Commodity service brands and social media (Debate with Digivox)

Every now and again, a reader leaves such a well thought out, effort-laden comment that it deserves a lot more attention than it gets in the comments.  Landi Groenewald from DigiVox did just that - so let me continue the debate on commodity service brands and social media using her comment to riff off. See her original comment on this article.

LANDI: We believe however, that the point is to be transparent and relational, and therefore honest.

ANDY: Yes, in a perfect world. But the sooner social media providers realise there are company's that don't HAVE to care, and therefore shouldn't be in the space, the better. I'm just worried the Twitter/Facebook is being punted as a cure-all, to everyone. Where that line gets grey is commodity brands. Make no mistake, I think they have amazing opportunities in the education / sponsorship coverage areas, but that has to be carefully weighed up against the fact that they'll immediately attract a lot of attention, purely due to the fact that people only talk about them when their products don't work.

LANDI: Let’s look at the philosophy of marketing, that is, to fulfil the needs of consumers in a way that is mutually beneficial for both the consumer and the business alike.

ANDY: Not sure I agree. I think PRODUCTS are there to fulfil needs, not marketing. That's perhaps where this whole social media / engagement sphere is getting confusing. Finally, certain companies have a medium where they can engage in dialogue and form relationships with customers - but that's dragging the marketing teams further and further down a product functionality / product status rabbit hole. It's something that has to be managed carefully. (I turned to Wikipedia, font of all 69.8% accurate information. There definition of marketing: Marketing is the process by which companies create customer interest in products or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business development.)

LANDI: In an interview, Jessica Clark, director for the Future of Public Media Project for the Centre for Social Media at America University, said: "Social media are value neutral; their main virtue is the promise of democratic communication. This brings along with it all of the difficulties of democratic society...incivility, bullying, bias, prejudice, privatization, power struggles. These problems aren't a reason to dismiss or fear social media platforms; they're a challenge to each of us to fight for parity, transparency, access and openness."

ANDY: Awesome quote, and spot on. It supports what I've been saying at speaking gigs for a while. The problem with social media, that no-one seems to have cottoned onto yet... is that social media has PEOPLE behind it. People have issues, baggage, good days, bad days - and we need to learn how to deal with that. Sometimes, if you're a commodity service brand - rather spend time fixing the reasons people bitch in the first place, than waste it all responding to them.

LANDI: Customers will complain online. Rather this takes place on a platform where they can engage with the brand, and find solutions for their issues.

ANDY: Now here's my crux question, and please don't mistake my strategic probing for a negative attitude about the space. But asking the right questions is what I'm theoretically good at. What happens... when having those one on one engagements becomes more expensive than it's worth. Are marketing departments / agencies really happy to have their budget eaten away by Social Media Agents? Becuase that's where the budget will come from, and end up. We're in a beautiful space right now, where brands have 1 to 20,000 fans/followers. That's pretty easy to handle. What happens when we hit 50,000 fans/followers? Because we're setting some great standards of engaging with EVERYONE. That becomes tricky when everyone actually want to be engaged. All I don't want to see, is Social Media as a platform, turning into another Hello Peter, with vacuous apologies and reference numbers in place of true engagement. That's the risk if we don't think this out. Hello Peter teams in big companies change their name and there's your social media management.

LANDI: A great social media campaign to us means engaging with your audience, rewarding them for their participation... but most importantly, having the system in place to listen and RESPOND!

Amen, sista! I do feel that shorter term campaigns will show a whole BUNCH more value for commodity service brands, because they focus the attention. Imagine a campaign in the insurance industry that specifically focussed on learning about, updating or adding household insurance. We're talking YouTube vids, questions and answers, sales call to actions, wizards to work out what you should be paying - etc. Focus that carefully enough and you'll avoid most of the service / bad claims bitches that customers have because the underlying service might not be good enough.

LANDI: media can be the ultimate channel to learn exactly what it is that consumers want, where they can access it, and all the other blah, blah of marketing

ANDY: Agreed. Never, ever stop listening. But make sure you listen and fix for a LONG period of time before you jump in and engage. If the number of clients on Social Media exactly equalled the number of clients using a top ORM system, I wouldn't be as worried. But it doesn't.

LANDI: Or you could be like that Ford guy that just made the one black car...

ANDY: Fit for purpose business is an important lesson. That Ford guy, did pretty well from what I hear!

Thanks so much for the lively debate, long may it continue. And say hi to Andrea for me!


  1. Hi Andy,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to engage with our comments. In the bigger scheme of things, we’re actually on the same page and grappling with the same underlying issues.

    Perhaps the answer is that there is no answer... yet. In an ideal world there would be a “one size fits all” for everything. Buying a pair of jeans would be so very much easier if that were the world we lived in! However, sadly, it is not.

    Our comments to your post emanated from our experiences - where we have found that applying our philosophy to the way we approach social media initiatives has enabled us turn what was a very dire situation, into something positive. Granted, this didn’t happen overnight. It takes loads of trial and error, and the relevant buy-in from ALL parties involved in order to make it work.

    The incident I referred to in my previous response to you, was with a specific context, and for this context engaging and interacting and dealing with negative comments and questions has been successful in terms of alleviating the frustration from what was a frustrating situation to begin with.

    As I have pointed out before, managers need not fear social media as long as they have a streamlined strategy and system in place. The bottom line, is that consumers enjoy being able to engage with “their” brands in social media environments. Herewith follows some research as a point in case:

    “The study revealed that 70% of consumers want access to company experts and support through social media channels, and trust company information provided to them through their social networks. It also indicated that nearly 60% of customers feel company outreach, through social media, would improve their loyalty to that company, and found that 50% of respondents use social media daily or several times a day.” Source:

    With that said, we do feel that there are certain brands in these environments that shouldn’t be there at all, as it serves no benefit to either themselves, or their consumers. At worst, it can actually be more damaging. As for isolated incidents of negativity : these will happen, whether brands like it or not, and again ... rather this be in an environment where a brand CAN respond and ultimately (hopefully), turn things around.

    Wouldn’t it be great to get insights from the people that brands are engaging with in social networks, to see what THEY actually think!

    Ps. Andrea says... heya!

  2. Yup, truth in there somewhere.

    Fulfilment, beyond anything is the most important of the bunch. Don't dive in if you're not going to commit the budget to having that conversation. And Lordy, it's expensive.

    I go back to a brilliant Tech4Africa comment during our social media panel.


    If there's something you can fix, that you've learnt from listening to the social conversation. Fix it. Spend your money there FIRST. Your customer's will ultimately be happier.


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