Finweek English Edition - - BUSINESS - Jessica Hub­bard

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.

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