What you'll learn to do: Use various types of social media to build affinity with your customers and make your brand stand out
Social media can also be used to cultivate deeper brand and customer loyalty. In this sense, customers can, in a way, become part of the very organizations and companies that sell them goods and services. This is a relatively new phenomenon in market capitalism—it requires deeper study to understand if more fully—but for our purposes here, we hone in on three examples of community and deeper integration of customers into your organization.
Even for this new kind of engagement, we can stay within the social media framework introduced at the beginning of the module:
To bring services or products to market; that is, increase awareness.
To engage customers; often with respect to service issues or problems.
To encourage a “buzz” or interest around a company, its product(s) or service(s).
Use social media to cultivate community
Use social media to create a sense of affinity
Use social media to announce company news
In the previous section, we discussed ways to integrate customers into company business related to products and sales. In this section, we'll talk about engaging customers with the brand itself. Something like a change in ownership or leadership could be expressed in a simple announcement on social media and then forwarded and propagated by your own customers. Very brand-loyal customers blur the line between internal and external people; in some ways, your own customers could “work” for you via social media.
We may call this type of interaction—the energetic interaction between people about your brand or organization—a type of community. Social media cultivates this clearly and does it in often very inexpensive ways.
This issue of authenticity in social media is a challenging one. Think back to our discussion earlier about LinkedIn, where we critiqued the exchanges there as often hollow and exaggerated. Commensurate with it being largely focused on job and opportunity finding, the interaction there seems corporate rather than personal. While the Guardian article titled "LinkedIn is the worst of social media. Should I delete my account?" may be excessive, the article does show the pitfalls of potentially inauthentic social media use.
While other platforms better lend themselves to building a sense of community among your customer base, it is important that you are transparent with your messaging as well. Customers (especially younger customers) are pretty savvy when it comes to social media and will notice if you aren't consistent in your messages and actions.
Regardless of the tension here, certainly the goal of having more meaningful exchanges on social media is worth thinking about, and striving for. If we use a guide from a collection of thought, perhaps that will make our online interactions more real and meaningful.
Over the last several years, Dove has worked to build a community around its brand of self-empowered women. In fact, according to its Twitter bio, "Dove is committed to helping all women realize their personal beauty potential by creating products that deliver real care."
This mission can be seen across Dove's various social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. In fact, the three of those platforms that have banner images (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) all have the same banner image (as seen in their Facebook page in Figure 1).
Figure 1. Dove's Hour with Her campaign is highlighted across all of Dove's social media, building their community of women.
We define affinity as “taking a liking to something, often naturally or spontaneously.” Because of the value social media-savvy consumers place on authenticity, contriving something intended to appear "natural" without it actually occurring naturally will be problematic. Nevertheless, creating compelling interactions over social media can certainly attempt and aim at a degree of authenticity that would create affinity for a brand, organization, product, or service.
Related to the concepts of affinity and authenticity is the creation of a narrative or story. This represents a line into marketing, from which we may borrow concepts for use in business communications. Here we leverage the idea of creating a story and narrative in order to gain a type of relationship (affinity) with customers. As discussed before, customers may be internal or external.
Affinity is taking a spontaneous liking to something.
Authenticity is a natural “realness” that isn’t contrived or fabricated.
A story or narrative is a compelling description around a person, brand or organization.
We may consider that in order for a person (a customer) to gain an affinity for your brand or organization, you must create an authentic narrative.
In this 2016 Harvard Business Review blog post, Ty Montague unpacks what he calls “storytelling” versus “story-doing” organizations. Storytelling organizations describe a great story and even attempt to use that story to energize their customers, but they do not follow through on their own stated values. Story-doing companies, however, both tell a great story and then demonstrate their aligned action. In short, we see that a compelling narrative must be true. There can be no “say-do gap.” While this may seem like common sense, Montague found that of 42 studied publicly traded companies, storytelling companies outnumber storydoing companies 5 to 1.
Starbucks is the first store that comes to mind when people think about national coffee shop chains—after all, there are over 13,000 locations in the United States alone. In fact, in some cities, you can be within walking distance of 30 different Starbucks locations at once.
Starbucks (like any large organization) is often viewed as a large corporation taking away business from its smaller competitors or taking away the identity and character of smaller towns it moves into. As we mentioned earlier, there's no way to change perception without actions, so Starbucks is taking action to show its dedication to social improvement. In fact, if you visit their website, one of the main sections along their top menu is Starbucks Social Impact, right alongside their lists of coffee, tea, and menu items.
In 2018, as a part of their social mission, Starbucks announced a change in the way they deliver their drinks: they will use cups made from all recyclable material and stop using plastic straws by 2020:
If you read through the comments, you can see Starbucks replying to concerns about not having a straw option, letting customers know that there will be straws available for those who need them but that the straws will be made of alternative materials. Starbucks also recently announced their first US Signing Store on Twitter:
If you watch the video in the tweet, the video has captions—indicating there is no audio—as well as video description for those who are visually impaired. With this tweet, Starbucks shows that it's willing to take the time to ensure all their customers are welcome, regardless of their physical abilities.
So far, we have focused on external customers, but social media is clearly useful for internal customers as well. A change in senior leadership, ownership, or other large non-product- or service-oriented announcement, might be best made over social media. In doing company business like this, organizations “cross a divide” between external and internal customers and integrate everyone into an audience interested in the customer experience.
Daniel Newman, writing for Forbes, describes this as an “Integrated Customer Service Model.” In this model, customers themselves drive company interaction, and in so doing, they integrate into company business. Loyal customers, particularly ones that drive interest in your brand, may talk about company items on their own social media.
One example of announcing big company change is Uber’s management crisis in 2017-18. To try to temper a variety of issues that Uber’s former CEO and founder, Travis Kalanick presided over, their new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi released a variety of videos and messages suggesting great change, better pay and respect for drivers, and other efforts to improve the Uber experience. A few examples are below:
In the first video, note Khosrowshahi's efforts to be approachable, human, and down to earth. While answering how he liked being an Uber driver for a day, he described how difficult it was to drive in San Francisco. “It’s wigging me out a bit . . . oh I missed my turn again!”
Some have critiqued the effort as being disingenuous and contrived while others see it as a very reasonable move to convince customers and drivers that Uber is improving. What’s your sense about it? Were these videos hollow and contrived or a good faith effort to express company improvement?