Once they created a Twitter account, and a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, or a Foursquare badge, brands often have very little idea about what to do there next.
This is a quite common problem.
Why? Well, social media are still to the large extent regarded as the domain of brands' PR departments, rather than a marketing activity. The classic Procter&Gamble's two step way of promoting brands, "spend a large amount of money to maintain the 'share of voice'" and "tirelessly remind consumers of your products' 'unique value proposition'" just replicated itself online. Maybe unfairly, I tend to put brands' crowdsourcing efforts (CP+B's Brammo, MyStarbucksIdea, Kraft's Vegemite spread, in the same category of smart PR gimmicks. Is this really about "co-creating the future of the company with your customers" or about your brand promotion?
Ok, look at this now. According to Social Radar, top social brand for April 2009 was Twitter, and then Google, Obama, iPhone and Facebook. Abrams Research survey of 200 participants in the Social Media Week last year shown that Zappos, Obama, CNN, NYT, Dell and Jet Blue are top choices for social media leaders.
I would add here Whole Foods' and SchnitzelTruck's use of Twitter, and YouTube's streaming of Super Bowl as my favs. The biggest lost opportunity: Tide detergent (how many times do we need immediate advice on removing stains?). It is even more lost opportunity because Tide has a pretty elaborate website so it would be quite neat to tie Twitter into their existing efforts. Integrated program, anyone?
In any event, the ranking above is interesting. Because, most of the brands that made the list are services. Which means that they do something for their customers. Which then also means that they use social media in the same manner. And this makes them the best. (Adrian Ho started saying this long time ago and recently posted an excellent presentation about it.) Rick Webb also recently observed something smart and funny: "What is with the Internet that no one wants to provide professional services? It's like everyone working on the web wants to start a car manufacturer instead of selling and repairing cars. Well let me ask you this: how many people got rich starting a car company? And how many people got rich starting a dealership, a dealership chain or a repair garage? A lot fuckin’ more. Will it make you a billion dollars? No. Do you need a billion dollars? No."
And while I am at it, let's take the idea a step further and say, as Adrian (again) already did, that "the best marketing isn't always separate from operations; often, the best marketing is great operations. Turn what you are already doing for customers into marketing." Now, if it were real, the LV campaign above would be just perfect example of this sort of thinking (use your own unique craft + distinct skills + internal processes + company's culture + different aspects of doing business to market yourself). After all, THAT is your only true differentiator from everyone else.) "Behind the scenes" and "Making of" videos that people love so much are a midget version of this idea.
Ok. So now what?
The problem that we currently have with social media is just going to replicate itself on Foursquare. Brands using Foursquare for badges is the same thing as them using social media only for conversation. Case in point: "The benefits for companies include increased footfall and the recruitment of a network
of brand ambassadors who will pass on recommendations to their friends and Twitter followers" (via BrandRepublic). Where did we hear that one before?
As more and more brands make deals with Foursquare, they will do things to increase their "share of voice" and will push for their "unique value proposition" through ever increasing number of badges. The more badges there are, the less people are going to care.
Why? Because, and in addition to many many other things, badges are prone to losing their motivating value: "when getting started, the points system can be motivating, but after users attain a high level of points, the incentive no longer works." (says psychological research)
Cool. Now, while free stuff is always and forever be popular (drinks for mayors, specials, coupons, etc.), people also will also want some tangible service/relevant reward that helps them in some way. Just as they already want on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.
As smartest of brands have already figured out, they need to be more strategic (no, PR thinking is not enough). And, they also need to be more aligned with the core programs of the Foursquare platform. Which means that, if Foursquare itself aims to inspire people to lead more interesting social lives, then the first question is how does your brand further that goal?
For example, I liked what HBO has done at Foursquare, mostly because they were smart enough to bring in partners like Racked and Eater. On the other hand, I had a feeling that Zagat could have done so much more (e.g. I keep thinking that FoodSpotting and Foursquare would be a nice service combo).
What does being more strategic on Foursquare mean? Well, it's possible to think of it as a smart frequent flier/loyalty program, where consumers' behavior is influenced in incremental steps. How? Keep in mind that few things motivate people more than approval from others. Then, provide relevant info (tips and recommendations) that help people do some activity better (go to the gym, ride a train, go out on a school night). Educate them (so many opportunities there). Integrate what you are doing on Foursquare with already existing stuff that you are doing on Twitter, FB, and website in a meaningful way (so no, I don't mean just broadcasting "hey i am here" info). Tie people's points or tips or whatever info into their other related activities (eating out and walking, going out and sleeping, running and weight loss, etc ... this would require collaboration between Foursquare and other info tracking apps, but I guess that's what being strategic is about). So, yes, think partnerships.
Brands today have behavior-changing systems at their disposal. Why waste them only on conversation?
That's like using a computer as a calculator. Or iPhone to talk.