Abha Malpani on brands and social media…

April 28, 2009

Abha Malpani, a senior consultant new media at Asda’a Burson-Marsteller and former professional blogger, believes that authenticity and credibility are key to a brand’s involvement in social media. Here is an excerpt from an essay by Malpani, which is published in the latest issue of Campaign:

“If social media can do wonders for people, why can’t corporations and brands get a piece of the action? They can, but there are issues for brands, just like there are for individuals. Firstly, keeping up with conversations online is never-ending. Too many blogs to read, too many people to connect with, where do you draw the line? How do you keep up?

abha2Then there’s the privacy issue. Not much is left private when you are searchable across multiple platforms. If a brand enters this space, is it prepared to be sufficiently transparent and honest? Will it allow for a two-way dialogue? Will it confront criticism? Will it stay involved or disappear after its purpose is served, like a fair-weather friend?

Much is at stake when active online, and returns are unpredictable. So, how much should you invest? Will it give you tangible returns? My return was a move to Madrid and a job as a blogger. Meanwhile, the Doritos Super Bowl user-generated commercial competition offered a $1 million cash prize and national exposure to the winners; only about 2,000 entries were received. Was it worth it?

If you are a company willing to take the plunge, here are a few things to ponder. Are you part of the networks you want your brand to engage in? Why do they work for you? Will they work for your brand? Put yourself in the shoes of the audience. Would you like to talk with your brand online? Are you prepared to have conversations in these spaces as though you are talking to a friend, not necessarily a potential customer or client?

Authenticity and credibility are key. Never before has a marketer been able to target an audience so narrowly. The benefits, in terms of awareness and word-of-mouth, are significant, but so are the consequences if the ‘conversation’ turns sour. But companies are increasingly coming round to the view that it is better to be involved in the dialogue than to remain outside.

So as a brand, where do you begin with social media? At Asda’a we start by doing a digital check-up. How does your brand rank on search engines? What are people saying about your brand on Facebook? Are bloggers defining opinions of your target audience? How will engaging online complement your communications strategy? As in the ‘real’ world, participating online on a personal level or as a business requires an understanding of the surrounding culture and a commitment to build lasting relationships. But as in our everyday lives, sincere involvement in the online community can be both gratifying and rewarding.”