Brands in social media don’t need to be too friendly. But they better damn sell me.

Shopkeeper ~ Taroudant, Morocco
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So much of what is discussed in social media revolves around engagement in terms of interacting with the brand as one would a friend. What we forget is there have been offline models for decades, and even centuries, of how business relationships should work – ironically they have nothing to do being a “friend.” Alan Wolk writes a nice series about not wanting to be a brand’s friend. It’s a great, thought provoking read.

The internet, and social media specifically, has caused many people to reevaluate not just how we interact with brands, but what that relationship should be. I think Wolk makes a great case that it doesn’t need to be a friendship. And in the real world, many of us don’t really like doing business with our “friends,” we’d rather just have a beer with them.

So let’s think about how we interact with brands in the real world.

For consumer goods it’s generally a retailer, customer care representative or a sales person.

For B2B interaction, it’s often a series of sales people before the purchase and, afterward, a service representatives.

None of these people are friends per se. But they can be friendly, and that’s a big difference.

On the flip side, what’s wrong with the models. From the service providers mindset, they can be expensive, and with the economy way down there’s certainly room for improvement on anything cost related. Obviously this is why marketers want to transfer as much of the customer relationship online as possible. Social media on the surface seems a great way to do this.

Web 1.0 was cheap. Put a widget up, let people find it, and then let them “interact” with it – not nearly as expensive as a real person answering a phone and possibly more efficient. And the customer is probably even willing fill out an online form to order a product or receive customer service at a later date. That’s awesomely cheep.

The real-time web is changing all of that. The public now expects real-time answers to questions. Marketers entering the social media space and using Web 2.0 tools are feeding this perception. What’s the problem with that? It’s not yet scalable. And that equals so expensive. So it better have value beyond “friends.”

As more and more customers begin to expect direct interaction the more expensive implementing this is going to be. Where am I going with this? I think not only do most people not really want to be your brand’s “friend,” the ones that do are going to be expensive to keep. And if you can’t manage all those relationships, you can expect some blow back.

So whats a brand to do? Decide what’s valuable and provide that instead of engagement for engagement’s sake. Like I said earlier, there are some tried and true relationship models that have existed in business for years that don’t involve being anyone’s friend. And they create value to boot.

Why shouldn’t a sales guy, who already exists be answering product questions on a blog. Then his answers become searchable and create scalability in a positive direction instead of a negative one.

Why can’t a CSR field support questions on Twitter? No extra person required, just some training. Again, a scalability plus.

And why marketers are online, they can and should ask for the sale. Wouldn’t they in the real world? Isn’t that what representatives of businesses do. Of course, they shouldn’t be a jerk about it and butt into other people’s conversations.

So what about marketing? Isn’t that what we were supposed to be replacing with this whole friendship thing? Stay tuned.

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Posted on: February 16, 2010, by :