Building social brand value

Social brand value results in willingness to pay a higher price for a product or service

This week’s Fast Company has a pretty good piece on what does and doesn’t work in social media. The question they ask is: how do you build social brand value?

We should probably start with a different question: what is social brand value? In the past, almost all of a brand’s value derived from the product, its characteristics and ultimately its performance. Today, a brand is as likely to be defined by the value created by a community and its members.

According to Vivaldi and Partners, the brand consultancy whose research inspired the Fast Company piece, social brand value (for a user) is the perceived value that results from the exchange and interactions among and between brand users within a community.

For the brand it’s the percentage of its equity resulting from those interactions.  While the numbers invite debate, Vivaldi insists that at least 15 percent of customer loyalty and 30 percent of brand perception (seems high to me) is driven by social interaction within a community.

Its argument is built around five dimensions; combined they yield brand value.

  • Affiliation Value:  Social interaction creates feeling and assurance, as well as emotional ties among users
  • Brand Evangelism:  Community members both promote and defend brands
  • Conversational Value:  News and information spreads faster among an active community
  • Identity Value:  Connecting with the right community (think Harley Davidson owners and Apple users) makes users feel better about themselves
  • Informational Value:  Relevant knowledge and support solve user problems and perpetuate loyalty.

It’s important to note that social brand value, or social currency, is not the same as social media.  Generating awareness with a gimmick, collecting fans and followers, being present in social media does not necessarily add to a brand’s value.

It’s what we do once we get them there. (Whether the there is a platform, forum, or in the case of Apple, a retail store.)  How we add value, contribute to the conversation, introduce customers to each other, allow them to participate, give them a role based on their personal preferences, and foster overall connections to our brand and others in the community is what matters.

As Fast Company makes clear, Starbucks loses to Dunkin’ Donuts when it comes to customer advocacy.  Starbucks may have more followers, but Dunkin’ involves its customers in more active ways.  Their online create-the-next-donut contest, for example, generated nearly 300,000 entries, making those involved community members far more likely to say good things about the Dunkin’ brand than Starbucks customers say about the siren.

And no surprise, Wendy’s prevails over Burger King.  The former engages with ongoing games, connections to influencers, and motivations to actually try the product.  The latter relies on high awareness gimmicks, that while fun and visible, fall off the radar screen rather quickly.

In fact, the brands with the greatest social value include Apple and Google, the former, of course, basically absent from the platforms we associate with social media, but effective through the passion and participation of its active, vocal and loyal customer base.

What should we take away from all of this? According to Fast Company:

  • Advocates are more important than followers
  • Social tools are a means, not an end
  • Gimmicks marginalize trust

While Vivaldi reminds us:

  • Social brand value has to be part of a brand’s culture and behavior, not just it’s media presence.
  • Simply distributing content across the web does not necessarily yield benefits to a community and therefore may have little contribution to social value.
  • Consumers may have control of the conversation, but clearly brands can influence it.

What about you?  Are you building social value for your brand?