In recent years, the concept of the social brand has evolved rapidly.
Only ten years ago this would have been limited to traditional word of mouth between customers and stakeholders, but due to social media, it has become a visible and important part of organizational activity.
Before social media
Word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful ways to influence people. From a communications as well as a marketing and HR perspective, it has always provided a way for people to assess the value a company or their products have. The reason behind the effectiveness of word of mouth largely lies in the fact that people trust the people they know more than direct brand communications by companies.
Albeit effective, traditional word of mouth was always limited by the ability of people to communicate to their networks. Thanks to social media, everyone can now broadcast their message directly to their entire network with minimal effort.
Social Media 1.0
The arrival of social media changed this by allowing two way communication between brands and their stakeholders. Most organizations started setting up Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages as a marketing channel. The main advantage for stakeholders was the ability to create a connection to the brand with a single click of “like” or “follow” and to wait for future information about the brand to find them. While somewhat effective, this way of "communication" was still more impersonal than traditional word of mouth as the messages were too often simply promotional and coming directly from the brand instead of an actual, reliable person.
Social media has since made its way into HR and other organizational functions as they all attempt to leverage the company follower base for employer branding, recruiting, and communications purposes.
Attitude change and multi-channel approach
With businesses being more prominently present on social media, people have become wary of their messages. Some people are becoming increasingly irritated when businesses are trying to draw their attention on Facebook, when they would rather use it for communication between friends.
This has created the need for different social platforms, as social has become more than just a tool to share content with your friends only. The rise of LinkedIn and Twitter are a clear example of this, as people realize that their social media use has become an important part of their personal and professional brand. One of the main differences between Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is that on LinkedIn and Twitter people expect their messages and profiles to be public, while Facebook activity is still expected to stay mostly private.
Businesses now need to follow their stakeholders and communicate with them where they are most comfortable with it. Most organizations already have a presence on multiple platforms but the personal aspect of traditional word of mouth is still missing.
Social business is the next logical step in this evolution. This includes using social tools in different functions inside the organization and bringing back the personal aspect of word of mouth by getting employees involved. Social media was originally built around people and their relationships, which is exactly why employees play a key role in the social business transformation process. The employees’ impact on their employer’s brand is growing increasingly important as they communicate with their networks on a personal as well as a professional level.
This has also accelerated the demand for platforms such as LinkedIn, as people want a place to network in a professional context. LinkedIn is a great example of how the social brand of an organization is directly tied to the brand of their employees. It even links the profiles of employees and their employer directly to each other for easy navigation between them.
Based on our experience, combined employee networks on LinkedIn are usually over 10 times as big as the follower base of the company. This means that if all employees who are on LinkedIn were involved in communications efforts, the reach would be 10 times that of just sending the message to the company followers. In addition, this message would be reaching these networks through a trusted source – their own connection. This entails huge potential for marketing, communications, HR (especially employer branding), and other functions, but is only beginning to be realized by organizations.
Essentially, social business is simply bringing the old, proven concepts of word of mouth and relationship management to the digital age and leveraging them for business benefit.