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Brands need to follow rules of engagement on social media

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is quoted as having said, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can tell 6,000 friends.”

This highlights the importance of social media in today’s marketing environment — it is a critical part of every brand’s marketing strategy. With 2.1 billion active social media users — over two-thirds of active internet users — it is no wonder that marketers believe it is crucial for brand building.

But quite often, brands get either their content or their messaging wrong on social media — a recent example being a leading apparel retailer’s online ad in the UK that showed a black boy wearing a sweatshirt with a reference to a “monkey”. While the brand, no doubt, had no intention of making this sort of a connection, this is how the message was interpreted by many consumers, which led to a lot of furore on social media.

So, what should brands keep in mind while developing marketing plans for social media? Here are five critical elements:

Tell a compelling story — storytelling is central to human existence and we are all inspired by stories that touch us emotionally. Hence, brands need to create a story that consumers can engage with. Unilever got this spot on with their “Dirt is good” and “Real women” campaigns for Omo and Dove respectively — which were contrary to accepted communication norms for their product categories. (A detergent promoting the idea of kids getting dirty and a personal wash product showing women of all shapes and sizes, rather than picture perfect models).

These campaigns helped create a brand narrative for Omo and Dove, which consumers could identify with.

* Remain authentic to the brand’s codes

All successful brands have strong brand codes and values, and it is important to remain true to these on social media as well. Color is a very strong indicator of emotions. For example, red typically conveys excitement and energy, whereas green conveys an aura of peace and tranquillity.

This also needs to be reflected in pictures, content and messaging on social media — so social media content for Coke would be expected to look very different from that of, say, Evian.

* Be consistent across platforms

Tied in to the above point is the need to be consistent across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and even the company’s website or blog. Brands like Amazon, Disney and Google do this really well, ensuring that their brand presence, while adapted to different social media platforms, has easily recognisable logos, familiar colour schemes and consistency of experience.

* Engage in a human way

The advent of social media has brought about a huge societal shift, where people are now spending more time with other people (even though online), rather than with things. This also means that brands need to engage on social media in a human manner, rather than as corporate entities. Responding to consumers using first names, being funny and quirky, can help to position a brand as a trusted friend.

In Lebanon, a furniture brand, Citifurniture, asked people to share pictures of their couches on their Facebook Fan page and then vote for the ugliest couch — the winner would then have a chance to win a new couch from Citifurniture. This quirky campaign created a lot of positivity and helped position the brand as fun and engaging.

* Build communities of like-minded people

Through social media, consumers like to share opinions and interests; and this is a great opportunity for brands to bring people with similar interests together. Brands can become the enablers for consumers to share their thoughts and stories, thus subtly embedding themselves in consumers lives.

A classic example was Olay Arabia’s “Eye of Arabia” online beauty contest, targeting women in UAE and Saudi Arabia. They could participate in this online pageant by simple uploading a picture of their eyes. This helped Olay bring a large number of potential consumers on to a common platform, while also promoting their new range of eye care products.

Social media platforms have opened up huge opportunities for brands to connect with their target audiences, and the potential is limited only by the creativity of the marketers and their agencies. However, brands need to take care of the elements mentioned above, to ensure that they are delivering authentic, engaging and consistent communication and experience to consumers.

Gagan Bhalla is a Director at Kantar MENAP.

This article first appeared on GulfNews.com