Facebook marketing: can consumers have a conversation with a biscuit?

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People don’t want to have conversations with a beer brand‘, said the incomparable @rameshsrivats at a Social Media Week in Bangalore last week. This was in the context of building brands in digital media in response to how brands have very poor ‘engagement rates’ and ‘conversations’ on Facebook. He also made the point about today being the age of brands ‘doing’ things rather than merely saying through advertising. Done well, it leads to people talking about the brand rather than the brand attempting to talk to them. P&G’s ‘Thank You, Mom‘, the Red Bull effort come to mind. I agree with the sentiment – more so with the sentiment behind it.

A Facebook page has become de rigueur for brands nowadays. But we all know the drill: a check-list approach is what drives most brands to start a Facebook page and there is no clear defined objective of the page. So we are left with truck loads of brand pages which have little or no real engagement, similar inane posts which have no relation to the brand. Come Friday, we will have at least three telecom brands, two skin care brands and an educational institution declaring ‘TGIF! How many likes for Friday?’ and even getting some ‘likes’ and comments. Even among brands which have active Facebook pages with likes running into hundreds of thousands, such an activity is common. Yes, there are brands which use their Facebook page very well – you can see a clear objective behind their activity and based on the interactions you can see their fans like the content. But such brands are few and far between. That is the case, because most brand managers & agencies do not understand the sentiment behind the ‘people don’t want to have conversations with a beer brand’ statement. Having said, such a statement needs to be qualified. A few points about Facebook, brands and consumers:

Consumers like brand pages, as a way to showcase their own interests & personality to their Facebook friends. It is not uncommon to see ardent football fans like their team’s Facebook page. It is a statement about their own interests and personality. There are many such categories – automobiles, music which evoke passion and Facebook pages of such brands have great scope for traction.

Once fans like a page, only a few brands manage to be a part of the user’s regular timeline. It is a tough ask to figure out what to post (and how often to post) in terms of content which can be of use to the consumer. At the same time, there has to be stuff that is about the brand too. It always helps to keep the inward looking stuff to a minimum.

Consumers like brand pages to get more information, get offers from brands and feel special. I know of friends who follow content from brands like Urban Ladder (which has done a great job with its social media content) to know more about new merchandise, offers, furnishing tips etc.

In countries like India, where Facebook may be the first window to the internet for many people (that too on the mobile), millions may actually ‘want’ to have a relationship (if you can call it that) with a brand, because it is a new found high. For such consumers it is the first time that they get to voice their opinions, comments and complaints to a brand directly. Such an outlook is also evident in consumers writing inane (or vulgar) stuff addressed to film stars in the Facebook comments section of Bollywood sites. The consumers may think they are directly conversing with the ‘brand’.

Brands should stop trying to force-fit social media into their brand and start figuring out how best their brand fits into the social media activities of their consumer. Sometimes, it may not. Low involvement brands catering to the lower SECs, super luxury brands catering to a niche audience, industrial brands are but a few who will it difficult to justify a Facebook presence or keep the engagement going.

The key question to ask – ‘what is the simply stated, value addition the brand brings to its consumers on Facebook’? In other words it is more about the consumer and less about the brand. Some brands mistakenly interpret ‘it is more about the consumer’ as providing mindless, trivial, fleeting entertainment to the consumer. That perhaps explain disparate brands posting about say, Rahul Dravid’s retirement without any tenuous link to the brand. Ironically, many hours would be spent dissecting the ‘engagement rate’, average number of comments or some such metric. So while it is about the consumer – the content must all loop back into the brand.

In this context, a few examples of brands which have used the medium well:

General Electric’s credo of ‘Imagination at Work‘ is on display at their Facebook page. Take this post for example: Invention can come from anyone. On this day in 1985, patent #4,498,586 was issued to a woman from Long Island, NY. Pizza boxes would never be the same. The post is not about ‘how great GE is’ but provides a nugget of information which is useful in some way to the reader but also subliminally connects back to the brand’s credo.


Cravendale, the milk brand from UK (how can that be interesting on Facebook?) created a separate Facebook page in the name of Bertrum Thumbcat, its ‘protagonist’ from the TVCs. The content there fits right in with the ‘cho chweet’ reaction to people when it comes to cats. But it is not just about mindlessly posting cute pictures. The copy used there indicates a painstaking effort to craft a likeable brand personality. Sample this from the About page: Domestic tabby with opposable thumbs. Plan to use polydactyl power (and enormous brain) to take over the world (and steal all the Cravendale milk therein). How can that not bring a smile to your face? Subliminally (and importantly, voluntarily) you will like the brand.

There are other great examples too. Oreo being the oft quoted one. What separates such activities from the mundane – being of some use (information, entertainment, trivia, savings) to the consumer. Much better than the crass, mindless, moronic, ‘hit like in 5 seconds if you like the evening sky‘ coming from an after shave lotion brand, a watch and a floor cleaner brand.

Is it any surprise then that with most brands on Facebook there is no engagement?

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