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Why Popularity Alone Is Not a Winning Strategy

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You can learn a lot about social media metrics by watching classic teen movies and TV shows. Anybody who has seen the show 'Glee' or the classic movie 'The Breakfast Club' knows that there's much more to success than being popular.

The same holds true for brands.

In social media, popularity is no substitute for strategy. And yet according to a recent ANA study, over 80% of US marketers rely on popularity-based metrics, such as Likes and shares, to measure the effectiveness of their social content.

Does Popularity Matter?

Popularity is an important social media metric, but it's not necessarily a true indicator of brand strength. For example, with over 4 million followers on Twitter, BlackBerry is a more popular brand than Coca-Cola, Nike, or Victoria's Secret.


Looking to boost your popularity score? Post a picture of a kitten (ideally doing something cute like playing the piano) or ask people to tell you their favorite color, and you're sure to see a surge of Likes, shares, and comments. But achieving popularity can come at the cost of building a strong social narrative.

Every Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, or Instagram gallery is an opportunity to build an engaging social brand narrative—a story created by the cumulative impact of social media posts. The medium may be short-form, but the potential to use social media as a channel for developing long-term story arcs has gone untapped by most brands.

Going Beyond the Popularity Contest

In a recent study published in Progressive Grocer, Brand Chorus tracked the social media activity of 10 leading supermarket brands and observed how pursuing popularity as the sole measure of social success can actually be detrimental to brand building.

For example, when we analyzed the posts of one of the leading supermarkets in the US, we saw that a video of puppies playing in the snow or a question such as "What's your favorite messy food?" received significantly more Likes, shares, and comments than posts that highlighted a customer's personal story about caring staff.

The ideal brand response here would be to ask the question, "How do we make our customer stories more engaging?" But unfortunately, what we see happen far too often is brands deciding that they should avoid mentioning customer stories and, instead, posting more puppy pictures to keep their popularity metrics high.

Focusing on Your Social Brand Narrative

Creating fresh social media content every day is not easy. It can be tough to focus on the big picture when you're trying to figure out what your next tweet should be. But by taking a more disciplined approach to social content and defining a consistent set of core, brand-driven themes, you can drive a strong social brand narrative over time.

And, perhaps more importantly, you can measure that narrative and provide a metric for how it changes over time.

This kind of disciplined approach is seldom, if rarely used today.

Whole Foods is one brand that does a good job of connecting the dots and focusing on content that connects the company to its consumers. For example, this past May, Whole Foods posted content about Mother's Day and then Memorial Day almost every day of the month. At the end of the month, the company immediately segued into Father's Day, creating a seamless, consistent, and relevant stream of posts to build its core brand.

Though Mother's Day and Memorial Day were at the heart of the Whole Foods social brand narrative, the same cannot be said of many other grocery retailers. Many supermarkets posted their first Mom-related posts on the Thursday before the big day, almost as if they had been caught by surprise. With a disciplined strategy and the right story-related metrics in place, those brands could also have engaged Mom in a month-long conversation leading up to her special day.

As a story-telling medium, social media is in its infancy. But as new social metrics evolve, smart brands will figure out how to tell and track, great stories using short-form media. Dickens did it with his serialized novels; DC did it with weekly comic books; and P&G did it with soap operas.

After all, one thing is certain: There's a huge audience for social media, and wherever there are audiences, great stories will be told.


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Martyn Tipping is CEO of Brand Chorus, the social business intelligence practice of brand consultancy, TippingGardner, and home of StoryScore.

LinkedIn: Martyn Tipping

Twitter: @metip 

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Comments

  • by Max Marine Thu Dec 11, 2014 via web

    I question whether or not the huge social media audiences are receptive to brand storytelling. When I do go on Facebook or Twitter, I am not particularly interested in a brand's posting about a holiday. In most cases, people use Facebook as a communication tool or as a news discovery tool, not to hear about a brand's story. Cocacola just made a post "Tis just as good to give a smile as to receive one". Wonderful, .003% of their fan base "liked" it. That's 3 in 100,000.

    Just because there are big audiences at sports games or behind televisions or on the internet doesn't mean they want to be told a brand's story. Also, popularity is the state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported. Maybe Facebook should have an "admire" button for brands. That would be a true measure of popularity.

  • by Martyn Tipping Fri Dec 12, 2014 via web

    Max - thanks for the comment. I'd argue that the Coca-Cola post you refer to is actually a great example of a brand using social media to reinforce its story – in this case, Coke is picking up of their core brand themes, Happiness. Storytelling shouldn't be confused with telling the brand history – I agree that this would not be a good use of social media. But over the course of a month or year, a brand's social media posts should reinforce their positioning, reflect their personality and tell you something about what they stand for. That to me is storytelling.

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