* (Updated 4 Febuary 2010)
Over the last few months we have been developing Zipipop's concept of Brand Friend and it has recently been generating considerable interest. So we thought it was about time to start sharing some of the main findings more publicly.
Over the years we have noticed that one of the main reasons that social media campaigns fail is that they expect customers to engage immediately on an intimate level. However, just as you can't walk up to someone on the street and expect them to immediately be your friend, you shouldn't expect users to actively participate with a brand (especially a new one) in social media without out doing some initial friendship building.
Our Brand Friend concept was initially inspired by an Ed Cotton blog entry elaborating on an idea by Esther Dyson in which they explore the basic idea of brands behaving as friends. The basis of Esther's idea was that brands could be invited into our social media environments as friends to benefit from a symbiotic relationship, i.e. you let the brand have knowledge of your personal activity and it can then offer you personalized, contextually relevant offers. However, we felt that this great premise needed to be expanded into something approaching a concept with a more concrete framework to make it even more useful.
In its simplest terms, our Brand Friend concept recommends that – particularly in the context of social media – brands should behave like friends. And like many "simple" ideas, it has subtle and powerful consequences.
Brand Friend is related to the notion that communication and customer service must now be viewed as core components of marketing. This relatively new approach has been made possible – and essential – due to the explosion of conversations now taking place across the vast social media ecosystem.
The Conversation Prism (developed by Brian Solis together with Jesse Thomas ) gives an indication of just how many conversations are taking place inside social media.
Bloggers, Twitterers and the plethora of other social media users have become "The New Influencers" and brands must learn to engage with them in order to maintain a strategic competitive advantage; however, many social media endeavours have failed miserably as a result of failing to realize that effective interaction is an earned privilege – just has you have to go through a delicate series of stages developing a real-life friendship.
We created the Brand Friend concept as a way of reminding people of this common sense approach and as a strategic model for brands to reach the position of mutual respect and cooperation that ultimately benefits us all. It is still a work in progress and we highly value your opinions. We will be publishing a more comprehensive presentation of the concept in the near future.
One of the most poignant things to bare in mind is that customers can easily fall into the Anger stage at any time: however, if brands monitor the social media conversations – and there are now many tools for doing this, Google Alerts, TweetBeep, etc) — and respond quickly to issues they can quickly bring people out of anger and even bounce them up into a high level of friendship. When people have emotion towards a brand they are still engaged and the real problem arises when they become indifferent. Therefore it pays to be fast and friendly.
We had the pleasure of developing the Brand Friend concept together with our French summer intern Tiphaine Guillot. Although last summer may not have been the warmest, she left with our warmest regards. Tiphaine – the door is always open and best of luck with the future.
* The Conversation Prism is a useful summation of areas of web activity, however, we feel that it contains some confusion differentiating between types of services and technology, eg – the voice/SMS category.