Will Brands Figure Out FriendFeed?

No one wants a relationship with their mustard.

NeoAtOgilvy COO Greg Smith, via Kara Swisher at Boomtown

Two posts caught my attention. Kara Swisher has a nice post titled Social Ads Not Cutting the Mustard? In the post, she breaks down the issues that brands have in being part of the social media world. And Jeremiah Owyang hypothesizes about How Brands Will Use FriendFeed.

The two pieces do a good job of highlighting the challenge of social media for companies. Social media is authentic, it emerges from everyday people, it’s governed by its own community rules, it’s random and it’s an ongoing conversation. How do profit-oriented companies requiring measurable results and consistent formats deal with this?

The general thrust of companies’ social media efforts is to create enthusiasts who will turn around and do viral marketing on behalf of the company. Word of mouth (WOM) marketing. It is a big deal, and it would be wrong to suggest it doesn’t exist. It’s quite powerful when it happens.

But a problem with most WOM marketing is that it’s too dependent on big hits that catch the imagination of people. The fantastic YouTube video. The funny widget for Facebook and MySpace. The imaginative web page.

Those types of mega-hits are incredibly important, and are a requirement for every marketer’s toolkit. The problem is when a company’s social media strategy only relies on the big hits.

Jeremiah talks about how companies should engage users on FriendFeed:

The one caveat is that brands will need to be part of the discussion that happens among these social tools, as what’s really important is the people that are talking, debating, and discussing what your company is announcing. For those that get it wrong, no one will subscribe, no one will talk about it, no one will ‘like’ it and spread it to their network. So be active in the comments, conversations, and an open manner.

He lays out a good philosophy that companies should follow. Don’t simply rely on the big hits. Get out there and engage people. Become part of the community.

I’m wondering what exactly does a company’s participation on FriendFeed look like? Jeremiah points to Ford Motors as a company with one version of social media press releases. So how would Ford use FriendFeed?

To Do’s for Brands on FriendFeed

Create a Ford Motors room: Every company should have a destinaiton on FriendFeed. As an individual, my presence on FriendFeed is defined by subscribing – both by me and to me. A company should have a more permanent home than just being in a list of subscribers.

Find your initial audience: The everyone search is a good start. Start with people who are talking about your company, good or bad. Search on ‘mustang‘. Search on ‘F150‘. Search on ‘Ford Verve‘. Subscribe to these people.

Like and Comment: If Ford comes across someone’s interesting content, throw a Like their way. Jump in with some comments. Here are a couple examples.

First, there’s this Tweet:

Going to test drive F150 tonight. We must be crazy. Prius won’t pull horse trailer though.

Great opportunity for Ford here. In this case, someone from Ford could add a comment like, “Yeah, we made the F150 pretty powerful for those big jobs. I can get you set up with a special visit at your local dealership if you want.”

I’d also avoid laying the smack down on the Prius, tempting as it is for Ford. Criticism based purely on a profit motive is a fast way to undermine authenticity.

Next, here are some Flickr pictures of a ’67 Mustang:

Ford occupies a unique place in Americana, and this picture taps into that. Ford would definitely want to Like these Flckr photos. Add a comment too: “Those 67’s were classic cars. Takes you back to a different time, doesn’t it? We have several of them here in the Ford museum. One thing we’re realizing here is that people still love that style, and look for the new 2009 model to reflect a lot of what made that car great.”

See? Ford has engaged a person. The interaction caused the pictures to pop into others’ streams. And Ford got to plant a seed for what’s coming out later in the year.

Engage on topics that fall outside pure product: Establish a presence beyond just talking about specific products. It will help the company’s social media ‘cred’, and make it more interesting for people to follow. The downside? Your critics will find you, and you can get stuck in a nasty throwdown. So choose your topics carefully. Rising gas prices are a recurring topic on FriendFeed and other social media. A lot of people would want to know what Ford is doing in terms of gas-powered fuel efficiency, as well as in gas alternatives, such a hybrids.

This is a chance for Ford to blow it, or to shine.

Here’s what blowing it looks like: “We continue to believe that California’s efforts to enact higher gas mileage requirements are wrong.” Say that, and you’re just itching for a fight. People will no longer focus on Ford the car company. They’ll focus on Ford the antagonist.

Here’s what shining on FriendFeed looks like. “We see the market segmented into those for whom gas mileage is important, and those for whom capacity and power are important. And our view is that the fuel efficiency segment is growing fast, and we are responding to that.”

Stick with it: This type on engagement is a long term play, with benefits that will be realized over years rather than a quarter. There will be direct benefits as consumers learn more about companies. And companies will get a lot of publicity for their efforts until it becomes mainstream and everyone is doing it.

Final Thoughts

I’m no brand expert, but these are my thoughts on how companies could use FriendFeed, and other social media as well. Done right, this type of marketing could emerge as an important part of  companies’ engagement with the market.

What do you think?


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