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It’s Time Brands Started Acting More Like People

Many have referred to this era as the “social age.” And withFacebook’s IPO this year, one can’t argue that the advent of social communities has fundamentally changed both our culture and the media landscape.

Social has undoubtedly influenced daily client conversations as well (“We need more fans”). A recent CMO study echoed the growing favor of social – unveiling that CMOs expect to increase their current levels of 7.1% of marketing budget to 10.1% over the next year and to 17.5% in the next five years. But why? Is it because it’s a new media channel you feel compelled to use? Or are you investing more as a way of evolving how you behave? To make your brand truly sociable? Sociability creates bonds between people. But just being in social media doesn’t make you sociable.

Sociable people know who the people around them are – and their role in their group.

When we talk about sociability, we’re not talking about socialites, social climbers, connectors or those seen in the social scene.  Truly sociable people – or Sociable Butterflies as we call them – are magnetic. They’re able to seamlessly bring people together and foster a great dynamic between people and in doing so, pull people toward them. Yet sociable people are fiercely aware of who is around them at all times. They ascribe a value or a role to each person in a group nearly immediately upon meeting them. And they orchestrate their conversations to maximize their intended impact and their potential energy.

Now, think of brands. How many brands really know the people who are in their circle (buying their product) or in their communities? As old as it may seem, many brands still define their audiences by demographics – for example, 21 to 44-year-old women. It’s not how you’d describe a friend. Who is that person? What do you really know about them? We need to work harder at really knowing people as people. It’s even truer with social media. You’ve gained fans. Do you know who they are? Are they people you want as fans? What’s their role in your social group? What’s their value within your community?

Many brand managers get worried about negative comments in their communities and conversely very excited about positive comments. But each is often without really understanding the role of that person in their community or their background.  What’s the role of those people in your group and what value or effect does that really have?

Ford has evolved their blog “the Ford story” into a new program called Ford Social, an experience that continues to encourage people to submit their stories and ideas to Ford – and with the community at large. This isn’t only proof of putting customers first, but through this, they can really get to know their community of fans. They don’t know just what cars they bought – they know why they’re important to them and they know the life stories that have gone alongside those cars.  They can be inspired by them.

Being sociable means really understanding not just how many fans you have – but who they are and what role they can play in your social circle.

Think about that person in your social circle whom you really like being around, that Butterfly. He’s INTERESTING – right?  He has interesting things to share, provokes good conversations among the group. That’s no surprise. We found that most Sociable Butterflies are genuinely curious about a range of topics and can seamlessly add something of interest to almost any topic. But importantly, they don’t just flaunt the things they know. They are truly interested in YOU as well. They are outstanding listeners. They don’t just listen blindly.  Rather, they ask questions and take a productive part in interactions with friends. They want to know about you. Because they are active listeners, they’re able to constantly adapt to the conversation, incorporating new information and building deeper connections with their friends. It’s all about feedback and interaction with people.

Again, think of brands. Are they interesting? Or more important, interested?

We talk a lot about creating a dialogue, but being interesting doesn’t mean just talking back and forth, it means that you’re adding value in some way. Interesting people give you something to think about, or something to do, check out, share. As a brand, what value are you adding to people in your community? What’s making you interesting through their eyes?

Tory Burch and Red Bull actually do a great job of being interesting. Red Bull provides fans exclusive content about the things their drinkers care about – not the product itself. Tory Burch shares her experiences and influences, building a more personal connection with those that buy – or aspire to buy her clothes.

But being interesting might be the easier part (and where our primary focus has been as marketers); being interested takes effort. Not many brands really dive in and pay attention to what their fans are talking about. Usually the dialogue that ensues relates to a product complaint or question. It’s transactional and often brands are only listening for cues about themselves. Brands have the opportunity to be more interested in their friends. Target’s Bullseye Gives illustrates one way of demonstrating interest. They put $3 million in the hands of their community – asking them which of 10 charities should receive the greatest proportion of the money. Target listened and actually distributed that money according to its share of votes. PopChips is another great example of a brand that has succeeded socially. When they see someone’s hungry, they’ve been known to reward them by engaging – asking where their office is and showing up with a few complimentary bags.  That’s being interested.

Brands have the opportunity to push beyond the ROI of gaining a fan, building a capability or mastering a process. Social media isn’t just a channel, it’s a call to marketers and brands to change their behavior. To think and act more like people.  To focus on emotion not promotion.  To be truly sociable, not just active in social.

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