These days it’s all about social media. If you aren’t on Facebook, then you just aren’t marketing. It’s created a rush of entry to create fan pages for brands, even more so during the land grab that was vanity naming. However, it’s still hard for lots of brand to get traction in the space.
There are some principles we can draw on those that are successful and some things we can learn from those that aren’t.
A brand like Coke, Budweiser, Audi helps define a lifestyle. Most of these brands have fan pages in the tens of thousands, whether they are unofficial or official. The jean brand Seven for all mankind has a following of over 4000 despite never posting a single thing. In this regard, the use of becoming a fan is not to subscribe to information, but to express elements of your own personality. To illustrate this, you can look at the great number of quirky groups that have formed around things like the “cool side of the pillow” or “joe the plumber” People join these as a subtle way to self express.
The second way a brand can use social media is to be more informative. This can be more time intensive, but if your brand doesn’t have the cachet of cool, it’s your best route. Telling people how to use your product better, or offering scheduling is key here. Movies and TV shows do this very well, but even brands and companies that few talk about can do well here. Imagine something like being told how to date better by match.com
The final way is the seemingly unrelated but sponsored element. Toyota created a free virtual gift that could be distributed to your friends, as a very soft way to provide value.
The bad category would come from many of the biggest brands. Fancy feast, nor any other pet food that I could think of, have significant followings on facebook. After working in that industry, I know that many people define themselves by the brand of cat food they serve their pet. It seems like they should work harder there. Of course, they also tried to launch a pet-centric network called petside, so that may have distracted them a bit.
The short answer is that going social is all about providing value in a social context. It has to provide information, allow self expression or be altruistic. It can’t be pushy the same way that conventional marketing can become. It’s a different idiom, but there are plenty of brands that can fill that role.