Whenever a brand embarks on a social media campaign, they need to ask themselves what it is their customers want and how they can give it to them. With social media, this means far, far more than anything your product/service can do. When your customers are in their 'online' guise, their needs become entirely different to those of the typical, offline consumer. Whereas we once turned to brands to fulfill a simple need or desire with the product offering, we are now turning to them for more. We need brands to address our needs as an individual with an online community to cultivate and maintain. This might sound like something that brands could never hope to be a part of, but the fact is that we all have basic needs now online, which provides a huge opportunity for brands. Essentially, we all need the best, latest content that our friends haven't found yet. We want to be the first, with the best links that gets us retweeted, shared and linked to. For the brands that recognise this, it presents the biggest opportunity you will come across, to build a new audience.
What motivates us
To fully understand what your customers want from social media, you first need to understand what motivates individuals, both offline and online. There are differing viewpoints to be explored here. The psychologist Abraham Maslow presented a hierarchy of needs in his work 'A theory of human motivation' in 1943. As much as this predates any concept of social technology that we have now, it can still be applied today. As can be seen below, Maslow split human needs according to different levels. Beyond the basic, pysiological needs, there are those levels that brands can hope to address :
While this model has received some criticism, it provides a useful reference point for brands to consider the needs of their consumers : basic motivations in day to day life. Beyond our basic needs for survival, we have a need for friendship, which helps to explain the huge appeal of social technologies in the first place. We are using social technologies to meet our basic desire for friendship. The concept of friendship was also explored by the philosopher Montaigne, who explored the idea in his early 1580 work 'On Friendship' that human beings are essentially shaped through nature, with a desire for friendship. Though this work was published hundreds of years ago, brands need to understand the basic human motivation of connection and friendship to begin to understand how to address this through social media
The role of your customers
Looking at this in the context of social media, there is a further aspect that brands must understand, in order to succeed. Whereas traditionally the majority of your consumers would have been confined to the role of 'consumer' alone, this has now changed through social technologies, when we now have a dual role of consumer and producer. As much as we consume content and products, we are now also responsible for the production of content, to keep our social communities thriving. And this may not necessarily be our own content, but content that we discover online, that we have an interest in sharing. Consumers have evolved into mini media moguls, with a keen and almost innate understanding of the power of branding, personal PR and growing our media 'empires'. And this is inextricably tied to the desire for friendship. The way to 'friends' online is through an active social profile, full of good links and the latest information.
It is at this point that brands come in - providing the content that leads to this friendship among individuals, rather than having any direct role in the friendship itself. This is still misunderstood by many, who perceive that people have any interest in becoming a friend of your brand itself. As harsh as it is, they don't. But that doesn't make you redundant from the process.
Where brands fit
With social media, I see brands as having 4 basic jobs that they need to fulfil : to bridge gaps between consumers (that is, the facilitation of online communities to connect) ; to encourage a sense of belonging ; to entertain ; to inform. The first two are intrinsically social. How are you using social media to bring people together and foster the sense of community we desire? The last two are more directly linked to your brand. While you of course want to inform people about your brand to encourage interaction and commerce, you must also do this in a way that is entertaining, if you are to really succeed and achieve talkability. If you consider these 4 functions, it will help shape your social media strategy and give people what they actually want.
To put this into action, If you produce a video that informs people about your new product in an unexpected way, they are then encouraged to share it with their own online communities, which gives them kudos online and also spreads a community around your brand. In this example you have successfully achieved all 4 functions with one piece of content. And you have spoken to the dual role of the customer : as both consumer and then producer. You've given them something to write about and to share. At no point have you tried to 'befriend' the consumer, but you have positioned your brand in a different, positive way that will ultimately benefit you.
Sharing content is one of the most important considerations you must make in your social media strategy. The fact is that if you are lucky enough to attract a customer to your Facebook Page for example, once they've interacted with you there for their immediate purpose, they want to leave as quickly as possible (harsh for some, but true). What you must then try to do is to help ensure that this 'interaction' with your brand, extends beyond this initial contact. Provide something lasting for the consumer, that they will share with their own community, so you then get to start the consumer journey all over again, with the next person.