There is often a common perception that brands don’t really have place in social media. There is a sense they are invading (like an uninvited guest at a party) what we perceive as a consumer driven space.

But if you speak to consumers, the truth is somewhere opposite to this. Consumers love to interact with brands in social media, a reality demonstrated day in day out. The fact that Coca-Cola, Disney and Starbucks have over 30m fans each on Facebook, the hundreds of thousands of consumer created brand fan sites, plus literally 1000s of case studies of successful brand presence on social networks, demonstrate the obvious positive impact and consumer demand. When you combine this with the constant theme in our data of consumer demand for interaction with brands, the view is even more persuasive.

If you step back there is a much broader story that underlines the consumer demand for brands to be active. It has long been observed that the reason branding has been so successful is due to the fact that brand adoption and association enables consumers to build their identity. We are all judged based on the brands that we buy and associate with. Following brands on social networks or micro-blog services is an extension of this brand association into the online world, and consumers often want these associations to be known and shared. Social Media in essence, makes it easier to build identity through brand association.

This was highlighted in a project we delivered last year in Brazil, where the growing popularity of Facebook over Orkut, was in a large part attributed to the ease of being able to self-promote the latest branded purchase. Countless pictures of Brazilian women, showing off their latest handbag and shoe purchases, made good anecdotes for this trend. Another project in China demonstrated the massive success that premium western brands were having across Chinese social platforms. For example, Mercedes Benz had built an incredible multi-platform presence with huge consumer participation that spanned social networks and video sites. While few of the engaged consumers will be current drivers of Mercedes, the brand association enables them to build their reputation online. At the same time they are advocating Mercedes and one day, they might just buy one. In short, both these examples showed how the growing consumer based society was driving social media adoption.

Furthermore, there are also a number of clear trends from our research that are enhancing the role of brands online.

  • Transmitter Ecosystem: now that consumers are shifting from creation platforms such as blogs to lighter real-time sharing or status updates, everybody is looking for great content, news or events to share. Brands are incredibly well placed to benefit, as they have the resources and connections to develop brilliant content. Brands also have an advantage here because they are recognised entities with existing consumer relationships.
  • Content Free for All: There are now no barriers to brands creating content, whether that be video, apps or online events, and thanks to the transmitter economy, it’s increasingly easier to distribute. Young consumers say that entertainment is the number one role a brand can play for them. In the future big consumer brands will all have content production teams.
  • Return of top down influence: Twitter re-orientates users away from peer-to-peer influencers and onto “top down” influencers. This is why Twitter is dominated by celebrities, pro-sports stars, politicians, journalists and anyone else in the public eye. Google+ and recent changes from Facebook, are mirroring this shift which is again great news for brands.
  • Demand for Interaction: The number one consumer demand from brands in social networks is to “be listened to”, followed by a “platform to interact with staff”. Users love the idea that direct lines of feedback to brands or their staff are working. In turn, these actions are increasingly shared to further enhance their personal identity.
  • Fast Growing Market Adoption: The fastest growing markets for social network adoption are in places like China, Indonesia, Philippines or Brazil where lower per capita GDP mean that many of the brands that consumers identify with are out of reach in the real world but now completely accessible via social networks. The rapid adoption of the consumer society is being played out online in social media.
  • Continuing reliance on advertising support: Social media might be free to the consumer, but of course somebody has to pay for it. Now the major platforms are being demanded by investors to start generating revenue, there will be increasingly focus on brand support.

In short, brands are playing a massively positive role on social media, and consumers value their presence. They value it not only for functional reasons like access to information and service, but also to help construct personal identities. It’s time we appreciate the positive role they can play in creating great online experiences, communities and content.

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