Aggressive brand socializing – good or bad?

Aggressive brand socializing – good or bad?

Cartoon by Tom

I am an avid fan of Twitter. 140 characters suit me just fine. I love ‘Roadies’ – the reality show on MTV and am proud to say that I haven’t missed any episode until the 6th season. But the 7th season just floated by; I wasn’t really interested in cusswords being passed off as entertainment. The show, the host and the principles by which it was built upon came tumbling down with every profanity every season. This year 2011, the show is running its 8th season and incidentally I am a follower of the channel’s twitter profile. I like the informative tweets, one-liners, saucy tidbits, contests, etc. that give me a sense of belongingness to my favorite youth brand.

It so happened that I participated in one such twitter contest for Roadies 8 and won a pass to an exclusive screening to be held at the MTV office a day prior to the show being launched on TV. So I could boast of the show, give my take on the auditions, justify the profanities and be proud to have been invited to the office of the coolest youth channel ever. This sense of belongingness and being cared for carved a newfound love for ‘Roadies’ in my heart.
The glitch began to show when I received my pass through email wherein I was instructed to tweet with #Roadies8 hash tag. The huge hoarding for ‘ROADIES’, the graffiti art office and the coolest bean bags lying strewn around made me euphoric. I could see the equally excited faces of other winners all hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite VJ’s.  Instead the MTV office folks welcomed us, thanked us for being fans and served us hot ‘wadas’ and cold drinks. So far, so good.
But then came marketing or business or monetizing or call it whatever. We were told to tweet about our experiences – good or bad with the given hash tag and in return they would re-tweet us, making us cool amongst our friends. We were given a target though – to make the hash tag a trending topic in twitter. This barter was fine by us and the screening began. Tweets came, then re-tweets came, soon it was raining tweets but every tweet had the same story. Every tweet that chirped sweet nothings about the reality show and its host got re-tweeted and honest boring tweets were ignored.
The brand is an established, trusted and loved one amongst the youth. It has 1,495,335 Facebook fans, 186,223 Twitter followers and 341,423 orkut fans . Bringing in its religious followers in close proximity to their ‘God’ is an excellent exercise in strengthening relations to develop brand advocacy, loyalty and belongingness. It was a well-thought about social media campaign and an experiment that had the potential to yield data for further plan of action. But by curbing free expression of its followers, the brand loses in two ways :

1) Followers already belong to the brand community and have a reason to care about their community, something to share about it and want to protect it. When these voices are shut, emotions are hurt, faith is questioned and the entire social capital built by the brand over the years breaks down. The risk of losing ‘followership’ that has taken effort to build upon is not worth a hundred tweets saying sweet nothings.

2)  An objective experiment with existing brand advocates should be conducted neutrally. By re-tweeting only favorable tweets, the brand channelizes, filters out and chooses to play deaf amongst its very core ‘word-of-mouth’ capital. Vital information, feedback from a well-meaning community member goes down the drain leaving the experiment with no conclusive action points.

Social networks thrive on a sense of community; brands that have built strong communities will rule the social age. But as your social capital adds up cumulatively, it becomes even more important to respect it, nurture it and watch it grow. By disturbing its natural growth process, the brand may risk a complete break-down which is then nearly impossible to rebuild. An effective social media campaign needs to be focused on long term gains and that can happen in an honest, open and participative environment and not in an aggressive, commanding ‘Talibanising’ one. The number of followers is just a statistic, but the brand image decides the game.  In the greed for short term numbers, a brand may lose out in the long term.
The climb-up is always painstaking and slow but the tumbling down is faster and gravity-aided! Do you have a similar story to share? Is there an insight that we may have missed? Do put across your valuable feedback.