Brand Advocates vs. Social Media Community: Which Do You Have?

Have you heard of Georama? If you have, lucky you. Its a nifty new website designed to help book and inspire travel. Have you heard of Walgreens? Actually, don’t answer that. There is one on every street corner. At the Chicago American Marketing Association Evening with an Expert I had the pleasure of meeting social media strategists from both of these companies. Zach West is the Social Media Manager for Walgreens, and Nihal Advani the Founder/CEO of Georama.

Social media David and Goliath

Although Georama is small with a start-up budget, it has a something in the social media world that Walgreens does not. Something Walgreens, and every other social media marketer, admires. Looking at the pure numbers, one would think Walgreens the clear social media front-runner. Georama has 36,794 likes on Facebook, where as Walgreens has 2,569,739. Georama has 3,454 people talking about them as I write this, and Walgreens has 30,336. How then is it possible for Walgreens to be jealous of Georama’s online presence? According to Zach West, it is because Georama has a social media community.

“I Want To Go To There!”

Like many other startups, Georama relies on social media as an inexpensive way to gain publicity and communicate their brand message. Their initial attempts at creating a Facebook following were unsuccessful as nobody seemed interested in their text posts about themselves, travel pictures, or recommended destinations. They fell into many of the same traps as other companies by behaving, as Zach West puts it, like a stranger walking up to you, awkwardly handing you a coupon, and then walking away. But Georama eventually came up with a brilliant idea. They found a way to engage the user by providing interesting and valuable content that was actually wanted.

They created a simple yet successful formula of posting a beautiful travel picture along with a related trivia question. Once those post became interactive, people were suddenly interested. They guessed at answers, commented on the pictures, and shared them with their friends. Georama’s Facebook stats shot through the roof. Eventually, Georama started posting these trivia pictures daily. People looked forward to them, and some commented that viewing them felt like a vacation while sitting at their desk. Instead of being clicked past, Georama’s Facebook posts were now invited, appreciated, and expected. No wonder Georama was awarded “Best use of Facebook” by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Walgreens, on the other hand, has millions of brand advocates. This, as Zach West explains, although great, is not as great as having a community, even a much smaller one. Webopedia defines brand advocates as those who “talk favorably about a brand or product, and then pass on positive word-of-mouth (WOM) messages about the brand to other people.” Having brand advocates is obviously a good thing and Walgreens understandably has quite a few, but having a community takes this to another level. Think about it this way: brand advocates like you, but they are not your real friends. If you are a community member, you are in the inner circle. Brand advocates may comment on a Walgreens post or “like” it now and then, but they certainly do not look forward to Walgreens ads popping up on their newsfeed to the same extent they do posts from their “real” friends—like family members or old high school buddies. Community members, however, do welcome Georama’s posts and interact with them much like those from their “real” friends. So these WOM messages change sentiment from brand advocates asking, “have you heard about Walgreens?” to community members asking, “have you met my friend, Georama?” There is a lot of power in that second message.

Creative community

The challenge then is to follow Georama’s lead and find a creative, useful way to communicate your brand message in social media channels. To make real friends and become a valued part of a community, not just collect a group of advocates.

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