Becoming social is an imperative for brands today, and while many are embracing the digital revolution, substantial improvements are yet to be made to build a brand with a distinctive social identity, according to a new global Weber Shandwick study in partnership with Forbes Insights.
“Socializing Your Brand: A Brand’s Guide to Sociability” offers brand and communications executives with a starting point for developing their own best-in-class practices when creating an authentically social brand. The research was conducted online among 1,897 senior executives from high revenue companies across 50 countries in North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Latin America.
According to the study, global brand executives believe that sociability is growing rapidly as a contributor to a brand’s overall reputation, from 52 percent today with a projected estimate of 65 percent three years from now. Yet, a large majority (84 percent) report that their brand’s sociability is not yet up to world class brand standards, despite the fact that nearly all of them (87 percent) say they have a social media brand strategy.
What does it take to be among the elite set of world class brands? The study found that being a world class social brand means interacting with target audiences and creating original content that heightens the interactive experience, going beyond broadcasting news, deals or events. World class brands get their communities of interest engaged and develop meaningful ties over shared passions or commonalities. They demonstrate a genuine interest in what their audiences say and listen carefully to responses. World class sociability rests on the collaboration of the entire organization to integrate the brand personality across all communications channels. World class sociability also means that brand managers are prepared to accept all the risks that come with the rewards of venturing into this new era of customer engagement.
“There is a disconnect between theory and reality when it comes to socializing a brand. All too often, brand managers clamor for the latest and greatest application and new technology, bypassing the need for clear business objectives, a true social orientation and programs that deliver real value to brand communities. To be a fully socialized brand, leaders need a new blueprint; one that factors in both proper internal structure as well as external programming that help people be informed and identified with brands they engage online,” said Chris Perry, president of Digital Communications, Weber Shandwick. “Organizations need to break down silos, operate strategically and integrate all marketing communications. Only then can a brand successfully and seamlessly engage in a real social dialogue.”
Socializing Your Brand – The Risks vs. The Rewards
Global brand executives consider that the rewards of using social media outweigh the risks, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Among the rewards of social media, global brand executives count strengthening customer loyalty, improving brand recognition, helping locate new customers and prospects and improving customer service.
“While there are inherent risks in socializing a brand, it is no longer an option to go without a social presence. Now, more than ever, executives need to harness this opportunity to connect with customers, facilitate a conversation and encourage feedback. Their reputations and livelihood depend on it,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist, Weber Shandwick.
Nine Drivers of Leading Brand Sociability:
It’s not the medium — and it’s more than the message: World class brands are much more likely than the average brand to create original content. 45 percent of them create content specifically for social media purposes, compared to 28 percent of all global companies. World class brands depend upon much more than just the medium to make themselves social.
Put your brands in motion: World class companies do more than build an inventory of social media tools. They apply their tools in more social ways than the average global company. For example, they are 44 percent more likely to offer brand-related mobile content, 43 percent more likely to participate in “check-in” apps, 41 percent more likely to do proximity marketing and 40 percent more likely to have their own branded YouTube channel.
Integrate or die: World class organizations are much better integrators of brand personality — they are nearly twice as likely as other organizations to have a consistent brand personality across all social and traditional media channels and are much more likely to include a social media element to their traditional print or broadcast messaging.
Make social central: 61 percent of world class brands have a dedicated social media strategist or manager, vs. 41 percent of all global brands. According to one global executive respondent, “The most important thing we can do is to centrally plan social media activities across all channels to amplify key messages.”
Listen more than you talk: World class companies fine-tune their messages to customers and integrate what is on their fans’ minds into their brand stories. Nearly twice as many world class brands have changed a product or service based on fan recommendations compared to the average global brand.
Count what matters — meaningful engagement: World class brands place more weight than other brands on their number of contributors when measuring social media effectiveness. Social contributors are ranked #1 by world class companies but #6 by other companies as a key metric.
Think global: Executives managing world class brands consider global reach as important as customer service as a driver of corporate reputation while the average global executive ranks global reach last.
Go outside to get inside: World class companies are nearly twice as likely as average global companies to engage outside support to measure their brand’s social performance.
Be vigilant: To protect their social brand integrity, world class brands are always on high alert. They are 85 percent more vigilant since Wikileaks has been in the news and are 58 percent more likely to be concerned about privacy violations.
Brand Sociability Ranges Cross Continents
“Socializing Your Brand” found relatively few differences across regions. Weber Shandwick and Forbes Insights believe this is due to the globality of social media and, although some geographies are more technologically developed than others, they all embrace the same opportunities and face the same challenges of using social media to connect with customers in a meaningful way.
The most pronounced regional differences are:
North American companies are most likely to have integrated their social media brand strategies into their overall marketing or communications strategies (73 percent vs. 54 percent in EMEA, 60 percent in APAC and 62 percent in Latin America).
While EMEA organizations are just as likely as those in other regions to have a centralized social media function, they are the least likely to have a dedicated social media strategist/manager (62 percent vs. 77 percent in North America, 70 percent in APAC and 78 percent in Latin America).
APAC brand executives are significantly more likely than executives in other regions to report difficulty quantifying social media results/gauging ROI (27 percent vs. 19 percent in North America, 17 percent in EMEA and 14 percent in Latin America). In fact, this is APAC executives’ number one barrier to using social media more extensively. APAC is also the most likely region to cite lack of talent to effectively implement social media as a barrier, which could be a reason for or byproduct of ROI challenges.
Latin American brand executives expect the most from their brand’s online sociability. On average, they project in three years that 72 percent of their brand’s reputation will be attributed to its online sociability. This is higher than what executives in other regions expect (65 percent in North America, 63 percent in EMEA and 66 percent in APAC).
“Collectively, brands are re-defining marketing models for a super-social media environment. Whether it’s to reach employees, customers or media, social communications is a powerful, unstoppable market force. Communications and marketing executives and are now well aware. The question is how to use this power to maximum advantage,” said Perry.
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