Brand “Hijacking” of Nestlé Anything But a Takeover

Nestlé has captured a great deal of publicity recently, most of it unwanted. The company has come under fire from Greenpeace for its practice of buying palm oil for its Kit Kat candy bar from a supplier that it alleges engages in forest destruction and endangers orangutans. The battle is being waged in social media. A video depicting someone unknowingly eating an orangutan finger out of a Kit Kat package has been downloaded more than 160,000 times (see video here). Also, Nestlé’s official Facebook and Twitter pages have been inundated with posts from consumers incensed with what they perceive as the company’s arrogance and indifference. Among comments posted on the Nestlé Facebook “fan” page include “enjoy a Nestle-free Easter” and “love the planet, hate Nestlé.”

An interesting take on this issue is that some observers are calling the consumer backlash against Nestlé as a brand hijacking. Such a view would suggest that Nestlé owns the brand. Although Nestlé is legally the owner of brand names and marks, its ownership actually ends with these more tangible elements of the brand. It is consumers and other stakeholders who own the brand. How? Brands are perceptions, images in our minds comprised of brand associations we hold. If people view Nestlé as uncaring about the environment, more concerned with profits than social responsibility, then the brand will be perceived negatively. No amount of advertising or product promotion by Nestlé will overcome the negative brand perceptions.

Social media give the public a channel to voice their opinions, both positive and negative. For marketers, social media is a channel for listening as well as talking. It is important for businesses to allow customers and others to voice their concerns. Practicing extreme brand control à la Tiger Woods is history. Consumers own your brand, get used to it. Give them a voice… then listen to it.

Winning the Twitter Popularity Contest

Growth in the microblogging website Twitter has been astounding. It is estimated that more than 7 million unique visitors a month use Twitter, and total Twitter users will grow by 200% for 2009. Twitter represents an early market opportunity for individuals and businesses that want to establish a presence and following in this social media space. And, there appears to be a payoff for those able to attract a large following. According to research by Rapleaf, Twitter users with the largest followings tend to experience the greatest increases in followers. As new users adopt Twitter, many of them follow users with the large numbers of followers. In short, the popular become more popular.

The Rapleaf study compared three groups of Twitter users based on their number of followers: the top 0.1%, the top 1% and the top 10%. The average number of followers jumped 275% between March and June of this year for the top 0.1% compared to gains of 146% for the top 1% and 126% for the top 10%. These findings suggest that the payoff for establishing a highly visible Twitter presence may be greatest for those that have already arrived.

Twitter users not in the upper echelons of popularity could become disheartened by the survey numbers. Not so fast! These numbers are primarily a measure of popularity (how many followers can I garner). In the long-run, relevant content will be important in retaining followers. Growing a following on Twitter is beneficial for brand building, but for any brand the ultimate measure is how well the brand delivers on a regular basis.

eMarketer Daily – “Twitter Power Users Solidify Dominance”

Sports Properties Should Embrace, not Fight, Social Media

The National Football League has issued a policy against live blogging of game accounts. The policy bears some similarity to one issued by the Southeastern Conference concerning the use of social media at its sporting events. The aim is to prohibit transmission of game accounts, presumably to protect the massive investments of broadcast partners. Both the NFL and SEC have multi-billion dollar media rights agreements with traditional mass media partners. The no-social media policy appears to be an effort to thwart parties without financial stakes from becoming an information provider.

The policies of the NFL and SEC reveal a significant gap in understanding of the role and power of social media. Instead of going out of its way to ban social media, sports properties should be exploring options for greater integration of social media. A blogger posting game updates will not supplant a live broadcast on TV or radio, but it could drive traffic to broadcasts. Sports properties should view social media coverage of their events as free exposure, reaching consumers who may be best reached through social media. In particular, social media usage skews toward younger age groups. Young people are a challenge for sports marketers to attract. Why not meet them where they are and allow, if not encourage, social media distribution of information?

I am all for protecting the interests of business partners. Sports properties recognize that ambushing takes place whereby companies or brands that have not made investments as “official” partners try to benefit from an indirect association with a property. Social media usage does not seem to fit in the same category, however. In an open-source world, media and sports entertainment partners should make maximizing exposure a priority, and if other parties can help create that exposure, so be it.

Daily Online Examiner – “NFL Fumbles, Tries to Limit Live Blogging of Games”

Senior Executives’ Use of Social Media Suggests Room to Grow

We know that many people have no reservations about using social networking media at work (if their employers have not blocked their access), but top managers may be another story. A study done by Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law revealed that many managers are concerned about potentially negative effects of their employees using social networking web sites. Approximately 50% believed that employee productivity would suffer as a result of accessing social networking sites. A similar percentage of managers surveyed feared that a careless employee could tarnish the reputation or image of the company with inappropriate postings.

