by Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) Social media has made it easier for brands to reach people; it has equally bombarded people with information that doesn’t speak directly to them. Unless it does. The active and caring brands, like the friends you can rely on, win people over and build street teams of evangelists. The ones that cluster people into groups and buzzwords like ‘hipsters’ rarely become part of the inner circle and build true connections.

Facebook is known to be the most-popular social network and the one to which most customer-outreach initiatives attempt to crack the code.

social shareTim Herrera, a digital producer at the Washington Post, braved over 1 417 posts, pictures, events and everything that makes up the Facebook News Feed.

After he tirelessly refreshed until everything on his timeline repeated itself, it turned out that Facebook was still inaccurate about what Herrera really wants to know — or cares about.

Most people will only ever see a fraction of their Facebook posts and some only appear days later, when they are no longer relevant. The experiment that Herrera ran only started revealing changes after six hours of continually scrolling through his news feed.

Can data lie?

In the age of infinite amounts of big data, is it tempting to assume that a Facebook (or any other social network) algorithm can shed light into customer behaviour and how people will react to a product. If this Facebook experiment tells us anything, it could be that the adverts which brands have paid for are being served to an audience that doesn’t care.

Part of the challenge in following data, and taking it to be a real-world reflection of how people are, is that it takes brands back into the loop of disconnecting them from people. They revert to acting like machines in social constructs.

In a 2013 brand study by Lippincott, which comprised 30 000 customers across four continents and over a thousand brands, it uncovered that people gravitate towards brands that connect at a human level.

The Lipincott, Human Era study looked at the customer perceptions of brands while rating them on a number of metrics, including:

  • Whether the brands care about their customers
  • Also taking into consideration whether brands are thought trustworthy

According to Marketing Week, “brands that behave like humans find more favour with consumers” and this goes back to the basics of building true connections with customers. The study talks to how the top brands communicate both on social media and offline.

US$50m lesson for Honda

Honda Motor’s latest campaign, where it’s partnered with some of the top networks including YouTube, Vevo, Live Nation and others, is proving to be an initiative that is putting the brand ahead of its targeted customers.

The Honda Stage programme is a youth-marketing initiative which launched in June 2014 and is expected to deliver billions of views from younger car buyers or potentials.

The statistics would us believe that a presence on YouTube, with all the right content, will soon have you go viral and smiling to the bank. However, the results have been that the Honda Stage initiative has been getting more coverage from industry contributors than the intended viewers and potential car buyers.

In a comment to the Wall Street Journal, Alison Provost, CEO of the web video analytics firm Touchstorm, said: “Among the eight videos posted to date, the percentage of viewers who actively ‘like’ the clips — a measure Touchstorm calls ‘positive passion’, is at 0.53%. That’s about the same as a banner ad.”

The Honda Stage initiative, in my opinion, is missing the sense of community that most successful campaigns have. It’s another branded-music channel on the already incredibly busy platform on which people go to looking for specific content.

Go niche and find insiders

In times of data and information overload, customers rely upon the recommendations of friends and their close-knit networks for new experiences and products. Some of the smartest brands put their resources in being part of these networks, into getting into the trusted space that friends belong in.

The US$50 million Honda Stage campaign did not listen to customers and put them ahead of itself. Instead, it’s another music initiative that competes with festivals and brands that play in the scene. Some have even argued that it does not place Honda cars in front of the audience.

Customers, as with all human beings, want a real and authentic connection with brands and that, in itself, is an opportunity to build a movement of insiders — people who are more likely to hear about a product release first, and help to spread in their circles.

Tupperware has done this effectively since the first time most mothers filled our cupboards with colourful containers.

Have you had some interesting interactions with your favourite brands, or are you working on creating some interesting brand interactions with your audience? If so, please tweet the stories to me @Mongezi.

Mongezi Mtati


Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart ( Apart from being a kiteboarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth. He contributes the monthly “The Word” column on word-of-mouth marketing and social media strategy to MarkLives.


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