Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

Archive for the month “March, 2011”

Was your brand born social?

To misquote the Bard: “Some Brands are born social, some achieve socialness, and some have social thrust upon ‘em”.

Following the launch of our Social Brands 100 report last week, we’ve been thinking that this famous quote has some resonance with our ranked brands.

Born social.

One of the surprise Top Five entries for some commentators is the crowd-sourced mobile operator, giffgaff. This innovative business has been making waves in the mobile space since its launch in November 2009. Conceived from the outset as a social business, where its customers can gain rewards by providing customer service and marketing support, this is one business that was ‘born’ with social principles at its core. Indeed the business model was refined through crowd sourcing the question ‘what would you want from a mobile network run by you?’.

Another interesting example is Innocent Drinks. Interestingly, the fast growing FMCG brand, launched in 1999, pre-dates the explosion of mass social behaviour on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

But, according to Ted Hunt, in charge of digital engagement at Innocent from 2006 to 2010, the company already had social principles at its heart. His job was simply to tell this story through social channels, not to transform the business for social. Evidence that true social engagement is more about behaviour and content, not technology and platforms?

Achieving socialness.

This transformative state is the most common that our ranked brands find themselves in. A good example is the retail bank, First Direct.

Launched as the first ‘telephone bank’ 25 years ago, it’s always been an innovator.  In the last few years the Leeds based company has proved its agility once again as it develops social behaviours, and strategies. It features as the only financial services company in the Social Brands 100 thanks to its social media newsroom, i-Phone app, Little Black Book and Talking Point initiatives.

Other notable ‘achievers’ are the BBC, Ford, Burberry, Sky and BT Care. All these brands are introducing effective social principles into the way their organizations work, and rightly being recognized for it.

Social thrust upon them.

This is the most interesting group. A collection of well-known brands that have been pushed into adopting social behaviours, and business models, after being hit by a social reputation crisis.

Dell (ranked #1), Domino’s Pizza (ranked #26), Eurostar (ranked #36), Virgin Atlantic (ranked #37) have all suffered from high profile crises that were either caused, or exacerbated, by social media.

To their credit they have all responded positively. Dell has famously put active listening of conversations around its brand at the very heart of its business model. Domino’s Pizza took the opportunity of its staff induced crisis, to proactively engage with its customers to reinvent the chain’s whole food offering. Eurostar has gone on the record to say that the stranded trains crisis of late 2009 prompted the transformation of its customer service and Twitter profile. Virgin Atlantic has taken positive steps in social engagement after getting stung by staff comments on social platforms in 2008.

These high profile corporate car crashes act as a lesson to all brands that have yet to consider how they will evolve their brands, and transform their businesses, for social.

So, if you’re one of those ‘pre-social’ brands thinking about how they will adapt for the new rules of a connected world, please don’t wait for a crisis to ‘thrust’ you in to it!

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Time to drop the ‘M-Word’?

With the reports on Social Media Week now in, it’s clear just what a huge success it was again this year. Congratulations to everyone behind it. We loved taking part, and will be there again in 2012.

One teeny-tiny request for next year, would you consider a name change? Would you, could you, ditch the ‘M-Word’? Social Brand Week London is pretty catchy! But Social Business, or Social Enterprise, would do just as well.

With the SMW brand going strong, this is probably a long shot (!). But changes like this would be a tangible sign that the blossoming industry around social specialists is growing up.

The underlying point is that the term ‘social media’ diminishes the transforming effects of social networks, and social behaviour.

The traditional definitions of media focus on the collective phenomena of: ‘newspapers, radio and television’, which have the ability to ‘communicate with and influence people widely’.

Of course platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare have this publishing power, but the social behaviour they allow is utterly different.

Because they are networked, content and conversation can bloom into any size or shape.

Because they provide a back-channel for two-way conversation, there is an expectation of being listened to, not just talked at.

Because they increase transparency, disconnects between truth and reality are exposed.

Because they allow sharing and co-creation, powerful movements can grow (as the Egypt uprising shows).

Breaking the link between ‘social’ and ‘media’ could help us move the debate forward. To start thinking about social not as ‘another channel’ (hate that), but as the forerunner of a linked, open world, where information and influence flow freely, and uniquely, for each individual, as per Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the semantic web.

For brands, approaching this stuff at the platform (media) level isn’t sustainable. In true Darwinian fashion, the brands and organisations that will thrive will be those that can evolve the fastest, from the inside out, transforming structure, behaviour, skills, responsiveness, and culture, to meet the heightened demands of a newly connected people.

What do you think?

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