Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

Are you ready to ‘let go’ of your brand?

The old saying, ‘If you love it let it go’, is increasingly relevant for brand owners. Decades of prescriptive brand guidelines, exclusive deals with big media, and command and control public relations have been blown open by social media.

For brands to survive in our networked, transparent and co-creative world, they will need new attributes. Like an anxious parent sending their child out into the adult world, you know that you can no longer guide their every move, and can only hope that you’ve given them the values, skills, and character to thrive on their own.

Recently, brands have been experimenting with ‘letting go’ with varying degrees of success. Skittles were one of the pioneers in 2009, with a bold idea to allow the crowd to provide the content for their web page. After early accolades, the site descended into chaos, as mischief-makers posted offensive comments. Vodafone has had a similar experience using an unmoderated twitter feed for its ‘mademesmile’ campaign, and other examples abound.

In this context, it’s interesting to see Expedia Australia’s innovative approach to handing over its brand to people outside the organisation. In January Expedia Australia ran a competition to attract wannabe Facebook page administrators with the promise of an Aus$10,000 prize.

After ‘liking’ the Expedia Australia Facebook page anyone could enter, with the chance to be one of three people moderating the Expedia Australia FB page in February. The moderator that shows the greatest ability to build community, engage, and create content will win the prize.

Some commentators have asked if this is simply a predictable ‘competition led’ device to increase the ‘likes’ to the FB page.  That seems rather cynical, it’s much bolder than that.

The incentive to get involved is not simply the monetary value, but a brilliant platform for the chosen moderators to demonstrate their abilities, and most likely get a job offer from Expedia, or another company. This well thought through reward structure creates high levels of commitment and creativity from the guest moderators, attracting new fans and engagement, by reinvigorating the Expedia FB page content with fresh thinking.

This ‘fresh thinking’ is also the risk to the brand, as these individuals aren’t as steeped in the brand as the in-house team will be. However, with just three people to work with, rather than the entire social crowd, Expedia will be able to advise on tone of voice and ground rules, to minimise the chance of a misstep with the community.

More crucially Expedia can do this with confidence because it has already proved its ‘social fitness’ by taking significant steps into social branding. The company’s Twitter presence is well established, and is a proactive centre for customer relationship management. Meanwhile the behaviour and content via Facebook is appropriate, and engaging, indicating the company has invested in the governance and training to allow its people to do social well.

This ability to moderate, and the track record of genuine engagement in social, is what sets this activity far apart from the Skittles and Vodafone mistakes of the past.

So, if you’re going to let the brand fly the nest, please spend some time giving it the values, skills and character, to thrive in the big, wide, social world.

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