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July 28, 2010
Moving Beyond Using Social Media Like Traditional Media
The rush of brands wanting to add social media components to their advertising campaigns is quite sickening. Have we really not evolved beyond the methods used in TV, print, and radio? If we are kind, we can say companies are getting involved in the conversations taking place about their brands online, and some are trying to guide those conversations in a positive light. Unfortunately, however, social media is largely being used by brands as just another communication channel to push a message, drive awareness, and promote products and services. Brands and the agencies they hire to tweet for them are missing the point.

There are more productive ways of using the unique capabilities that social media provides. For example, what can a nightclub teach us about using social media? Recently, Nic Adler, owner of The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, was interviewed on NPR. He explained how in past years The Roxy, like many nightclubs on the strip, had fallen on hard times. He points to the club's effective use of social media as one of the main reasons for their revival. Unlike other venues, The Roxy encourages fans to take photos, videotape, and share live footage from the shows. They have taken deliberate steps to provide a platform for fan created content to be shared, such as a channel on YouTube.

Now, let’s look at a great company not using social media to the fullest. General Mills’ new brand extension for Wheaties Fuel. It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, @Wheaties_Fuel. Fuel’s Twitter account is mention after mention of other users’ accounts with, “Give Fuel a try and let us know what you think.” How unimaginative! To give them a little credit, their use of featured athletes allows them to talk about recent sporting events, but again, this regional content only makes the message somewhat more relevant to some of the audience. It’s still pushing a message like traditional media.

Another General Mills brand doing slightly better in social media, Betty Crocker, provides recipes that of course include their own ingredients. What can a telecommunications giant teach a CPG company? BT’s use to Twitter through @BTCare provides customer service by answering and solving specific customer concerns. One may ask what does this have to do with baking ingredients. Betty Crocker could do more than suggest their own recipes and retweet favorable customer content. What if Betty Crocker leveraged all their internal food scientists and nutritionists to answer specific customer questions or help customers create their own unique recipes?

Beyond providing a platform for others to share and solving customer problems, there is another step up on the social media ladder. Social media allows the fusion between marketing and operations. If customers are passionate enough to share their opinions with the entire world, shouldn’t we be listening? Real time customer feedback found through social media can provide a powerful opportunity to improve products and services. By having the proper tools to listen and empowering the right individuals within the organization to make changes can turn a brand’s biggest detractors into converts. Social Media should not be reduced to a part of a campaign. It can be a platform, a service, and an opportunity to improve.


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Ed Reilly is a graduate of VCU Brandcenter and has worked as a researcher and strategist for advertising agencies and most recently, a product design firm. His breadth of experience includes immersion into NASCAR fan culture and empathizing with the hopes and fears of patients fighting severe illnesses. As his career has progressed, he has learned to value consumer insights without neglecting the need to create compelling product experiences. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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