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06/08/2011 by

Why Lonely Brands Buy Their Fans & Followers?

Why are lonely brands buying fans and followers? Is it the CEOs, that need to brag about their big fan base at the golf course? Is it midlife CMOs that need to hit and run for some one-night stands? Or is it the Media agencies that think that all in life can be bought?

The answer might be complicated and a mash-up of above reasons? Most brand stakeholders will tell that social media is still very new and that the value of one Fan is not 100% clear yet. Next they will say that there is a lack of case studies that proof ROI.

I understand that Salami Tactics are needed at large brands: we need to feed you slice by slice. Same happened with websites, and then online advertising, next at Google advertising, now at social media and it will happen at mobile apps and mobile advertising.

The brand stakeholders that really use their brain however, all know and acknowledge that the best form of advertising around the globe has always been, and will always be: Word Of Mouth (WOM).

WOM is known around the globe as the best way of marketing. All SMEs and leading brands agree about that. In our hearts we all know that satisfied customers, brand loyalists and advocates will tell their peers: this brand is really cool, why don’t you tap in too?

And the cool thing about brands fans and advocates is: they are promoting your brand without being paid or bribed to do so. Pretty trustworthy and authentic, right?

So I do not understand the strategic long term value of buying fans and followers. Especially not, if I see that many bought fans will have to enter a dull party, that does not offer great entertainment and cool content. A party with lousy DJ’s, so your participants will have to step onto an empty dance floor? Strategy before Creativity, maybe?

Before you are going to send the invitations for your party, first fully focus on throwing a great party. That means strategy, insights, content, community management, moderation and social interactions. Opening a Facebook fan page is a program that you will run for years; don’t take the old-skool campaign approach. Program might just not be Campaign, maybe?

I do understand many CMOs are tipping their boxes: done a viral video and launched a widget. Facebook fan page now also tipped my box. And I do understand CMOs want to boost their social balance scorecard in # of fans and followers with the speed of light.

But wasn’t your brand your most valuable asset long before social media entered our universe? So why would you suddenly risk your most valuable asset? Not really smart, knowing we are in the era where reputation management is crucial for your brand and business.

Promoted Tweets or Tweet cheats: it might be the perils of buying Twitter fans. Try to earn followers first. Try to create a Twitter presence that is fun and relevant for your followers. That means developing a rock solid brand and content strategy first.

What will you Tweet about? How often? How will you load balance promo talk and editorial content? Will your Twitter use the same format as glossy magazines: 60% editorial vs. 40% advertising? Who will manage your Tweets? Will you act as a human being or advertiser on Twitter?

Same for buying Facebook Likes. Did you try to earn Fans? Is your number of fans growing organically already? Is your party great already? Or you don’t care about long term and you will start your hit and run campaign right away?

We tend to act like buying friends (likes) is like PPC or Google Ad Words: Pay Per Click. But should we really mash-up and confuse the payment method with what we are actually doing, trying to buy friends?

Remember the days before the social media era? We called it: the blogo sphere. Here the exact same thing happened. Some brands tried to go for the hit and run approach again. Lets bribe some bloggers, so they can write how cool we are. Luckily WOMMA soon introduced its Code of Ethics.

But for the brands without strategic approach, that was already too late. Without any help form an experienced strategic social marketing agency, some brands had already hired a buzz company that could easily convince bloggers (read: bribe bloggers). And that approach already severely damaged some brands, remember.

So, let’s be honest. And think back about 25 years. Remember a bit of your kindergarten or high school period? Buying and bribing to get friends? Wasn´t that for the very lonely, a bit pathetic kids without friends in school? The ones that were too often bullied by their peers?

These lonely kids tried to buy friends with candy in the school yard. And we will probably all understand why: being lonely sucks, big-time.

To CEOs I would like to say: it could be nicer to brag about your # of Fans on Facebook, than about your latest TVc. Glad that you do not see countries with borders, but markets with opportunities. But your brand is your biggest asset, so think long term!

