Rethinking How We Judge the Top Social Brands

Haydn Shaughnessy Thought Leadership, Cogenuity

Posted on June 9th 2014

Rethinking How We Judge the Top Social Brands

There are probably only two areas outside science where communities of knowledge function really well. One is open source software, which is extraordinary at creating new projects and forging new techniques that have overhauled the software infrastructure of society at large and many large companies. The second, of course, is social media, which is almost wholly a self-taught trade or self-teaching community.

Why the long-winded introduction to an article on the top social brands?

Because social brands are usually those that have good social media departments or agencies - this judgment is wrong even though it's a well established idea in the social media community. That's what we teach ourselves.

But the list below is really not a list like any other. Many of the companies on it are actually social brands. In the table below you see numbers 11 - 25 of a top 100. It contains sites like Kickstarter and GitHub - real social brands that elevate social behavior into new economic behavior.

I published the longer list (the top 100) recently on a site called MinedIntent (which I own). The data comes from StatSocial, Michael Hussey's new big data project, and is supported by Intent HQ, a UK big data company. It is part of a larger project that is attracting some attention from larger web players (more in a future post).

social brands

Extract from Top 100 Social Brands

The data relies on a new metric called social affinity. That's a record of all favorable behavior towards a brand in a community of over 100 milion Twitter users, and to a lesser extent on Facebook and in blogging activity. It is admittedly Twitter-centric, for the moment but StatSocial are working on broadening this out.

Back to the main point - social brand or brand being social?

It is open to debate whether or not the difference between a brand being social and a social brand is profound. I obviously think it is. It shows that we undervalue brands that have social activity as their lifeblood and over value those that do good social media, which is profound for SM practitioners too.

Thinking about brands this way gives us a new compass for looking at brands that are trying to become social. Is it profoundly social to have a budget for Twitter and Facebook, to have access to the agencies that can finesse your presence on these sites? Surely not.

In the table you can also see WordPress, ETSY and Lonely Planet, sites that impact on how we communicate, produce  and live. How should we compare them with Coca Cola, a company that does good social or IBM, one that does good social business?

There is no fair comparison. Brands like GitHub, Etsy and WordPress are true social brands. Clearly the idea of social needs a rethink.

The promise of social media marketing going back to 2007, when it began to pick up momentum, was that we would be able to scale intimacy - i.e. we would find ways to build relationships with customers at scale.

What we seen to be doing instead is creating content at scale in the hope that associating a brand or a product with some of it somewhere, will have an impact. There has never been so much content. Bloggers, Twitter, Facebook and Google + churn it out with gusto.Whatever shade of content is right for you, there can be no denying that content drives ad spend, which is why Google bought blogger and set up G+. So we have more content and more ads.

Surpisingly, it turns out that people do turn on to content created by enterprises, when it is really about something.

That means, when a brand is really trying to tell you something rather than sell you something, people listen.

In most other cases, though, the association of a brand with contextual content is a huge gamble. Those ad boxes that go alongside Facebook content, for example, are really not contextual at least half the time. And haven't we always known how to burn half of our ad dollars anyway?

My contention is that social media experts have to renew their thinking on what it means to be a social brand and not give brands a pass just because they have been smart at Super Bowl, know how to Tweet or hire smart agencies.

We have to renew the earlier idea that this is really about brands behaving in a profoundly different way. For that to regain momentum the self-learning, self-teaching community of social media experts has to buy into it first.


Haydn Shaughnessy

Thought Leadership, Cogenuity

I've been writing about business and digital culture for about ten years, wrote the Convergence Culture column in the Irish Times, was formerly editor of innovation management and a partner at The Conversation Group. I currently help a select few companies to develop their thought leadership strategies. You can contact me by using my full name before

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