November 17, 2012 7:01 AM

The Value Of Brands In Social Media

What if we started with business... how would we do?

How badly do people want to be connected with brands? I've been thinking a lot about the pervasiveness of brands in the social media channels. From a business perspective, it could not make me happier. Watching brands do everything they can do to better connect with their consumers and create a powerful and direct relationship will be critical for their future success and loyalty. From a consumer perspective, it's doubtful that there was ever a moment in time where they have been so inundated by brands in every nook and cranny of their media diet. As the pervasiveness of social media rolls on, we're now seeing brands in some of our most intimate social spaces.

Where the brands are.

So, here's the thing. This week, Facebook made some significant changes in how people can connect with brands (and vice-versa). It all started with an article from ReadWrite titled, Mark Cuban: Facebook Is Driving Away Brands - Starting With Mine. From the article: "Cuban and other corporate Facebook members are howling because new rules on the social network make it harder for brands to reach people without spending big money on sponsored posts. That's because in September Facebook changed the algorithm that controls which messages get through to which members. The result is that some brands a sharp dropoff in the reach of their posts - as much as 50% in some cases. Facebook insists it isn't choking off reach as a way to push brands to spend more on sponsored posts. Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine which people see which posts. EdgeRank uses a lot of factors, including how often your friends log in to Facebook and what settings they choose on their news feeds, the company says." Later in the week, Facebook announced that they would rolling out a feed for "pages only." "The feature lets you access the new view on your News Feed homepage by clicking 'Pages feed' on the left-hand side," says the news item, Facebook's New Pages Feed Corrals Brands -- And Gives Brand-Fatigued Users Some Space, published today on ReadWrite. "Though Page owners might be nominally pleased by the gesture, it's hard to imagine what might inspire a Facebook user to hop over to the new view. Facebook says the new brand-only feed makes it 'even easier for people to keep up with the Pages they care about most.' Corraling Pages into their own pen could at least ease some psychological brand weariness among users, a flavor of fatigue that's already begun taking its toll on brands and users alike."

The moment of truth.

In January 2010, I published a blog post titled, The Moment Of Truth. That blog post looked at how The New York Times was about to launch a paywall. The moment of truth was about figuring out whether or not the mass public would pay for content online. I believe that these next few months may well be the moment of truth for social media.

But first, let's make up a story...

Imagine a new online social network that was created by brands, for brands. Anyone can join (and membership is free) and this online social network allows everyone to connect to the brands that matter most to them. They can comment on products and services, speak with brand ambassadors, check out sales, new product information, get special promotions and more. Sure, you could chat with your friends and fellow brand lovers, but the main purpose of this, specific, online social network would be to connect to brands. Does this sound interesting? Do you think this would be a viable business model? Do you believe that people would have a desire (similar to the way they engage with Twitter and Facebook) to be active on this type of online social network? Could this become a destination?

We shall see.

These next few years are going to be very telling for brands. Companies like Facebook are doing the right thing: they're allowing brands more access to people. What will be interesting is to see what the customers really, really want from brands, and just how much engagement they're actually interested in. My guess is that it's going to be significantly less than what brands would have hoped for. In that, these brands are going to blame social media for a lack of performance. Sad, isn't it? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and everything else is simply a place where people are congregating. Thinking that this is a treasure trove for brands could be a mistake.

What's your take?