3 ways brands are still failing at social media

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In 2006, Podcamp Boston was a turning point in both my career and my general perception toward media and communications. It was an "unconference" that would spawn hundreds more of its kind. Although 300 people turned out that weekend to discuss the still nascent topic of social media, it would take years for brands to catch up.

Fast forward to 2012. A lot has changed in the world of social media marketing, but brands still have a long way to go when it comes to fully demonstrating understanding of the notion of brands as social objects. Through real world examples, I will outline three areas that continue to stand in the way of brands that are attempting to acclimate to the new social order of communications. All three themes can be boiled down to a common denominator -- lack of integration. The diagram in the next section frames an integrated communications structure that includes the essential elements of social media.

3 ways brands are still failing at social media

Social brand design and communication

This article highlights trends and instances where brand marketers have suffered due to the lack of a unifying, holistic vision. In order to cultivate a holistic strategy, one must first be able to visualize the key elements that make up "the whole." The following graphic is a quantification of each element within the communications ecosystem in which a social brand is developed. The diagram includes elements of communication design both old and new.

The system represented in this image frames social media in the greater context of the media, marketing, and advertising industries. Six years ago this chart may not have incorporated user experience design and content curation. These two disciplines have always been significant, but the maturation of the social web has led to an unmanageably large output of content. This flood of dialogue and expression has made it extremely challenging to navigate the social waters of the web. It has also made it increasingly difficult for brands to create meaningful social engagements equipped with the ability to cut through the clutter. In 2006, the mere presence of a brand in a social environment could have been meaningful. Today, given the crowded nature of networks like Facebook, effective social brand communication is much more challenging.

The difficulties associated with social media marketing lead some brand marketers to overlook the most basic communications principles in lieu of "the big idea." The industry has spent years exploring social media as a marketing vehicle. Still, many initiatives continue to be deployed in a manner akin to a 30-second TV commercial -- a channel where user experience design is of minimal importance, and engagement levels are very low (if not nonexistent). Insufficient forethought and attention to user experience design as strategic planning often strangles respectable ideas, keeping them from becoming great social marketing successes. "Thirty-second vision" and linear thinking can also turn exceptional ideas into detrimental ones. Let's examine three themes that exemplify how many brands are still missing the mark when it comes to social brand design:

  • The "which social platform can we ruin next" edict
  • The "'like' me today, gone tomorrow" model
  • The "let's get everyone to smoke our hashtag" directive