Just as brands need consumers to purchase their goods and services to stay afloat in today's competitive market, social networks would be nothing more than online ghost towns without the people who populate these pages with their thoughts and experiences. But, while social media offers consumers an outlet for their opinions, such channels also open up the opportunity to build relationships that exist beyond the company's traditional offerings and cultivate the strong trust and loyalty behind brand advocacy.Last week, at the Corporate Social Media Summit in New York City, attendees learned how the executives of numerous big brands and their teams have integrated social with their overall customer strategy. Though these lessons included tips and techniques for connecting with tech-savvy consumers, each presentation highlighted one particularly prevalent theme: people are the primary driving force behind social strategy. From McDonald's and General Mills, to Target and Petco, each leading brand emphasized their focus on the people behind the posts, putting great effort into building platforms that allow for open, honest communication that supports superior customer service, not just the bottom line.
While these leading brands shared many of the same goals and visions for the future, here are just a few highlights that truly capture the general sentiment of the conference itself:
Social media makes real-life contact more meaningful. As Theresa Marquez, mission executive at Organic Valley, CROPP Cooperative, emphasized, social media allows passionate members of the community to create and cultivate bonds that spark the demand for in-person contact. Such connections fuel the consumer's fire, thus sparking a greater impact once the connection comes to life in the physical world, not just the virtual.
Consumers are not goldfish. Michael Donnelly, senior vice president, group head of global digital marketing at MasterCard Worldwide, highlighted that consumers do not have short memory spans. In fact, they typically prefer to build and sustain relationships with the brands they've known and trusted for years. Therefore, social media must become a learning experience for the brand, for it is a tactic that must be fed and nurtured in order to grow lasting relationships.
Don't just delight the consumer--be the consumer. Chobani's senior vice president of new ventures and innovation, John Heath, noted that brands that truly connect with consumers are those that make what they love and love what they make. If the people behind the brand don't support the product they represent, it will inevitably come across in their interactions with consumers. Instead, companies must man their social channels with internal advocates that can associate with the social customer to cultivate external advocacy.