Brands on Social Networks

Brands have been challenged online as people connect with each other increasingly through sites that are focused on self-expression. For social networking sites, the goal is for users to create a persona and develop relationships with other users. In this space it’s difficult for a brand to find a clear home. Many brands simply ignore the social networking space, opting instead for the online version of their comfort-zone, the advertisement.

But why are brands so challenged? A large amount of time and money was put into finding that one message that communicates what each brand means. Shouldn’t it be clear who they are? Nike, Adidas, Puma; each one says something different. Each one generates a clear image in your mind when you come into contact with that brand. This, as we all know, is not an accident. But it is this single message, or singularity, that challenges these brands when they enter the social networking space. Nike solves this by creating its own social networks with sites like the human race and its Nike+ product. But many brands aren’t active online, whether it’s their own sites or on social networking sites because of a fear of looking out of place. And many others are active and DO look out of place.

So marketing in a social network seems a bit daunting. Why? Because of the very thing that makes the brand who it is. It’s singularity. The successful persona on social networking sites are real people with personalities that are identifiable. They’re disparate and ever changing. Each person is not only different but different depending on the situation and people and sites they’re on. A brand cannot change in this way.

And that’s a good thing.

It may seem like the root of the brand’s challenge but it’s actually the thing that gives them the most potential. Again, its their singularity. Think of the single brand message as a brick. This brick expresses a clear message and creates with it, an assortment of images and associations. A person could use these associations to express who they are.

That seems odd but think of it this way: if I connect with 10 brands, what are the chances that the 10 brands I connect with will be the same 10 brands anyone else connects with? Who is a Facebook user who becomes a fan of Burger King, Cinabon, and Dior? Jaded or Aspiring? Each of those brands, because the have both a single message and collected associations, combine to form a sense of a person. This is all fairly semiotic but the point is that you can tell others who you are by the brands you connect with. Just as I can tell you who I am by the brands I buy. The brands become the bricks by which a you define yourself, without saying you like burgers, cinnamon rolls and clothes.

I’m not advocating this is the only way we should express ourselves, launching Facebook pages that look like something out of NASCAR, but all brands should understand that they have a place. That place starts with a value proposition. What about your brand is special? How can that special value exist online?

By providing an online value equal to its physical value, a brand can create an expressive alignment with people who already know and love the brand, by doing so, it becomes a brick in their online personification.