For every dismissal of social that rests on that tired old “why would I want to share what I’m eating with the world” cliché, for every headline about Facebook’s amplification of our vanities, or social’s role in cyber-bullying, there are stories like Magda’s. My fiancé, a teacher, shared it with me the other day:
I was talking to Magda [name changed], the lady who cleans my classroom after school, and we were discussing where we lived. We were talking about our families and friends–she told me that it was hard for her to make friends, and it was pretty sad. She started telling me how she hasn’t seen her mom in 25 years, and she started crying. She told me that she just recently used Skype to talk with her mom, and it was the first time she had seen her face in 25 years. Magda can’t return to Ecuador because of a technicality with her immigration status—if she leaves the US, she can’t return–so she hasn’t been back since she first left. I got her a tissue…and then I started crying too. It was wonderful, she said, and she got to show her mom her daughter, who she had never seen. She walked around her home with the webcam, and gave her mom a little tour. The call lasted four hours.
Skype may not be widely thought of as a social channel, but it definitely is. Friends lists, real-time social interactions, profiles—it has all the moving parts that make up a social network. But Skype is just a tool, like all other social tools, for connecting people to one another, and to the passions they have. In Magda’s world, it provided enough social currency, in the form of its utility, to earn a prominent role in her incredibly heartfelt story. But it’s also a brand, and nearly any other brand could have been featured in this story as well, albeit in another role.
Consumer-to-brand emotional connections were never simple, or easily attained. Social’s rise has brought with it a sense among some marketers that creating emotional connections is now easier. It is—but the extent to which this is true has been exaggerated.
Emotional connections rely on the power of association, which has always existed, and has long been a marketing and advertising principle. Consumers start to associate products with experiences that surround those products, or the experiences that they would like to have surround those products. Grey Goose and Rolex with luxury and success, Corona with leisurely travel, Nike with motivation, Apple with creativity, Red Bull with extreme sports; the list goes on.
Any time a consumer-to-brand connection is seen in social, there is always at least one other connection at play: people-to-people and/or people-to-passion.
When brands can facilitate or strengthen connections between people and others, or people and things (via the social graph or interest graph) they are providing value. When they provide enough, a connection between a person and a brand is formed alongside the social or interest connection. In Magda’s story, her connection to Skype grew only as a result of its role in strengthening the connection with her mother.
How can other brands earn emotional connections to customers through social? By finding the right ways to connect with them as they’re connecting with others and the things they’re passionate about. A few examples:
- A clothing store sponsors a Twitter chat for job-seekers, shares a special coupon code to use when shopping for interview clothes. Chat participants then associate the brand with professional advancement and career aspirations
- Consumer tools company Fiskars starts the Fiskateers crafting ambassadors movement, bringing a commoditized product to life by connecting crafting fans to ideas, inspiration and each other
- Philosophy, a skin care client of ours, asked customers to share stories of their moms’ philosophies for Mother’s Day, a campaign that gathered over 1,000 website submissions and generated 39% of all site traffic for the month
Social and interest connections will always be stronger than brand connections, which are a byproduct of the other two. The brand will never steal the show, but it can play a big supporting role.