Brands Should Rethink “Social Media” as “Membership Media”

First off, no one using Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube thinks of it as “Media” anyway–a “Network” perhaps, but “Media” is a sociologist’s term: far too egg-heady to accurately reflect the highly-personal posting and exchanging experience.

No, to an ever growing share of the population, “Social Networks” are simply the next iteration of  e-mail: easy, practical places to share, create and define whatever content they wish to encounter.  Brands adept at adjusting their mindset to these new environments can interact in positive, sales-driving ways, so long as they never forget these platforms are “Social” first and foremost.

But that’s really, really hard to do when you have quarterly sales goals to hit.  It’s even harder when the ways of reaching consumers are new and constantly changing.  How can brands master a language that is less than six years old, far from defined, and not about us? And what exactly should you do with those people that, for whatever reason, decided to Like you?

You can start by rethinking “Social Media” as “Membership Media.”  These are people who joined your brand club–they’re your brand’s Membership.  Why did they join?  According to a study entitled “Facebook X-Factors” by ExactTarget that asked consumers that very question, the #1 response is “To receive discounts and promotions”--no real surprise there.  But the #2 reason, and trailing by a mere two percentage points, is “To show my support for the company to others.”

People Like brands on Facebook because they consider them a Badge.  It’s not only about couponing and free stuff, people Like brands for emotional reasons.  This is  classic brand advertising, adapted to a platform where marketers must cede control to be successful.

But ceding control is a far cry from ceding influence.  Adapting a “Membership Media” perspective helps crystallize various techniques of engagement.  These are no longer mere consumers, these are people who have self-selected into what Seth Godin describes as a Tribe.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a Tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” Seth Godin, Tribes

The badge is the shared interest.  And Facebook provides a way to communicate, one so powerful that the average user spends more than fifty-five minutes a day there.  Now if American Express has taught us anything over the years, it’s that “Membership has its privileges.”  So brands ought to be thinking of privileges to extend to their online membership.  What can they do to support and encourage the shared interests that brought these people together in the first place?  Many times, that won’t be product centric, but it must always be emotionally-relevant.  With your Membership, it’s less about being “On Strategy” and far more about being “On Story.”

Defining a brand Membership’s Story, finding ways to encourage the sharing and spreading of that story, and creating a strongly-Badged sense of belonging are the new challenges for brands in these social spaces.

New challenges deserve new creative thinking.  Would a brand invest in A level production talent for a video message they plan to only ‘air’ in free, online outlets, not in network television?  If they thought their membership would respond well to it, why wouldn’t they?  These people won’t simply be ‘exposed’ to the message, they’ll seek it out.  Then share it.  Maybe even add to it.

No one knows exactly where Brand Advertising is going these days, but if you can keep an open mind, it could really be fun.  We’re heading into lots of fresh powder…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


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