Should Brands Join or Build Their Own Social Network?

One of the most recent bloggers to make it into my aggregator is Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategy blog. Yesterday he posted an interesting question in the Web Strategy Facebook group, “Should Brands Join or Build Their Own Social Network?”

On the surface, it’s an easy answer for me as I’m a big believer that companies should engage with their customers where they are right now and not force them to join yet another social network. It just makes sense for brands like Nike, Coke and Starbuck’s to build presences on Facebook, Twitter and Second Life as that’s where their customers are currently aggregated. There are a lot of interesting answers in the thread on both sides of the issue but it seems a slim majority favor joining rather than creating.

So it was interesting to see Doc Searls’ take on this question this morning. I’ve been reading Doc since I discovered The Cluetrain Manifesto, totally got it, and immediately started blogging and podcasting (since I was late to the game, this was only 3 years ago). Doc compares today’s social networks with the online services of the 1980’s and ’90’s; basically, managed walled gardens of discussion. He also takes the question a bit more literally than most asserting that brands can’t really get social; only people can.

If you are with me that brands are really just extensions of companies and their products (Apple comes to mind as the poster child here), then I think they can participate in social networks in constructive, not solely promotional, ways. And this applies to both the public and private sectors. For example, I’d like to see my local school board blog meeting minutes and post podcasts. This would make being directly involved with topics that affect my son’s education more accessible for me and a lot of other parents who can’t make it to the meetings. True, some industries don’t lend themselves to social media due to privacy and/or security concerns but there are educational opportunities for just about every company or government agency.

So I think brands, and companies, should embrace social networks but hope they join the existing platforms and not start their own walled garden.

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5 Comments

  1. Doc,

    I love rhetorical questions so I’ll take your bait here… yes, blogging is social, it’s also personal and just one tool a company has to engage their customers. A company or brand can’t blog (or podcast) as a unit; only their people can as individuals. Since Apple currently only leaks from the top, no blogs are allowed (although I think the real Steve would make an instant A-list, must read).

    I also agree with Hugh that branding is dead… it will just twitch a bit longer until us Boomer’s stop buying stuff. Our kids are not brand buyers; they are social buyers.

  2. Doc,

    I love rhetorical questions so I’ll take your bait here… yes, blogging is social, it’s also personal and just one tool a company has to engage their customers. A company or brand can’t blog (or podcast) as a unit; only their people can as individuals. Since Apple currently only leaks from the top, no blogs are allowed (although I think the real Steve would make an instant A-list, must read).

    I also agree with Hugh that branding is dead… it will just twitch a bit longer until us Boomer’s stop buying stuff. Our kids are not brand buyers; they are social buyers.

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