What makes a brand social?

I was helping out Jacob von Domarus (@domarus) for his MBA dissertation by answering a few questions over a beer earlier this week in London.

His opening question was simply:

What makes a brand social?

And what a great question!

I think he may have expected me to answer it around how many Facebook likes or Twitter followers a company has, however I took a different approach.

I said that for a brand to be social, it goes deeper than simply their presence  on social media, it requires a fundamental cultural  change.

During our chat, I brought out my iPad and showed him some research I’ve blogged about previously.

An excellent Capgemini study looked at how digital leaders outperform their peers and in particular how important the culture of the company is in the process.

Other peers such as Brian Solis and Charlene Li from Altimeter Group have looked at the 6 stages of social business adoption, and they also identify how important culture is for a brand to become really “social”.


And when I define a brand “being social”, I go beyond the simple external and superficial metrics that many companies still use to measure “how social” they are.

I my opinion, for a company to truly embrace all of the rich benefits that social has to offer, it needs to start at the top.

The CEO needs to get social, and he or she needs to convince their board, as well as infect their management team with a culture and a passion to go social.

I also shared with Jacob my strong view that as an industry we are doing ourselves a disservice to keep allowing metrics such as “impressions” to be used to describe success.

At the recent social business summit organised by Dachis group, I called out a presentation about a MasterCard campaign.

The hero slide (see below – click to enlarge) that was presented showed 781 million impressions as the “big number” on the left.


What this really means is that 781 million people potentially may have seen the campaign if we counted EVERYONE that could have seen it.

This really is the wrong metric.

If you look at the middle section of the slide, the real number of engaged people (ambassadors) actually numbered just 503.

If those 5o3 people were influential and engaged, them the campaign could still have been a success.

The issue is, do you want to report a 781 million number or a 503 number to your CMO and ultimately to your board?

At the conference in the coffee break following this presentation, I raised this issue with someone from Dachis who candidly admitted that the big number was what they needed to report to the client…it is “what they understood”.

Armed with data from the Capgemini report that those companies that get both the technology and the culture right are up to 26% more profitable than their peers, then I believe I could argue to a board or a CMO that they need to start to de-emphasise the “impressions metric” as an indication of success. It is meaningless.


Moving CMOs away from the reliance on big “impressions” metrics is the sort of culture change we as social business practitioners need to be brave enough to promote to our clients.

One thing I emphasised to Jacob in our discussion was that social needs to pass the “pub test”.

That is, what the brand is saying, would you say this to someone in a pub?

Here is an example from the brilliant Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook that called out a ridiculous campaign from McDonald’s Australia.


Humans don’t talk like this. If we did, we would be laughed out of the pub.

My strong view is that what a brand does on social needs to be contributing to a conversation.

The scenario I always give at the beginning of my talks is that when you are standing around at a conference, engaged in an interesting dialogue and someone comes up to the group, then for them to be admitted to that group, and join the conversation they need to have something of value to say.

As smart humans we all know this, but when we go back to our desks as marketers, we try and be too smart and instead become the jerk at the party who tries to break into an active conversation with something inappropriate or unwanted.

To be a truly social brand, you have to contribute to the conversation, not try and shoehorn your way in.

The only way to break these cringe-worthy moments on social is to have the confidence from the top to shy away from the number of likes, and number of followers as a metric – but instead position social in the same terms as all business investment decisions.

If we pitch to the C-Suite in terms they don’t understand, then we should not be surprised if our “greatest ever social media campaign” is rejected.

Instead, talk in terms that the C-Suite can understand, and explain in business terms how what you are proposing is going to add to the bottom line.

One final thought, to get your management team to be more understanding of social, why not try a spot of reverse mentoring where you pair more junior employee who lives and breathes social with someone on the management team.

What you will find may be surprising.

Your senior exec becomes warmer to the benefits of social, and the more junior mentor has a better appreciation for the metrics that an exec needs to approve funding.

Social is not a simple as setting up a Facebook or Twitter page. We are starting to see real examples of social business emerge from companies such as Burberry where they are embedding social in everything they do.

Their reward was a recent 18% jump in profits – something any non-social CEO would give their next bonus for.

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Global Managing Partner @IBM. Author: Eminence in a Digital World (2017). Husband & Dad. TEDx & Keynote Speaker. Blog @ http://dgital.link/blog Views own

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