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Social Media Redefines Brand Engagement.

This is an article I wrote that was published in this week’s East African Newspaper. You can read it here or the full unedited version below:

Shh…listen…your customers and prospects are talking about your brand. Can you hear them? Its happening right now, even as you read these words. They don’t care whether you like it or not but they are saying exactly and brutally what they think of your brand, both good and bad. The thing is, if your not paying attention, your brand could be getting battered without you even knowing it. Its a well-known fact that people are more influenced by the opinion of your brand from a happy or irate customer than any amount of marketing or public relations you can afford to spend money on will. And thats the funny thing about social media, it really does redefine the rules of brand engagement, even right here in East Africa.

Its shocking how many venerable East African brands are being discussed both positively and negatively through social media such as Blogs, Facebook and Twitter. These conversations are increasingly important to the reputation of our brands as they are being carried out on web sites that are some of the most popular Internet destinations in the region. The fact that Twitter and Facebook for instance are used by a majority of Internet users in East Africa means that brands need to pay attention to these conversations on an on-going basis. The traditional routes of market research, public relations and marketing are no longer sufficient to maintaining brand leadership in this day and age.

For more or less the first time in history, social media has empowered the customer in a manner never before possible. Their voices can be heard by millions whereas before they we’re simply ignored since brands more or less communicated in monologue. Social media demands a dialogue with the customer for a brand to maintain its market position. Therefore, it is for this very reason that social media is an extremely powerful marketing and customer service opportunity that can grow brands efficiently. This is known as inbound marketing where social media is used in an interactive manner to grow business and improve service delivery unlike one-way and significantly more expensive traditional media.

However, the thing about social media is that since its dialogue-driven, brands must spend time simply listening to what is being said about them before engaging in conversations. The listening helps the brand understand the tone and character of the conversations going on before formulating a strategy for engagement. Once this is done, the brand can then start engaging in dialogue in the most appropriate manner possible. In East Africa, for instance, Kenya Airways have turned to social media in a very progressive manner. They have a popular Facebook Fan Page and even use Twitter for regular flight updates. They also have a YouTube channel where they upload all their video content for all to see. Another popular East African brand that is using social media is Bata who regularly update their Facebook Fan Page and are highly interactive on their Twitter communications.

Unfortunately, Kenya Airways and Bata are just a couple of the few East African brands who are using social media to strategically enhance their marketing and customer service. There are so many more brands in East Africa that really need to start using social media as aggressively as they use more traditional media today. The best part about social media is that its free or nearly free to use and so really its more a question of investing in resources rather than money to make it work for the brand. Its also early days so there is alot of experimenting required on social media but there are emerging practices that work all over on the Internet.

Global brands that have managed use social media as cornerstones of their branding strategies include Coca Cola, Starbucks, and Dell. Coca Cola has actually reduced its focus on building their own brand-focussed web sites and they are now using social media more intensively instead. Starbucks use social media to improve their menu offerings and market special offers at their restaurants. Dell use social media to generate sales for their products by running special offers that are earning them millions of dollars every month. So, indeed, social media can make our East African brands more successful on a global basis.

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2 Comments

  1. David Ndungu
    March 15, 2010 at 4:01 am — Reply

    Moses, very well articulated. I believe East African organisations have a delicate balance to maintain in quickly adopting the new cloud media while at the same time using the traditional forms of marketing and advertising given the relatively low internet penetration. Some, like Kenya Airways, are in a more enviable position given the bulk of the demographic they target should have internet access. Bata on the other hand still needs to reach millions in areas that have no mains power let alone internet access.
    Last week I was a guest tutor at a local university and was addressing the Advertising class. The main thrust of my discussion was purely on the shift from the traditional advertising forms to the digital and social media which is far more personal, instant and as you put it credible given the various dimensions that information is fed through.

  2. Navin Satish
    March 16, 2010 at 1:40 am — Reply

    Excellent insight into New Age Media

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