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I know that brands want to figure out how to use social media to do their branding work. And being brands, and generally well-0versed  in the dark arts of marketing and sales, skilled brand professionals know that consumers respond out of psychological interest and not out of material need.

There’s nothing intrinsically loathsome about this — the arrangement is equally familiar to the consumer. Who, in his more lucid moments, believes himself to be playing tricks on the marketers, and to have figured out just exactly how the machine works.

Well then, I’m in a state of chronic nonplussedness when it comes to brand involvement in social media. For it strikes me that brands continue to look for themselves in this medium. A medium full of users — nay, of people who consume shit all day and even night long — and talk about it, too. With their friends.

It’s like brands want to change the channel. Dig that remote up out of the bowels of the corporate sofa and find, all lit up like Christmas in Vegas, the chromed shine of their own brand image shimmering on a screen like a hot desert mirage.

Brands have figured out why people want things. They’ve nailed the imagery, the messaging, even the copy. They know how to mediate desire, how to intensify it, raise it up high and with celebrity pedestal amplitude, work the seductive power of distance and altitude. Brands know why people like what other people like, and how to work this dynamic with Shakespearian precision.

So then why have they not figured out how to go social? What’s holding them back? Why the silly games, the useless rewards, the getting behind the stuff people do on social that’s only “as if” if meant something? A revelation of what’s deep in the brand’s heart and calculating mind — that it doesn’t matter, as long as the numbers come out right. Or fooled, perhaps, by the pitching gearheads whose claim to understand what the user wants is possibly doubly corrupt (for it’s bankrupt too). Shiny person, meet shiny object. Likey likey.

I don’t get it. Why brands would want to get behind the smallest shit that people do online, the little itty-bitty clicks of point-less-this and double-plus-ungood save-and-share-and-like… Because all that counts is what they can count? Why diminish brand value and fork brand equity by scrunching it into little votes and likes and points and badges and other diminutive things because people do them just because they’re in the habit of doing them. Why? Because that’s the best they can get? If, then, because that’s the best we’ve been offered?

It works, this social. It works for high brow purposes and just as equally for the trivial silly and the redundant banal. It works because it’s of and by and for the people who use it. Sell into the small acts, the ones you can count, and you get small branding. Yes it’s distributed, yes everyone gets it, yes it’s the hot thing on mobile and web and pad. But pack a brand into bite-sized activities and you’re going to get bite-sized brand messaging. Sound bytes the value out of brand equity.

Small acts and gestures, the lowest common denominators in a medium whose real value is its stretch and span — relationships on a thread, no distance, spanning time. Think small and get small. Acts, you can see. Just look. Activity, takes vision. Where is it then? Where, the new narratives? Stories we can put ourselves in. Forms of expression shared with friends and rich with meaning that grows. History, past, archives, memories. Or future, hopes, plans, promises. Where, brand people, are we the people? What we care about and find interesting. Not profit motive — real motive.

I’d like to know. Companies have responsibilities on this planet. The people are not opposed. Such a shame, this business underwhelming.

Adrian Chan

Adrian Chan is a social media expert and social interaction theorist at Gravity7. You can follow him on twitter at /gravity7

3 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: » Brands don’t understand social media Johnny Holland – It’s all about interaction » Blog Archive | UXWeb.info

  2. You nailed it. “Where, brand people, are we the people? What we care about and find interesting. Not profit motive — real motive.”

    Social is about what we really believe, where our real energy is, what we care about. We want to connect with those who share that with us, not a coupon code.

  3. XCD on

    Maybe it’s because social media has roots in the masses/non-professional marketing world. It’s been a bottom-up phenomenon, driven by the demographics the under-30.

    Think…what’s the profile of a marketing guru today? Rare is the marketing professional who has a true grasp of things they don’t initiate or understand….but you’re right…what a surprising lack of imagination!