Social media is widely recognized not only for creating deeper, more connected relationships between people, but for the promise it makes to brands to help them become more human. But just because a brand is humanized doesn’t mean everyone will suddenly want to be its “friend” or naturally decide to “Like” it.
A brand that desires to leverage social media to create meaningful, more integrated relationships with consumers is faced with a task that is significantly more complicated than simply “being human.”
The idea of engaging socially with a brand (even a humanized brand) is still a very nascent phenomenon in our culture. All of the social networks that currently exist were built to connect people with people — not people with brands.
As a result, the ability to form a relationship with a brand has more or less been tacked onto social networks as an afterthought.
The Challenge of Context
The kinds of relationships we create with brands are fundamentally different from any of the relationships we form with people. Consider LinkedIn, a social network that curates strong professional relationships between individuals. LinkedIn is powerful precisely because the type of relationship it facilitates is not casual. The people you connect with on LinkedIn are not necessarily your friends on Facebook. And even if they are, you still engage with them in an entirely different way.
Now think about the consumer-brand relationship. This relationship is neither casual nor professional. There isn’t anything that fosters this type of relationship online. As a consequence, brands are asking consumers to connect with them in obscure contexts. For example, when a brand tries to join a conversation on a social network, it can be perceived as awkward — like the creepy guy who invited himself to the party.
Some people can rationalize being a brand’s friend, liking it on Facebook and talking to it on Twitter. However, for every one of those people, there are several more who have legitimate relationships with brands but do not view Facebook or Twitter as the appropriate place to cultivate those relationships.
By asking these people to connect with a brand in a manner that is normally reserved for a specific type of human relationship, you taint a consumer-brand relationship that might have otherwise been welcomed with open arms. People are obviously willing to form relationships with brands in the real world. However, in the online world, brands need to do a much better of job providing ways for consumers to engage with them appropriately.
Consumers Are Comfortable With Branded Content
Ironically, brands may already have the beginnings of a platform that, if made more social, has the potential to curate much stronger, more integrated relationships with consumers in a way that current social networks can’t. Consumers are already familiar with the idea that brands communicate with them via ads.
Currently, most brands ignore the potential to extend that conversation into a truly social experience. Brands need to start developing ads that function less like a one-way conversation that beg consumers to like them, and more like a distributed social network that engages the consumer and his or her friends in an explicit way.
[su_quote]Without providing consumers with integrated ways to connect around and relate with brands, the consumer-brand relationship will continue to be as awkward and forced as friending your boss on Facebook.[/su_quote]