Brands vs. Fans

 Much has been made about “brand marketing” in the social media space. “Your brand has to be online!”, “My brand has a Facebook page!”, “Is your brand on Twitter?”. More and more I’m convinced this is short sighted.

Remember, the “media” part of social media is the channel by which communication occurs. The “social” is the people part, those that participate in the conversation. Neither of those parts say anything about a product or service. Why would someone want to follow Tide, Best Buy, Pepsi, etc on Facebook, Youtube or Twitter? Now, CEO Bob at Tide, Stephanie at Pepsi, or Barry at Best Buy? That’s another story! Those are people I can have a conversation with.

A recent quote in the this article really says it all, “Members of social networks want to spend time with friends, not brands.” Excuse me whilst I utter the proverbial “Duh!”

This again reinforces the overwhelming necessity of understanding the medium in which you are participating or working. Social media marketing follows a whole different set of rules than mass marketing. One of those rules is “It’s all about the relationship.” Brands in and of themselves can’t form relationships. Those people that are fans of the brand can and those that represent the brand can.

So, let’s amend the statements above: “A representative of your brand has to be online!”, “My brand’s community manager has a Facebook page!”, “Who evangelizes your brand on Twitter?”.

Bottom line: Brands in social media…no. People representing brands in social media…yes. (Of course, you need the right people or rather, fans!) As Ted McConnell, manager of interactive marketing and innovation at P.& G notes: “I don’t want to be best friends with a brand,” he said. “It’s just stuff.”


  1. You may not realize this, but you have been my ‘social media mentor’. This is a great post and I love your “duh” comment. It made me chuckle. I agree the idea is “Relationships not technology”. Interactive media means just that, a two way stream of communication that involves conversation.

  2. Thanks very much. I’m honored. The great thing about Social Media and “new” media in general is that there is such easy access to information from so many possible mentors.

    I likewise continue to learn from you (and Bur Bur).

  3. Phil, I don’t think this is as cut and dry as you make it. There are lots and lots of people who enjoy receiving information from brands without an expectation of reciprocation. QVC, for example. Or Twitter feeds that do nothing more than act as SMS based RSS readers like CNN breaking.

    A brand could communicate effectively in this manner as well.

    That’s not to suggest that putting a human face on brands. Just that it’s not necessarily critical to a brand’s success in social media.

  4. Ed,

    Of course there are opportunities for brands in the social media space. Clearly, this is a more purist point of view. (Perhaps my closing should have been; People representing brands in social media…yes. Brands alone in social media…not so much.)

    Feeds like CNN breaking, radio station playlists, and my own ComicTwit are using the “pipes” of the medium to reach the eyes and ears of a “consumer”. Not that there is a thing wrong with that. But in the pure sense of the word, are they really social?

    I’m a big fan of seeing what opportunities the pipes can provide and I whole-heartedly believe it’s up to the crowd to define what is acceptable. The great thing about the medium is that the crowd ultimately decides what works and what doesn’t.

    My point is that the strict sense of the term “social” marketing requires a person to person interaction. That is not to say that the conduit can also provide other features…as long as the expectations are set and delivered.