The key to brands coming out on top on the social Web is to have great products people want to talk about. It should come as no surprise then that Apple dominates a new list of the world’s most social brands.
The iPhone retained the top slot for the second year in social media management company Vitrue’s annual ranking of the most social brands. Its companion service, iTunes, ranked No. 6 and Apple itself was No. 8. Sony (overall brand, PlayStation) and Microsoft (overall brand, Xbox) were the only other companies to have multiple brands in the top 20.
Vitrue measures conversations about brands, both positive and negative, on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It made the comparisons based on data collected throughout December.
Most major product categories are represented, although the top of the rankings are dominated by entertainment and technology brands.
The iPhone taking the top slot, said Reggie Bradford, Vitrue’s CEO, was an exception in that it illustrates the power of a breakthrough product to generate chatter without maintaining a presence on Facebook or Twitter.
Measuring the buzz around products people want to talk about and the outlets on which this is done leads to different results compared to other brand rankings, such as Interbrand’s, which calculates brand value based on the financial contribution it makes by increasing product demand. Interbrand pegs Coca-Cola as the top brand in the world in 2009. Vitrue says as a social brand Coke measures just 31st after losing nine spots since last year. IBM, Interbrand’s No. 2, comes in at No. 90 in Vitrue’s evaluation. Interbrand’s third best brand, Microsoft, is in 18th position.
All was not rosy for Steve Jobs’ empire, however. Apple’s legacy brands Mac and iPod both dropped considerably in the rankings, with the iPod falling 27 spots to No. 34 and Mac dropping 19 to No. 35. iTunes was a big gainer; while it didn’t rank on the list last year, it rocketed in 2009 to No. 6, a move Bradford attributes, in part, to its strong Facebook presence.
Some other major brands saw precipitous falls in their rankings compared to Vitrue’s 2008 list. Dell, often heralded for its early embrace of social channels, tumbled 20 places to No. 30. General Motors nosedived 54 spots to rank at No. 85. Pepsi fell 43 spots to No. 73 and Fox News dropped 35 places to rank No. 54.
Vitrue’s ranking omits some well-known digital brands, including Facebook, Google and YouTube, since it reasons they make up the social infrastructure rather than use it to connect with consumers.
Vitrue is not alone in tracking brand sociability. Social media consulting firm Altimeter Group in July released a social media brand-engagement index that lists the companies with the most engagement, as measured by participation in major social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs. Starbucks came out on top, followed by eBay. Vitrue ranks Starbucks No. 11 and eBay No. 39.
Joseph Jaffe, president of new media shop Crayon, said there is a danger in brands looking at their social strategy as a checklist. This can put too much emphasis on tangible metrics like the size of their Twitter and Facebook followings, losing sight of more important intangibles, like expressing empathy, listening and acting human, he said.
“Being a social brand is not necessarily proportional to social media adoption,” said Jaffe. “It’s an attitude and much more likely to be a cultural variable than having 12,000 Facebook fans.”