You Scratch My Back Social Strategy

I recently came across an article on Social Strategy by Mikołaj Jan Piskorski that appeared in the Harvard Business Review late last year, and felt his analysis was extremely insightful. Successful social strategy, Piskorski surmised, is primarily about helping your audience build relationships, something he calls the You Scratch My Back strategy.

Piskorski studied more than 60 companies across industries ranging from manufacturing to consumer packaged goods to financial services and determined companies that performed poorly in social media settings were employing digital tactics as their overall social strategy. Essentially, they had broadcast commercial messages or sought customer feedback on social platforms…things we all know (or should know as marketers) customers adamantly reject. After all, people join social platforms to connect with other people, not with companies, and especially not with advertising.

I like the example Piskorski provides:

Imagine sitting at a dinner table with friends when a stranger pulls up a chair and says, “Hey! Can I sell you something?” You’d probably say no, preferring your friends’ conversation over corporate advances.

Employing digital marketing tactics in a social (media) setting can not only be detrimental to the brand, it comes across as just plain rude.

What was interesting, was his supposition that companies who devised social strategies that help people create or enhance relationships experienced significant positive returns. Specifically, he details cases where the company introduced the customer other customers or companies. This strategy works, he says, because they’re consistent with users’ expectations and behavior on social platforms.

Returning to Piskorski’s dinner analogy:

A company with a social strategy sits at the table and asks, “May I introduce you to someone or help you develop better friendships?” 

It’s really not an earth-shattering revelation the companies that fared poorly were being stupid. But, the idea that a smart social strategy is primarily focused on helping people establish or strengthen relationships–relationships where the company may serve merely a facilitator or host–is pretty unique.

His theory is sound…in a B2B setting. This strategy would be extremely unique and definitely supports the notion of playing socially in a social environment. It allows the company to engage in the sharing of ideas and while simultaneously positioning itself as a helpful mentor.

However, in a B2C setting it could prove too risky. Playing host means a company may actually be introducing their customer to a competitor. Piskorski’s simplified theorem also ignores the value social interaction brings to a company. Customers want to feel close to their favorite brands, and social media sets a perfect stage for this to occur, giving the customer a voice and medium for expressing themselves. Of course all of that serves as useful intelligence and gives the company a platform to surreptitiously encourage buying decisions.

A properly deployed social strategy will truly impact a company’s organization, culture, processes, systems and bottom line. It shapes the perception a customer may have of a company and the way they will engage with that company in the future. While I find Piskorski’s ideas useful, I don’t think I would define my social strategy as narrowly as he, especially in a B2C marketing environment.

Digital Brand Integration

I’m not really going to go into everything that encompasses branding except to say that it is a whole lot more than merely creating and plopping a logo on everything. If that raises questions, I suggest you refer to a few of my previous posts with regard to branding. The larger concepts you should be familiar with are the notions that good brand strategy incorporates things like relevancy, positioning and differentiation.

Differentiation is probably the most important component of these three.

Differentiation means being different. That stretches across your advertising, products, delivery, packaging and customer service. It means that your company or product will be memorable to you consumer. To accomplish this, everything that you do should be unique, yet consistent. Of course that includes the company name and logo, but it also goes so much further.

I am currently working for a company that is carving out a niche in a crowded market. What makes us different? Our one-of-a-kind customer service. It comes across in everything we do. Someone might say we don’t have the best website, the coolest advertising or the best product (which we know is definitely not true!), but no one will say that we are not completely customer-focused.

Focus is how you maintain your differentiation. It is the consistency in messaging, identity and actions. Focus is the method for staying on track and living up to your unique brand promise (which is how you plan and deliver being different). It can be difficult at times. It’s like slipping off a diet or reverting to old habits. But, truly successful companies are the ones who are disciplined and skilled at staying focused.

The method for delivering this focused differentiation is communication, and in this day and age, that more often than not comes in the form of digital communications or digital marketing. And, Digital Brand Integration is the art and science of creating consistent messaging across numerous digital channels and retaining consistency, even if there are several people working with the brand.

Companies now have to think about a wide array of touch-points where they will either present one-side (or more traditional marketing) communications or actually interact with their consumers. These touch-points include things like affiliate marketing, social media, rich media, email campaigns, search (organic and paid), feed services (e.g. Twitter), Blogs and PR engines. In most cases there will be anywhere from a couple people to a dozen handling marketing on these avenues.

Being successful means integrating the aforementioned brand promise and maintaining strict focus. It’s not easy, especially if you have either a very large, or very small team.

Large teams usually result in mixed messaging because of a typical decentralization of control. It is extremely critical for large team leadership to have real-world experience in the digital arena. This will ensure there is a breadth of knowledge and understanding as to how messaging and focus can be adhered to across all channels. I was recently involved with a company whose marketing leadership had no clear-cut understanding of digital marketing and to say that the brand promise and messaging was murky at best, is a complete understatement.

Small teams are normally overwhelmed and succumb to the process of spreading themselves too thin to retain any sense of focus. I personally believe a small team would be in a far better position to limit their digital marketing efforts, concentrating on perfecting their focus, than to wade off the deep end and try to take on everything at once. Narrowing their reach, with better focus, will be tremendously better for the brand. And, it will create strong launch-off points for growing successful additional digital reach.

Brand building today relies heavily on Digital Brand Integration. It’s walking the walk and talking the talk. It represents the consistency and fulfillment of the differentiation promise, and consumers today are very savvy when it comes to either seeing or seeing through promises.