Right after I get asked "What is social media?", I often get asked about the journey towards social media and how or why I ended up making that a core professional expertise, honed-in on and carefully developed over the past six years. For awhile, the answer (my answer) would shift based upon the asker. I would say it was exciting or perhaps more often, "emerging" filled with "tons of opportunity." I would usually say that I believed it to be effective and often the "hub of word-of-mouth" which is what I really (truly) believes moves the sales needle in all its many mediums and iterations, at least as much as a super compelling piece of creative, which is unfortunately oh so rare these days.
The second question is usually, "What should we be doing with social media?" and then usually "why" comes into play somewhere after that. The "why" is what I used to be scared of...just like any form of marketing or communications, for a long time the ROI of social media was unclear and still is somewhat, compared to sophisticated modeling around more traditional mediums such as, for example, direct mail.
As the years have progressed and this line of questioning has been asked (and asked) my answer has grown to be quite simple - social media allows you as a brand (or company or celebrity) to build a relationship and the core of that relationship is around conversation, if done well, collaboration and often gratitude.
Gratitude...might sound weird..but I'm not referring to people saying "thanks" to Disney for creating The Little Mermaid (although I am thankful for that), I'm referring to the ability to express and share brand experiences that center around being grateful for the experience, knowledge, discussion, role the product has in ones life or simply the ability to have dialogue.
If you dig into social brand experiences, you'll find that gratitude really is all around:
- On Facebook all day you can read comments of consumers grateful for the ease of experience on Virgin America.
- The entire Comcast twitter channel was essentially born for the opportunity for consumers to speak to the brand about a crappy experience and have someone actually respond.
- The new rising social star Pinterest was born because people are grateful to have an outlet to be creative, escape the work day and share in a community.
- Much of Red Bull's expansive success was on the backs of consumers passionate enough about the brand that they do some of the somewhat heavy sales lifting by generating a gangload of goodwill and word-of-mouth.
In it's simplicity form, social media really is about thanks, the expressing of the gratitude that we have for the companies who make us laugh, the bloggers whose style we love, the people who provide us with things that we need, and the ability to pound our keyboards when we feel angry or slighted and (if managed well) have someone listen.
The rationale for engaging in social media often isn't game changing, at least not as much for a brand as it is for a consumer. Brands don't live and die by a social sword, at least not often. However, the inherent reward of opening up and sustaining dialogue can pay forward dividends in the form of goodwill and gratitude.
Giving thanks through content, access and unique value, receiving thanks in the form of peer recommendation and simply opening that door for the dialogue to begin.