Social media’s part in the changing face of brand values

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by Guest Writer

Jag Panesar, Founder of Saltaire-based digital agency Xpand, takes a look at how the advent of social media in recent years has changed how consumers interact with brands - and the ways companies can stay relevant and in favour in the age of instant responses.

 

The majority of creatives across the UK have seen 'The Social Dilemma' at some point since its release, but I doubt any of us were prepared for the spin used to demonstrate how algorithms influence our online behaviours. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch!

And while I certainly don’t feel compelled to join a protest, I do recognise how social media can influence beliefs, values and behaviours. Although if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a very good digital marketer, would I?

When I say influence, I’m not referring to deceitful behaviour or just the negatives - I’m also referring to the positive influence social media has had, especially on brands' ability to portray their values.

If you’ve just started in business or are lucky enough to be born after the rise of social media, you won’t know what life without social media in the commercial atmosphere was like - bizarre! But I do - and I remember it coming into effect.

Taking commercial by storm

Since social media changed the commercial atmosphere, it’s never been so easy for consumers to uncover the truth about a brand.

Some call it digital evolution; I call it the changing face of brand values. No longer is it good enough for firms only to have their values, mission and purpose hidden in the depths of their website. No, the cautious eye of the 2020 consumer now sees beyond the talent of the copywriter and takes to social media in search of authenticity.

And when I say social media, I’m not just talking about company pages. It's employee and director profiles, public forums, and even local community groups. I hate to be blunt, but if what they find does not add up, a brand will instantly lose all credibility with what could have been a strong lead.

The good thing is, many marketers recognise this and now support brands with the conversion of brand values to create impactful social media content - most of the time!

Where did it begin?

Remember when social media first became a thing almost 20 years ago? Those responsible for marketing had a definite fear they would lose control over their brand integrity, partly because consumers suddenly had the option to speak freely and openly about their experiences. 

Of course, their initial worry was that this would then undermine the intended value and personality of a brand, but they soon came to realise the benefits of having more ways to show consumers who they are and what they stand for.

There are many ways brands began using social media to help consumers paint a picture of who they are and what they stand for, but these are the most powerful:

Behind the scenes posts

With the power to post quickly and at any time, brands are taking to social media to share what life is like for employees at the company, and giving sneak peeks of how products are made, or services offered. Giving this extra insight to consumers presents an opportunity for them to get to know what a brand stands for.

Charitable activities

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen more and more brands take part in fundraising activities and even complete projects pro-bono. With so many people suffering, there is a precedent that brands who are doing well should be giving back. 

Again, with the power to share things with consumers almost instantly, brands have been able to communicate their values through charitable activities shared on social media.

Engaging in conversation

Social media is just that; a medium which allows you to be social. That’s why consumers expect a brand to not only post, but also engage. Through conversation, over the years brands have been able to form relationships with their target audience and demonstrate their values.

Use of emojis

Emojis do more than just add colour to a post. Brand values have become prevalent via the use of emojis due to the additional personification they add. At the end of the day, what all consumers want is to be able to relate to a brand and what they stand for. With emojis, they get a feel for your brand’s personality, which is a reflection of how you treat both them and the rest of the world.

Where did it all go wrong?

Like anything, social media does have the power to instantly break a brand if not used correctly. Plus, aside from this extreme, little errors can influence a consumer’s perception of a brand over time.

Here’s a few ways I feel brand values come across in a negative light.

Political debate

Unfortunately, our world has never been so torn by political opinions and that’s only worsened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to air concerns on popular platforms such as Twitter especially means brands or employees are often brought into a political debate on the back of one comment or opinion.

Most brands make a conscious effort to avoid political bias completely, but when they don’t, it can have a major effect on their values.

The Selfie

It's nice to see the people behind the brand, don’t get me wrong - but consumers expect to see that a brand values their employees, acts as a team, and cares more about the customer experience than how they look when they wake up.

One or two selfies are fine, but don’t make your page look like a dating profile.

Trending hashtags

Hashtags are a great way to increase reach if used correctly, but brands are often viewed in a negative light when jumping on the back of trending hashtags that don’t align to their existing mission or values. When choosing which trends to be a part of, ensure that your team, company and previous posts are reflective of the topic at hand.

I’m sure most people saw the disappointing and outrageous post by PureGym during Black History Month? A classic example of why it’s never a great idea to see a hashtag as just a hashtag. They mean something to people and the critical customer will be looking out for those taking advantage.

The impact of changing consumer values

Consumer values are changing - fact. As a nation, we’ve become more aware of issues in the environment and the world, and consumer values have changed because of this. Now more than ever, they expect a brand’s corporate social responsibility to be prevalent on social media.

Think of a brand such as Brewdog for example. Their social media presence is epic! They keep it real and they go above and beyond to give back to current causes.

Employee chit-chat

As an employer, you can’t tell your employees what to write and where, but you can educate them about your firm’s values and mission, and set an expectation that they’d bear these in mind when engaging in conversation on social media.

Often, brands have lost credibility due to posts or conversations employees have had on social media.

 

To this day I see numerous examples of companies that shy away from social media out of the fear of ‘being shot down’, or doing the complete opposite by posting as they feel, not as their customers want. To those companies I would say, what message does that send about your values?