To CMOs I would like to say: hopefully you were not that lonely kid at school. So try not to become one at the age of 45 years old. Pushing and hit and run are short term. Try pulling consumers gently through your funnel. If you don’t know how, try to discover your Social VSPOT here.

To Media agencies I would like to say: great that someone took a slide along from an event in the USA on Paid-Owned-Earned or POE. But please try to explain why you think its POE and not OEP.

In a smart strategic social media approach, brands take care of their clients and fans first. Fans First= Owned. Not Paid!

After Owned comes Earned media (still not Paid yet). And brands that want to earn attention; I have a simple story for you: in order to earn attention, you must have great branded content. Because without great content, there is no engagement. And without engagement, there is no buzz, no viral, no social and no community.

After Owned and Earned, you can go fully overboard with Paid media. Advertise, get GRPs, get low CPMs, and get PPCs. But do not try to bribe bloggers. Do not try to buy friends. Do not try to buy fans or followers.

Do invest in content, entertainment, in community management, in social interactions with your brand fans, start dialogues, improve your brand. Get more fans. Think organic.

If you want fans, you need to earn them. For example by under-promising and over-delivering for a while. That means less shouting and less lipstick on pigs. Do innovate your products, upgrade your service, invest in CRM and long term mutual beneficial relationships with your customers and consumers.

So hopefully my dear CEO and CMO, your media agency will tell you the full and true story about POE. And why it could be OEP in social media. And believe me, I work for a WPP company, so I already lost a few fans and followers with the OEP not POE story.

Do think OEP. And understand why it’s OEP: Fans First. Next earn attention. Last step: buying attention. But only in a clever way. So, work on your DNA: Having 50,000 followers on Twitter is only cool, if you do not spam them every day with advertising and promo talk.

Having 250,000 fans on Facebook is only cool, if you do not spam them with 100% promo stuff about YOU. Social Media is about ME. That’s why it’s called: Social media.

So best example for brands?

Nike+ Bottom-up approach:
First ask the fans to visit the running platform and to share their feedback with Nike. Implement their feedback in the platform and ask the fans: How do you like it now? Next earn attention among runners and health freaks. Once the platform is 200% okay and growing organically, push in your TV GRPs and tell the whole world about Nike Running.

From OE to P took over 12 months at Nike.

A smart marketing manager at Nike stated in the second phase of Nike Running: “Our fans on Facebook have started doing the talking for us. They shared running experiences and became brand ambassadors, propagating the new positioning of Nike Running”.

Nike seems to be in control enough to let go?

And “Are you in control enough to let go“, is an inspiring story by Melanie Varley, Global Chief Strategy Officer at MEC. We spoke at a conference in Amsterdam in 2010 about Social DNA.

Heineken Netherlands Access Bottom-up approach:
First invite fans to become a test driver of the new Music platform, and ask them to share feedback with Heineken. Next, implement the feedback of the fans and ask them: How do you like it now?

Next earn attention among Music fans and Influencers and ask how they like the platform. Once the platform is 200% okay and growing organically, push in your TV GRPs and tell all people about it.

From OE to P could took 6 months at Heineken NL.

Conclusions are:
Above Nike and Heineken approach looks much like technical processes and iterations: Invite, test, feedback, implement, beta testers, test, feedback etc. Maybe that’s the marketing of this age: real-time intel and insights, data and technology driven.

Try to get used to it. Try to adapt to it. Embrace it. If you don’t, we might see you in a museum someday soon, with a sign around your neck: Species that did not adapt to tech, distinguished around the year 2015. It’s innovate or die.

Organic bottom-up growth and consumer connectivity programs can be very powerful weapons of mass affection.

And don’t worry about your creative and media agency. Just tell them: TVCs and GRPs, yes they will be in eventually, we just switched from POE to OEP. Nothing to worry about.


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Igor Beuker
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