While there is some validity to the concerns when employees use social networking web sites, the real concern could be in who is not using social media: the executives themselves. In the same study, 70% of the managers surveyed said they visit a social networking web site at least weekly. What is is troubling is that only 52% of executives using social media said they log on to read what customers and other people are saying about their company. They are almost as likely to use it to monitor what is being said about competition (47%) as they are monitoring what is being said about their own brand.

Findings from this study reveal a missed opportunity for top management. A channel is being cultivated that gives an unprecedented amount of feedback from customers and the front lines. Yet, almost half of the managers who otherwise use social media do not take advantage of the opportunity to read what people are saying about them. Why? Are they afraid of what they will read? Do they feel that reading customer feedback is the job of others in the organization? I am at a loss on this one. It is time for these managers to tap into the conversation about their brands. Better yet, it is time for those managers sitting on the social media sidelines to get into the game!

Center for Media Research – “Corporate Use of Social Networking Still an Executive Concern”

SEC Social Media Clamp Down: Good Move, Handled Poorly

The Southeastern Conference was the latest entity to issue a formal policy on social media content. The conference’s edict initially appeared to prohibit social media production of any type at events. That interpretation meant that a fan sitting in the stands at a University of Alabama football game could not upload photos or write game descriptions and post to his or her Twitter or Facebook page, for example. Needless to say, the response to news of the policy was outrage among users of social media. The SEC was skewered by bloggers and sports fans alike. A quick clarification from the SEC ensued, noting that the policy was not directed to individual fans but content producers such as bloggers or other persons that seek to capture video and post online.

The revised policy is easier for the passionate followers of SEC sports to accept. The conference is in the first year of a lucrative media contract with ESPN. The SEC is doing what any business (yes, it is a business)would do to protect the interests of a valuable partner. Given the investment ESPN has made in SEC sports, it is imperative that the SEC implement policies that spell out what is and is not permissible in the social media realm. The stakes are too high to allow parties that do not have media rights to do an end-around and capture video or audio for distribution.

Social media tools can allow SEC sports fans to share their passion, commune with fellow fans, and deepen their connection with SEC partners like ESPN. It is unfortunate that the SEC lost sight of this fact; its initial announcement of the social media ban came across as very heavy-handed. To its credit, the conference got it right and can now let social media connect fans with the sports and teams they so dearly love.

The New York Times – “Leagues See Bloggers in the Bleachers as a Threat”

What Women Want from Social Networking Web Sites

What do women seek to accomplish using social networking web sites? Results of a study by the women’s social networking site Shes Connected may surprise people who think that women’s reasons for social network participation differ from men. According to the study’s findings, using social networking web sites to build a professional network was the most important reason among the women surveyed (71% said it was very important). Other reasons for using social networking web sites cited as very important by participants include keeping in touch with friends (62%) and promoting a business (56%).

Some results might seem contrary to those who hold preconceived notions of why women use social networking web sites. Only 25% said it was very important to use these sites to find product deals or discounts, and 24% said social networking web sites were very important for finding new friends. Facebook was the most popular social networking site (83% belonged), followed by LinkedIn (73%), Twitter (55%), and MySpace (41%).

Findings from this study provide evidence that women’s objectives for social networking use are not vastly different from their male counterparts. Women use social networking to advance their personal and corporate brands, leveraging social networking web sites as a tool to connect with colleagues, customers, and others relevant to their positions and their companies. Social networking’s strength as a community builder is reinforced in the study’s findings. Women use social networking sites to keep up with their friends and groups.

Marketers should take note of these findings as they develop social networking tools that target women. A one-size-fits-all approach to product development rarely works in any industry, and social networking is no exception. Understanding why women use social networking web sites is a necessary first step in effectively reaching them via this channel.

eMarketer – “What Women Work from Social Sites”

ESPN’s Twitter Dilemma

ESPN has experienced multiple facets of the impact of the microblogging web site Twitter. One facet of Twitter is that it provides a channel for ESPN personalities to communicate with followers. The result is the “talking heads” became more personable to people who watch ESPN programs on TV and follow the personalities who have a presence on Twitter. Another facet of Twitter ESPN experienced is a rapid outcry from users when word came out about a new ESPN policy that apparently restricted the freedoms of ESPN employees on social networking web sites like Twitter. Criticism was swift and harsh for ESPN.

The situation at ESPN is one that is indicative of challenges arising from the emergence of new media. Social networking sites are a new channel of communication, one in which the level of interactivity is vastly different from ESPN’s customary one-way broadcasting to its audiences. The potential benefits to ESPN of fans and ESPN personalities engaging in two-way exchanges of information cannot be overlooked. Creating associations with ESPN as the source for sports entertainment information and content is a very lucrative incentive for ESPN and its employees to have a strong presence in social media.

