The Effect of Social Media on Brands

As Kaplow’s new summer intern, I was fortunate to attend the 140 Characters Conference in NYC this year.   While I was there, I had the privilege of listening to Hank Wasiak, Jay Ehret, DJ Khaled, Matt Gibbs and Mark Horvath to name a few.

For two hours, the topics varied from branding to dating advice to Playboy, to tweeting about taxes to fighting homelessness through social media.  However, every 10-minute speech boiled down to the powerful effect that social media plays in today’s world.

Four particular brands that were discussed have taken strong initiatives on Twitter to join the conversation and connect with its consumers:  Turbo Tax, the IRS, We Are Visible and Playboy.

With a team of more than 80 employees dedicated to tweeting with customers, Turbo Tax claims that using social media creates a persuasive engine to acquire new customers and retain the ones they already have.  January to April is the company’s primary season, and it has found great success using Twitter as a customer service venue to distribute information.

The IRS has replicated the same concept with their brand on Twitter by having five different Twitter accounts primarily used for information sharing – not conversation.

Other organizations such as We Are Visible, which uses Twitter to fight homelessness, use social media solely for the human connection of having conversations.  Mark Horvath, founder of We Are Visible and InvisiblePeople.tv, feels that social media and other online tools can bring the homeless much-needed visibility.  So far he’s been right.  With the help of Twitter and Horvath, two homeless women from last year’s 140 Conference now have homes, and one of those women now teaches other homeless people how to properly use social media to tell their story.

Playboy, on the other hand, utilizes its social media presence a little differently.  It targets its community or “VIP club,” as Matt Gibbs, Playboy Social Media and Audience Development Manager, calls it.  The brand wants its followers to feel special so they provide exclusive deals and sneak peeks of its products to its fans first.  In addition, each Playmate is trained on social media platforms and introduced to Playboy’s five million fans the month her centerfold is released so that she knows how to manage what some call, “overwhelming exposure”.

Regardless of the brand, social media can make and has made a difference in the way we communicate and interact with one another.  Hank Wasiak, an author, TV host, Teacher and Partner at The Concept Farm, emphasized the important role of brands in social media today.  Below are some of his thoughts:

“Brands aren’t in control in this age.  Consumers are in control.”
“Trust, transparency and truth are important for brands in social media.”
“Open brands are about community.  Build something together rather than alone.”

I agree with Wasiak and thanks to my professor at Ball State University, Brad King, I know that it’s important to recognize the types of people that interact online:  creators, critics, spectators, collectors, joiners and conversationalists.  By knowing and understanding how these people interact, brands will be able to communicate, engage and energize their brand more effectively through social media, which will consequently change the conversation.

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