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Think BR: Brand building on the social web

The social web is primarily a place for trust, not transactions, writes Waqar Riaz, lead social media director, Cheil Worldwide (London).

Waqar Riaz, lead social media director, Cheil Worldwide (London)

Waqar Riaz, lead social media director, Cheil Worldwide (London)

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I’d like to share a story. It’s a true story, which happened when we launched the Samsung Galaxy S III a few months ago.

And I share it not out of self-interest (though naturally, it paints us in a good light), but because it is a timely testament to one of the fundamentals of social web: that this is a place primarily for trust, not transactions.

So, the place is Canada, the channel is Facebook. On the Samsung Canada Facebook homepage, someone called Shane Bennett posts a polite comment: "Hello, I have bought many Samsung products. I currently have a Samsung LCD TV, Samsung Galaxy S, and Samsung laptop. I was just wondering if I could get a free Galaxy S3. I have attached a picture of a dragon I just drew for you. Have a great day!"

We could just have said no. Or given Shane some money-off vouchers and sent him on his way. But social, as the word suggests, is about relationships and conversations.

So we replied: "Hey Shane. Thanks for inquiring about scoring a free Galaxy S III. Unfortunately if we gave a free S III to everyone who asked, we’d probably be out before they ever went on sale, and we’d go under as a company. That being said, your drawing of the dragon is epic, so we’re returning the favour. Please find attached a drawing of a kangaroo on a unicycle."

Pleased with this reply, Bennett posted a screenshot of it on Reddit, and through the power of the social web, it went viral. It received about a million views and became a trending topic across major publications and blogs all over the world.

In fact, Bennett’s post became so popular that it gained Samsung a lot of attention. As a token of our appreciation, we did indeed send him a custom-made Galaxy S III handset that featured his dragon cartoon emblazoned on the front and back - and Bennett posted a screenshot of it on Reddit again.

To date, the custom-made Dragon Galaxy S III has received more than five million views on Reddit and over the past month alone, Google has indexed 193,000 results for ‘Samsung Dragon S3’ query.

This is the true power of the social web and it is something that simply cannot be bought.

It’s also a salutary tale in a world that’s intent on monetising the power of social web through the purchase of likes and paid commissions for positive recommendations.

As user data becomes more easily accessible, our commercial brains have started to believe we can reach anyone and everyone and convert them into profit-makers - we are ever the optimists.

Even with the daily production of exabytes of new (user) data, a machine remains a machine. For example, Facebook knows everything about me - perhaps more than a lot of people I meet on a daily basis.

However, when it comes to advertising and marketing, it still doesn’t know how to talk with me. Sadly, I don’t like casinos, have no need for another bank account, nor do I want a free Vodafone PAYG sim.

Like most, I use Facebook to connect with people I know and share my life stories; therefore, advertising on it should fulfil the purpose of helping me connect with people and letting me create more personal life stories.

The regular currency of advertising - tell and sell - is simply not a thing of the social web, just as using my friends’ actions to make me take actions isn’t social, but merely a manipulation of social data.

In this new space, the advertising needs to talk in a new way too. Just like decades ago, when the addition of TV to radio as a mass means of communication moved advertising from just audio persuasion to both audio and visual persuasion, so social web opens up new and uncharted channels of communication.

The reciprocal nature of the social web enables brands to connect and engage with people, rather than limit themselves to tell and sell.

In this age of machine-dominated marketing, I would like the social web and the brands within it to talk with me - surprise me, delight me with what would allow me to open a conversation. Involve me because they know me, not just because they can reach me. If I like them on Facebook, then try not to junk mail my stream.

If I follow them, they should make me feel a part of the community, not a lonely follower waiting for information re-loads from some supposedly omnipotent leader. Feel for me, so I feel for them in return.

Let’s not forget, the strongest of human relationships are built on trust, not transactions or offers, or money-off coupons or irrelevant talks. To make transactional decisions I have plenty of friends, online acquaintances, forums, opinions, and reviews to consult, so I really don’t need a brand in my social life to just keep selling to me.

We must remember that the people who use the social web are the same people who go to stores to fill their monthly shopping trolleys; if they trust us in their social lives, they will naturally prefer to see us during out of online social hours.

I would like this beautiful, ever-evolving web and the brands within it to share stories with me that I want to hear and talk about, not destinations to complete the user journey process.

Think of me as a human, not another number to add to a marketing database. And then reap the rewards of true advocacy, just as we did with Bennett and his epic dragon.

Waqar Riaz, lead social media director, Cheil Worldwide (London)

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