But, one must not lose sight of the fact that ESPN is a brand, one with a great deal of equity in the marketplace. It is incumbent on protectors of a brand as strong as ESPN to take steps to safeguard it. While the guidelines the company has established for social networking use sound very “corporate,” they are probably a necessary step to make explicit the role of social networking for the company. ESPN and its personalities will continue to have a presence on social networks, the change going forward is that the company has established guidelines for employees’ use of social media and connecting it to overarching concerns of protecting brand equity.

Mashable – “ESPN Responds to Criticism and Publishes Social Media Policy”

Personal Recommendation Still the Power Source of Influence

The growth of user generated media via blogs, podcasts, and user forums has led to a rush by marketers to gain influence among active content creators. Bloggers and other social media creators have a potentially wide reach, so it is fitting that efforts are made to get buzz generated through this medium about brands and companies. It is like traditional word-of-mouth communication on steroids.

Now, we learn that the influence of social media tools on buyer behavior is not as strong as assumed. A study by Mintel found that only 5% of consumers surveyed indicated they had made a purchase based on a recommendation from a blogger or chat room. Personal sources of influence continue to dominate buying behavior as friend/relative (34%) or spouse/partner (25%) were cited many times more than social media sources.

Before marketers abandon their social media strategies, let’s consider the study’s findings more carefully. Granted, people within our own networks carry more sway than impersonal sources (that seems comforting to know). But, social media tools enable greater access to our networks, allowing us to gather information about brands or companies that we might not have otherwise. For example, a quick glance at my Facebook friends list reveals that I have 48 friends from my hometown. Only two of those people live in the same geographic area as me, and were it not for Facebook I would not have known they were nearby. The point is I have access to personal sources of information, and the online channel expands access to my network significantly.

Brand recommendations from bloggers or other sources with whom we have no personal connection (i.e., friends), may carry influence similar to a celebrity endorsement in an advertisement. Some people will take notice that may not otherwise, some people will make a buying decision based on the recommendation, and many others will take it for what it is: an attempt to sell them something. That level of skepticism does not exist when recommendations are shared within a personal network. Nothing has changed- personal networks still hold the power. Social networks provide a means to harness the power.

Marketing Daily – “People Prefer Offline Recommendations, Study Finds”

Transform Employees from Hired Help to Brand Assets

Companies spend enormous sums of money to create, manage, and protect valuable brand assets: names, logos, web sites, and ad campaigns, to name a few. Another valuable brand asset that resides within organizations that goes under-utilized too often is the human resources that carry out the work of the firm: the employees. In today’s highly connected world, individual employees can build personal brands to put a face on a company. The payoff is creating a relationship connection point with customers and other stakeholders.

This concept is discussed by Kaplan Mobray in a piece he wrote for Advertising Age. Mobray cites the impact of individuals like Kevin Carroll (Nike) and Keith Wyche (Pitney Bowes) who have positively impacted corporate brands by spreading their wings and sharing their expertise and passion with others. Strategies recommended to leverage employees’ personal brand equity include having employees use social media like Twitter and Facebook and include key employees’ names when managing search engine optimization and paid search.

Companies that are able to create visibility for employees (or leverage visibility they already have) are in effect creating additional brand associations for the corporate brand as well as building relationships with customers and others. It comes down to tapping an existing resource. Employees are not merely hired help that complete assigned tasks, they are your brand.

Link: Ad Age – “How to Turn High-Profile Employees Into Brand Ambassadors”

Social Media are for Socializing, not Selling

The beauty of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace is the ability to connect with people who are significant in our lives. I have been fortunate to connect with many high school classmates on Facebook, most of whom I have not seen since our graduation 27 years ago (I wish that were a typo but it’s not). Now, I can see pictures, exchange messages, and send birthday greetings. I do not share that excitement about the prospect of interacting with businesses on social networking sites. Apparently, most other social media consumers feel the same way.

A study of 13-54 year-old social media users conducted by Knowledge Networks indicates less than 5% of those persons surveyed rely on the medium for guidance on making purchase decisions. Furthermore, only 16% indicated an intent to buy products from brands that advertise on social networking sites. Despite all of the promise and hype of social networking sites, marketers should take these statistics as a dose of reality. People who participate in social networks online typically do so for personal, not commercial, reasons.

Does this mean marketers should jump off the social networking train altogether? Absolutely not. It means that we must re-think the objectives of a brand presence in social media. It is all about engagement and building customer communities. A fan page on Facebook for a brand is a way for customers to show affinity or extend their relationship. Those desires usually outweigh accessing branded content on a social networking site to assist in making a buying decision.

Every communication medium is not conducive to making a sale. It would be unthinkable that a marketer would intrude on a gathering of friends at the neighborhood tavern or restaurant to try to sell products. Why would we expect virtual gatherings of friends to react differently?

Link: Brandweek – “Social Media Rarely Used to Guide Purchases”