Voice: Hold Your Position

While the broad promise of social media is enticing, it's not an excuse to forget you're a marketer

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As someone who works for a social media agency, I often find myself saying that despite all the hype and hope, the social space isn’t about selling products. I also tend to think and speak in hashtags and handles, but there I go again, sharing too much—perhaps another by-product of my day job.

Early on, brands that ventured into the social realm treated it like the Web, placing the focus on products rather than people. Today, the most successful social marketers have caught on that Facebook and Twitter are neither promotional outlets nor e-commerce sites, but rather conversation and loyalty platforms designed to build passion around brands. Unfortunately, we’re on the verge of taking that differentiation too far. While social is about community engagement, it’s still an advertising medium, and marketers are responsible for driving measurable business objectives, not just impressions and likes.

Every brand stands for something, and social isn’t a place to ignore that position; it’s a place to mold it into a consumer experience. Don’t reinvent the wheel—just rotate the tires to make it right for the social track.

Brands often make great content for the sake of making great content. While that’s certainly fun and entertaining, one has to ask what exactly it has to do with the brand. Even if these plays draw sky-high engagement numbers, if the content doesn’t tie back to what they stand for, there’s nothing relevant for the consumer to latch on to. It goes without saying that you have to define what you want to get out of social media in order to be successful, but your goal shouldn’t be a vast departure from what your brand has always stood for—rather, it should be a consumer-focused manifestation of it.

Take a look at a few highly successful brands on social media to see the value of staying true to your positioning. Delta stands for assisting travelers and making the flight experience the best it can be. Its use of Twitter for real-time, reliable customer service is a direct reflection of that, and it is turning customers into fans. With every airline fighting to provide lower prices, Delta is building a dedicated group of advocates who will remain loyal and frequent flyers for years to come.

Bud Light wants to be seen as a sure sign of a good time. The brewer uses social to empower people to enjoy themselves—promoting game-day etiquette or celebrating superstitions or just giving the community a good laugh. It’s associating its brand with communal happiness within the target audience. Consider how valuable it is for Bud Light to be atop the party mind-set every time a consumer wants to pick up a quick six-pack on the way to a buddy’s place.

The best example I can give of brand positioning coming to life in social media comes from Pepsi Max and the #UncleDrew stunt. Granted, I’m biased because I love basketball, and love watching 80-year-old men throw themselves alley-oops off the backboard. The brand had a clear positioning statement, a zero-calorie cola in disguise, which it brought to life in a fun, exciting way. Viewers were not only entertained, but they also likely understood what the product was about and why they should pay attention to it on store shelves.

So as 2013 ramps up, ask yourself if your marketing efforts are unified, or if you’re treating social like it belongs in a different department. Respecting social media as a community-run platform isn’t an excuse to forget what the purpose of advertising is. Make every effort to advocate on behalf of your audience and create engaging content, but make sure it relates back to your brand positioning to achieve subsequent business success.

If you don’t have a clear picture of the light at the end of that social tunnel, you might not ever make it out.