Social Media

Why Social Media Can’t Save Your Brand

Brad Smith
May 30, 2012
The great myth of social media brand building
Image courtesy of aditza121

“Brand building” is always mentioned as one of the biggest benefits of social media.

By giving companies a “voice”, they can get the word out to more people.

But a funny thing happens when you give people a voice, too.

They use it.

Mashable just released a puff-piece about AT&T’s new social media campaign.

AT&T is taking advantage of the personal nature of social media with a new campaign called “Thank You Notes” that will include 500 customized YouTube videos thanking fans in song.

The effort, which began Tuesday, is a celebration of the brand hitting 2 million fans on Facebook. Fans interested in getting their own song are encouraged to fill out a form with their name, city, musical genre and reasons “why you’re awesome.”

Sounds great, right? They’re trying to “be personal”, “connect individually” with fans, and use “internet memes” – all at the same time. Looks like they’re hitting your typical social media marketing advice on the head.

Well what do you think the first comment on the article says? (And I’m not making this up…)

Diane S.: They should spend their time and money getting a better Customer Service process in place.

There are a lot of trolls on the internet. But this hints at a deeper issue.

It doesn’t matter how good your social media presence is, if your product and service isn’t good.

In today’s harsh online environment, your brand value is derived from your product and service value – not from marketing or advertising.


Social Media Comic: Why Don't Our Customers Like Our Facebook Page?
Image courtesy of seanrnicholson


The Back of a Cabinet

What are your favorite, top 5 brands in the world?

Most people usually have Apple somewhere near the top.

Yet they virtually have zero social media presence, and mediocre customer support.

But guess what they do have.

Awesome, delightful, beautiful products.

Most of this can be attributed to Steve Job’s obsessiveness with design aesthetic. His biography gives us more insight:

His father refused to use poor wood for the back of cabinets, or to build a fence that wasn’t constructed as well on the back side as it was the front. Jobs likened it to using a piece of plywood on the back of a beautiful chest of drawers. “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Your brand value today is derived from the quality of your product or service – not what you say on your Facebook page.


3 Social Media Marketing Lessons for Every Brand


1. Embrace the Age of Excellence

Today, your product and service is your marketing.

Serial entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calicanis, says we’re living in The Age of Excellence.

In today’s highly visible, transparent, connected and “winner take all” world, if you’re product and service isn’t 5 stars, then it’s over.

It doesn’t matter if you like or agree with it. That’s just the way it is.

So how can you figure out where you stand, and how to improve?

Use the Net Promoter Score to get an idea:

How likely is it that you would recommend [Company X] to a friend or colleague?

Customers respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale and are categorized as follows:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

To calculate your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors.

Now compare yourself to others. (Hint: Amazon is at 76%, which is very high.) And figure out how to move that number up.

Because if someone has a bad experience and complains on Yelp, then it doesn’t matter how good you are at Twitter marketing.

The damage is already done.


2. Get Your House in Order

Social media has to be “in-house” to be effective.

You can’t outsource it, and you can’t hire an intern to sit on Twitter.

Social media is the new PR for most companies today. It’s the most public facing position your company has. If you can’t take it serious or invest in it properly, then don’t bother starting it.

Sure, you can use consultants or agencies to help you run social media promotions or special campaigns. But the day-to-day work has to be aligned with your business goals.

Which leads us to the next point.


3. Don’t Open Yourself Up (If You Haven’t Earned it Yet)

Most companies shouldn’t open themselves up in social media until they’ve earned respect.

Chris Brogan recently wrote that you shouldn’t “push” a Twitter hashtag – unless you have pre-existing trust and relationships in social media.

He gave examples of how Wendy’s use of a hashtag went awry, while Taco Bell executed it perfectly.

The difference?

Wendy’s didn’t have an authentic, pre-existing community developed. So when they opened up their social media presence and asked for the world’s opinion, they got it. People complained, made jokes, and gave them every sarcastic answer you could imagine – except for actually answering the question.

Using a hashtag for your brand isn’t impossible.

But first you need relationships and trust in place.

Social media can help. But it can’t drive by itself.


The Bottom Line

Social media gives you incredible communication tools.

But it can’t save your brand.

Only your product and service can do that.

