I was privileged enough to attend the recent IAB Social Media Marketing Course in Toronto. Mitch Joel was the presenter, and he did a fantastic job of engaging the group of 175 for nine hours.
Mitch covered many topics related to social media, but the one that had me thinking most was how social media has allowed consumers to affect brands. With blogs, wikis, and sites like YouTube, consumers have taken marketing by storm. They are creating new brand messages, elevating brand awareness, and changing brand voice. In many ways, consumers have taken marketing into their own hands by shaping the messages which are broadcast over the internet and ripple into the real world. This feedback loop is tremendous and can be leveraged to strengthen a brand if harnessed in the right way. In order to do this, however, we all need to shift our mindsets to embrace a more transparent, open marketing dialogue - one that may not be completely controlled by a corporation. It's a paradigm shift in our approach to traditional marketing because it exposes a brand to ideas and opinions which aren't controlled by the corporate team.
The fact is that the internet has provided avenues for expression that can't and shouldn't be controlled. The discussion around a brand may be a negative one, but at least it's being discussed in a forum where the brand team can not only see it, they can actually react and respond to it. What an opportunity to connect with consumers and gain invaluable insight that can be leveraged to tweak and strengthen marketing strategies.
Ultimately, the message to marketers is to listen to the buzz - put your ear to the digital ground and understand how consumers truly view your brand. Pick up on nuances and utilize them to your advantage. If you respond to discussion and create a sense of efficacy and openness, you will set your brand apart from the competition, who will likely be running the other way.