlike those thousands of Twitter followers, this strategy is very likely to benefit the bottom line in the long run.