Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) asks a very timely question. Many people are commenting on the topic of media outlets breaking embargos (the post that started it, this follow-up post from Brian Solis, and a tweet storm on the subject). As Jeremiah asks, why don’t brands tell the stories themselves? Media and communications are undergoing significant changes in how they are used to talk to customers. Brands need to stand up and take notice.
Historically, media outlets have carried the communication from the brands to the audience because of the size of the media outlet’s customer base and barriers such as, cost and trust, for Brands to communicate directly with customers. Barack Obama is probably the most successful example of how you can take control of your own branding and distribution, bypassing the traditional media outlets as the primary delivery mechanism of the message, and be effective. While the traditional media was still used, you often heard news about the campaign simply by searching on the Web, going to his website, on facebook, through twitter, etc… Here are a few more examples of how social media is being used by brands. So how can Brands start to take control of distribution of their message so they are not entirely relying on media outlets?
Control the Distribution
The traditional media has had a monopoly on communicating news to the consumer because they owned the content and delivery mechanism, with the exception of advertising on Web, TV, print and radio. Sure brands can issue press releases, call press conferences and write corporate blogs but consumers go to the influencers, analysts and journalists that are able to take the corporate-speak and add impartial (sometimes) commentary. These media outlets own the distribution of this content leaving brands out in the cold. So when the brand issued a new product, the influencer would add their 2cents, skepticism or satire and publish it to their readers. The result is having the brand’s message hijacked by the media outlet. Social media has empowered a new segment of the media, bloggers and tweeters, to continue the role of distributing the brand’s message, although once again adding some commentary.
Enter the social media influence in distribution of the news. With social media, brands now have greater control over distribution of the news without having to rely on the distribution networks of media outlets. Add to this the much lower cost than traditional advertising. Through involvement in social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, brands can communicate what they want, when they want. For example, they can publish a press release or blog post and use Twitter to distribute to their followers. Their followers can then re-tweet if the message was interesting. You can reach thousands of potential customers within minutes.
Brands have to build trust in order for this to work. This highlights the point that brands have to adopt social media as a core method of communication for the company. The greater the involvement, honesty and openess with social media, the greater the trust consumers will have in the brand.
The downside of this distribution method is the lack of established influencers having stories and references available at the same time as the brand’s announcement. While this can be a downside, it also highlights an inherent advantage of social media. Experts can emerge from anywhere, empowered with the awareness that the have a following and their words are being read.
Scenario (you can tell from the following example that I am not a PR expert, but this makes sense, no?)
If Startup Inc. has a new product out, they see who on Twitter is active, an aficionado of Startup Inc.’s products or similar products and who has a large following. Startup Inc. then contacts these 20-30 people, gives them the product to play with a few weeks prior to announcing, along with an agreement not to mention this in an posts or tweets. Since these are individuals rather than established bloggers or journalists, Startup Inc. probably has more control over the embargo.
Then when Startup Inc. makes the announcement, these 20-30 Twitter users can freely tweet about the product, experience and link to Startup Inc’s announcement. The established journalists and bloggers now get word of the announcement and follow along and eventually write about the announcement. During this entire process customers reply back to tweets and blog posts where company representatives engage with the community in a dialogue. Established media does play a role in this scenario, they just don’t play a primary role.
I am sure the established media will not be happy about this, but if the consumers are writing about it, I’m not sure the established media has a choice. Just look back at how Obama ran his first couple of press conferences.
Communication is a Two-Way Tweet
What social media offers brands is the ability to have an exclusive one-to-one or one-to-many two way discussion. This is something no established media channel, journalist or blogger can do. If brands don’t seize upon this and embrace social media as a transformational communication platform, then they will be eaten by the competitors that do or by the media and consumers who hijack their brand and message.