The dichotomy of social advertising and brand affinity

If ever there was an example of how challenging it is for businesses to operate in social media these days, Google’s recent Endorsement ads announcement and the backlash, demonstrates it.

google endorsed ads

Why are we as consumers happy to be associated with some things (and dare, I say, crave the attention), but not others, despite having connected with brands and content? Why is what Google doing, any different to what Facebook or say, Spotify has been doing for years?

We’ve now become accustomed (and quite comfortable it would seem) to seeing our names appear alongside Facebook ads for pages and apps and products. Implied advocacy has proven to improve not only click through rates, but even purchases. And after the initial furore died down, we’re all pretty happy, almost enthusiastic about them.

Nielsen-Actions-Taken-After-Seeing-Social-Media-Ads-Dec2012

In fact, according to Nielson’s research, you might say that not only do consumers not mind certain ads, they actively engage with them by liking or sharing ads (26% and 15%, respectively), and even citing social ads as the prompt to make a purchase (14%).

social ad purchases Similarly, many of us were quite happy with Google, when personalised results were introduced with thumbnails of our network connections alongside them (as below). google personalised search

In fact, when Google introduced Author Rank only a few months ago, the great and good of the SEO world were telling us (with good reason) that we needed to buy in to Author Rank so our faces would appear alongside search results related to content we have produced. Yet Google’s most recent announcement has many of the same people up in arms about their association with products and services that they have +1’d.

So if consumers seem happy to be associated with social brands, where’s the problem?

Affinity – or lack, thereof, and in the case of most brands, the automatic expectation thereof (of affinity).

Too many brands are confusing friendship with affinity. If I got £1 for every time I heard that brands have to be “open, honest and friendly” with consumers on social media, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. The reality is though, in real life, it is perfectly normal to be open, honest and friendly to people without necessarily considering them to be friends, or even wish to be associated with them. So why would I (or brands) behave any differently on social media?

This Adobe report suggests that a Page or post like, RT or favourite is little more than an “honest, friendly” virtual hat-tip or a nod to an acquaintance, so why do brands so often expect so much more from such a small gesture? Brands like Nike (Just Do It) and Adidas (Impossible is Nothing) have thrived in social by playing on the deep roots their brands have in human emotion and motivations. Likes and social actions in these emotional contexts become powerful expressions of belonging or self-actualisation. Human need states.

So what can you do to help nurture affinity?

I’m desperately trying to avoid being prescriptive here, but the biggest thing you can do is to start by stripping out any logos, imagery, tone of voice and fluff and try and understand people, human behaviour. I can’t help but think that the biggest breakthrough in the effective use of social media will come when practitioners drop the focus on tools and shiny objects and focus on what actually matters to people.

Doing so will ensure that you’re creating content that matters to the core emotional needs of your consumer, even if you don’t have the deep emotional pull of a Nike or Adidas.

It sounds cliche’d but take a long look at Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs (or David McLelland’s more recent Need Theory). Understand what really motivates people:

800px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

How do your current brand beliefs meet these needs states? Do they already pull on these strings? Our (Telefonica’s) “Be More” message (yes, I’m biased!), is a great example of something that taps into (IMHO) both the self-actualiseation and esteem needs of the hierarchy.

How does your content or messaging meet any of those needs? Would a fan or follower feel pride in sharing or interacting with a piece of your content? How can you tailor the messaging in your proof-points to meet these needs?

Human need states + Aligned brand beliefs = Social Affinity

Another area of focus for your content is to also understand what motivates people to share. After all, a like, favourite or RT is an external expression of oneself.

The New York Times produced a great piece of research looking at the sharing motivations of 2,500 ‘medium/heavy internet users’ and they arrived at the following conclusions as to why people share. Can you align your proof points and content to meet these reasons for sharing?

  1. Bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  2. To define ourselves to others
  3. To grow and nourish our relationships to others
  4. Self-fulfilment
  5. To get the word out about causes (or brands)

In short

It all looks pretty simply when you break it down to the above need states and sharing motivations but in reality, we all know just how challenging it can be. Often we’re working in the dark with the influences of things like the news, lifestyles, our own brands, competitors, family and more changing the mood of consumers at any given time. But, I’m convinced that with more focus on what motivates your fans, brands will start to see a social affinity to them and their content begin to develop.

And with this affinity comes a stronger desire to be associated with your content and your brands on social…and with that a greater willingness to be associated with things like Endorsed Ads.

Wouldn’t we have reach social utopia if our fans or followers were proud (perhaps even wanted) to be associated with our ads?