Head of Digital Strategy
At your service
Do social networks serve brands, or the other way around?
The birth of the dilemma
The first social network to feature user profiles was launched in 1997 and was called Six Degrees. And roughly 14 years ago, social platforms as we now know them began to flourish. What social networks from then and now have in common is the spirit of sharing and collaboration; of connecting people and communities, ways of thinking and ways of living.
Social networks have gradually become interpersonal social structures in which people have space to share their opinions, tastes, recommendations and feelings, both as individuals and members of communities.
For brands, it quickly became clear that social networks were also the perfect platform on which to build the reputation of brands, products and services. Conversations about brands were already happening; opinions were being shared and sought, and social media users, often subconsciously, were seeking more. Businesses and brands of all sizes heard the call, and answered more or less quickly and correctly, at first. It was clear that social media could be a road connecting brands and consumers, and links with these digital communities would be tremendously valuable.
The dilemma matures
In advanced digital markets, social networks are today completely implanted and more or less integrated into the way of life of people of all ages.
In Spain, social networks already have more than 15 million users, which means 86 percent of Internet users aged 16 to 65 are using them and, according to the Connected Life study by Kantar TNS, we use social networks, on average, for 1.1 hours a day.
We are always connected, and to a great extent we’re talking about – and with – brands. It took an initial period of adjustment for the relationship between consumers and brands on social networks to establish itself, as the commercial ‘intrusion’ was viewed with suspicion. Little by little, though, communication strategies evolved to meet the particular conditions of social networks, and both sides of the discussion have found balance in their digital coexistence.
It would be fair to ask: which came first? Successful brand marketing that pulled in consumers with communication built on valued stories? Or was it digital communities’ openness to new conversations? In fact, both of these shifts have acted as both cause and effect; their development has been intertwined and perfectly balanced.
Nowadays, it is necessary to consider one more factor that works as a catalyst in the growth and change of social networks and branding strategies: the needs of new audiences and the power of their digital communities.
So-called millennials are demanding, are vocal in their demands, and are largely non-conformist. Audiences aged over 55 are generally comfortable and adept on Facebook. Adolescents seek out new online functionalities and decide which network suits their needs for the moment, and switch their focus accordingly. The strong emergence of Snapchat, and adoption of the ‘Stories’ format in various social networks is evidence of this push in action.
All of this has resulted in brand storytelling strategies that are focused more on the quality of the content than the quantity. Messages, images, mini-videos and company tweets are more powerful, but perhaps less numerous. Stories have been crafted by brands in a way that is tailored to the needs of different communities; they are developed and told in an almost artisan way.
The future of the dilemma
Social networks, audiences and brand communications have evolved to fit into a kind of jigsaw puzzle in which speaking and listening have become simultaneously possible, free, desirable and enriching. But changes in digital functionalities and social networks happen at a pace that is sometimes almost overwhelming.
Facebook has almost completely replaced the brand website; Twitter and Instagram are native platforms for the dissemination of content previously hosted exclusively in blogs; and spontaneous, live and ephemeral content is shared between users and brands with ever more fluidity.
It is clear that consumers like brands and companies to be present in social networks. This makes it possible to predict the direction of the future relationship between consumers and brands. Audiences already seek out and accept conversations with their favorite brands; they will continue to look to brands on social networks for information, customer service, new products and offers – and just to satisfy their curiosity.
The marriage between social digital platforms and brands will continue to shape their messages, formats and desires in an interactive and inter-related way. Platform and brand each serve the needs of the other.
Which came first, the satisfied customer or the empathetic and attentive brand?