Big Brand Customer Intimacy Without Brand Conversations


Brand-alphabet  In a recent eMail volley with twenty-something Jason Stershic, Spectyr Media, Jason posed an interesting question - 

  • "How do you humanize Coke, Pepsi ESPN? I follow them but I don't expect a human connection, is that part for the course for most users following corporations?" 

My views about social media are fairly traditional, if you can use that word for a strategy that is nano seconds old. I believe the value of social media occurs when the people behind the brand step out from the brand shadows and actively listen (active listening is a 2-way communication!) to their customers and other stakeholders. The result is what has become a social media cliche - people-to-people relationships versus a relationship with an inanimate object or brand. 

Over the past six years I've talked to thousands of people about social media. I'm always curious to understand - What does social media mean to you? For the most part, people told me social media is ... as Tim Jackson said, "Connecting with people" or as Connie Reece put it, " It's all about the relationship."

However, when it comes to Big Brands Jason doesn't expect a "human connection." I wonder .. can a Big Brand create customer intimacy with millions by using the tools of the social media world? 

When Richard Binhammer or Lionel Menchaca - Dell or Frank Eliason - past Comcast now Citi or Tony Hsieh respond to @tweets or comment on blog posts it's a 1:1 interaction. Since they communicate in the digital public square their conversations are overheard by thousands if not by millions. By default that opens the communication to whomever is listening in. 

Perhaps those people RT (retweet) or add a status up to their Facebook page or write blog posts or even take it offline at office water cooler conversations. Through people who were not involved in the initial discussions the perception of the brand's humanity is expanded. Without that initial direct to brand customer conversation, can a brand still create customer intimacy through social media?  

Duncan Wardel, vice president Disney, agrees that social media provides new avenues to create dialog with consumers. However, he also has another view of how brands will use social media. He told me that he sees one of the biggest trends is - 

  • ".. allowing consumers to talk with one another .. establishing a platform to really allow your brand evangalists to reach out to other people that you won't be able to reach .. as consumers have an inceasing ability to screen out brands they no longer consider relevant." Video

What do you think? Does a Facebook page or a peer-to-peer crowd sourced campaign, supported by a brand, but with little or no brand engagement, help to create the humanity of the brand? Do you expect to have direct conversations with the people from brands you follow? Can only peer-to-peer interactions create raving fans?


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"I wonder .. can a Big Brand create customer intimacy with millions by using the tools of the social media world?"

I'm not sure "intimacy" is the right word, but I do believe brands can establish a connection or strengthen an affinity with customers. It's tenuous, though, and can be easily lost if nothing is done to maintain it.

Duncan makes a great point. Consumers are talking with each other. I checked out Ford's big reveal of the 2011 Explorer on Facebook, and a lot of that was happening in the comments -- people agreeing with others, or providing answers to questions.

Posted by: Connie Reece on Jul 26, 2010 11:23:28 PM

@Connie - So it seems that if a brand provides - call it a social media 'playground' - for its customers to engage with each other about the brand .. that may be powerful as conversations with the brand people. Perhaps we need a better title for the post :-)

Posted by: Toby on Jul 26, 2010 11:39:32 PM

Unlike sales people brands don't focus on getting personal with individual user/follower. But they do involve in engaging its community by allowing them to ratings and reviews, user recommendations and referrals.

Posted by: Sean - Australia SEO on Jul 29, 2010 5:27:07 PM

Can someone let Jason know it's "par for the course" not "part for course." It's an old golfing term. It refers to shooting at par level, exactly even on any golf course. Ie: Tiger Woods shot 10 under par.

Great article though!

Posted by: Susan on Aug 3, 2010 8:02:42 PM

A brand can't be human. Only a human can be human. Brands can encourage human interactions (brand representative customers, and customer customer) - all of which is good. But intimacy does not occur with a brand, just as an inflatable doll cannot be a substitute for a spouse. The best thing a company can do is unleash its people to be advocates and to create advocates, because the brand imparts something of value and interest to the people sharing the experience.

Posted by: Steve Woodruff on Aug 5, 2010 5:18:43 PM

Hi Toby, I look at it like this-it's up to the brand to BE social when the customer is ready to be social or chooses to engage via social. I don't think the brand necessarily has to reach out to each and every customer-it just needs to provide the social channels that a customer should come to and is starting to expect now in this age of 2 way conversation.

Posted by: Marc on Aug 10, 2010 9:14:23 AM

Great article thanks for the tips. I'm here from the list of 50 best women blogs. I have a blog too about product reviews,giveaways,diabetes and food tips. Lots of giveaways too! I'm now following your blog.

Posted by: barb g on Sep 27, 2010 8:28:45 PM

Good tips for marketing brand .
in marketing brand , social networking is much important factor about which you realize all marketing owners, because customer satisfaction also have great points include in your marketing.well job

Posted by: Kitchen Handles on Feb 21, 2011 5:26:27 AM

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