My favorite “branding” quote is from Seth Godin, who says the key to marketing and branding is:

“Keep your promises.”

If you say you’ll show up every day at 8 am, do so. Every day.

If you say your service is excellent, make it so.

If circumstances or priorities change, well then, invest to change them back. Or tell the truth, and mean it.

If traffic might be bad, plan for it.

Is there actually unusually heavy call volume? Really?

Want a bigger brand? Make bigger promises. And keep them.

Your brand value is directly proportional to your product and service value.

That’s what drives your social media presence.

And there’s no way around it.

6 thoughts on “Why Social Media Can’t Save Your Brand

  1. Brad,

    This is stellar. I keep saying it, you keep doing it: how the heck do you outdo yourself week after week?

    Lots of meat in this post. Tons. You have the knack for situating all this craze of social media channels into the common sense of offline business.

    Start with a kick ass Purple Cow (Yelp will let you know how you’re doing)
    Sharpen it
    The world itself will let you know if you ought to be in social media or not. If you’re worthy, your raving fans will put you on the map themselves.

    1. Thanks Martin!

      I totally agree. I used to think every company/brand should be involved in social media – because our customers/stakeholders are there whether we like it or not. But the more I think about it (and the more complex it gets), I think I’m changing my mind.

      If you don’t have a great brand, or if you’re not already popular, then you’re usually going to be using social media for (a) customer support, or (b) talking to an empty room. Which is fine if that’s one of your goals.

      One of the best aspects of social media is that it opens up all types of communication. I love using it for business development, partnerships, etc. But those are really, really hard to do unless you already have (or are investing heavily) in building a great brand (i.e. product/service/content, etc.).

  2. While I agree with you for a commerce POV, not every “brand” is a widget. I am biased coming from media. In the case of Reality TV social media is indispensable as it allows the for the biggest brand builder for these shows and the personalities they feature: user engagement.

    1. Hi Sheri, good points. My article was definitely more commerce focused. But even in the context of Reality TV (or any personality-driven media like sports), I think the person’s brand is made on TV, and social media is used to further or strengthen that value. Hope that doesn’t sound like semantics?

  3. Good Day Brad,

    I get bombarded on a daily basis by emails and on-line marketing and promotions, you really broke through the clutter. I enjoyed the read, thanks.

    I agree with you 100%.

    As a sales gal with a heavy marketing background I often get looked at crooked when I ask employers questions like: what is your SCA; brand proposition; mission statement;your 1, 3 and 5 strategic business plans etc….

    These are not standard old school”sales rep” questions or concerns.

    Companies look at sales and marketing as the ultimate way to grow business, but the bottom line is that you cannot sell for the sake of selling…Marketing is a development and communications tool…you have to be able to offer something that your competitors cannot or at least be able to position yourself in a GAP, no matter how small. Niche marketing is my specialty and the margins sure make up for the lack of volume!

    Here is another thought in regards to “successful” marketing and promotions…some companies have such a desire to grow that they do not even consider the ramifications of such growth until it is upon them.

    If a company is at capacity and unable to implement additional capacity in a pinch, then perhaps they should reconsider launching any marketing initiatives until they have accurately assessed if they can handle the growth should the initiative suddenly become a huge success…fast growth can kill a company FAST!

    During a job interview I once asked an employer what capacity the plant was running at. He seemed surprised at the question as he told me 70%. As it turns out they were actually running at approximately 110% and were unable to effectively fill the orders they currently had.

    Why on earth would I risk damaging my reputation within this industry to bring in new clients that we could not possibly service?

    I think a joke from Bill Cosby sums this up well. “I asked a guy once ‘why do you smoke pot’ he replied ‘because it intensifies my personality’ I then asked ‘well what if your an a-hole?'”

    1. Thank you Shauna, I really appreciate the compliment!

      I couldn’t agree more with the points in your comment. Marketing and sales can’t make up for a poorly run business or terrible strategy. While marketing + selling a good product/service/business is relatively straight forward.

      And as you said, it makes no sense to push for growth when you can’t keep up operationally.

      I think Seth Godin said the worst marketing mistakes that companies make is they’re selfish and impatient. Instead of taking time to build value and trust, they try to force growth and sales above all else.

      Thanks again for your detailed comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *