The Pros & Cons Of Giving Your Brand To Your Fans

A few things have been ingrained into the minds’ of business owners over the past 18 months. Things like:

  • You have to engage in social media.
  • You have to listen to your customers.
  • Always protect your brand.

But sometimes before you can even act, your customers are out there beating you to the punch. They’re engaging and protecting your brand for you. And as this whole social media thing has developed, we’ve been able to see both the positives and negatives that occur when a company leaves their brand to chance. Is it possible that all you have to do to be successful in social media is to sit back and let your customers do your work for you?

Let’s take a look at some of the Pros and Cons involved with leaving your social media efforts up your customers.

thumbs upThe Pros

1. Your customers are better at social media than you are.

Don’t get all defensive, it’s true. Your customers are social media pros because they’re ringers. Social media was designed with them in mind. It’s about empowering them, letting them get loud and giving them a platform (and soapbox) to stand on. When they create your account for you, it can explode.

Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski love Coca-Cola. They love it so much that they created the official Coke Facebook Fan page where more than 3.6 MILLION fans come to comment and engage every day. That’s right. 3.6 million fans and Coke had absolutely nothing to do with it. Dusty and Michael wanted a place to talk about their favorite carbonated beverage so they got their hands dirty and created one themselves. And though Coke didn’t create it, they have embraced it. And the result has been one of the most well known social media love stories on the Web.

2. It’s more authentic.

When you create a site dedicated to your greatness, it’s “marketing”, it’s self-serving and it’s a little dirty. When a fan does it for you, its gospel, it’s real, and it’s authentic. Your customers have an easier time relating to it. They want to get involved and become part of the “cool kids” helping to sing your praises across the Internet. And really, is there anything cooler on the Internet than Chuck Norris? Of course not. America isn’t a democracy, it’s a Chucktatorship.

The Chuck Norris Facts Web site was created in 2005 and contains satirical facts about actor, martial artist and legend Chuck Norris. It’s entirely run, maintained, and promoted by fans. The result? It’s become a cult phenomenon, transforming Mr. Norris into one of the biggest celebrities on the Web. It’s earned mentions on all the nighttime talk shows, has been spoofed in songs and was even turned into a Facebook application. It has empowered the Chuck Norris brand so much that Chuck Norris himself has begun contributing to the site, picking his favorites and sharing in the fun. Had Chuck Norris tried to create a site dedicated to faux facts about himself it would have been mocked. But because his fans did it and he supported it, It’s beloved.

3. It makes you look oh-so-cool when you empower them:

Pulling a Chuck Norris and supporting the people who support you makes you relatable. It makes you appear humble and friendly and like your fans. People like people who like them back. When you support your fans, it makes them want to keep supporting you.

Stephen Colbert. You know him. You love him. And he had nothing to do with the Twitter account that was created in his name (there’s actually a few these days). But he has vocally supported it. He’s empowered the person behind it to keep at it, to keep building the Colbert brand and to continue making people laugh in his name. And with over 350,000 followers, one could say it’s taken off and become pretty successful. Stephen does have a real account at @stephenathome but, frankly, it’s not nearly as entertaining.  And it’s not as powerful as the account created by one his fans. That’s the one people relate to.

thumb downThe Cons.

1. Even the well-intentioned can do harm.

No good deed goes unpunished and often just because someone meant to give you a hand, doesn’t mean they won’t accidentally torch the place. Do you really want to give a stranger that much power with your brand?

Exxon Mobile had a problem last summer when Janet created the ExxonMobileCorp Twitter account and began fielding questions, talking about how money was being spent and dishing about the Exxon Valdez. Seemed neat enough, until we all learned that “Janet” didn’t actually work for Exxon. She just registered the account and pretended she did. Fail.

Seth Godin had a similar issue when the @SethGodin Twitter account (which once had 5,000+ fans) started getting called out for angering fans.  There were complaints that Seth didn’t value his followers because he refused to follow them back or engage with them. Of course, “Seth Godin” wasn’t actually the real Seth. It was just a fan trying to pay homage. What he did, however, was cause a mess that the real Seth had to clean up.

2. Sometimes “fans” like to exploit you.

Of course, not everyone is well-intentioned. When you fail to get active on social media, you give those with an ax to grind a chance to brandjack your name to embarrass you, vilify you, or most often, simply exploit you.

As you read this, someone is holding the Walt Disney World Twitter account hostage. The resource site Startup Nation had a college student attempt to extort them for $15,000. And these situations are only becoming more prominent and damaging. Brands who were late to get involved are now spending thousands seeking ways to protect their brands and prevent cases of brandjacking and “twitterjacking”. And the bigger the brand, the higher the bounty on your username. By not getting involved in social media, unless you take steps to prevent it, you often leave your brand open to attack.

3. You fracture your community.

People yearn to talk about the brands they love. And if you don’t create a centralized place for them to do that, you leave room for dozens of splinter accounts to sprout up in your name. It may seem like an okay idea, but all it really does is dilute the efforts of your fans. It spreads out conversations. It makes it harder for people to engage. And it severely weakens the accounts they create.

Take Miller Lite. If you’re a fan, do you join @millerliteiowa, @genbev or one of the many other accounts? Likely, you join none. They’re not legitimate looking and the followers are too spread out to be effective. If you want to support the Library of Congress, fans are divided across three Fan pages and more than a handful Facebook groups. Which is legit? Which can people trust? If you don’t tell them, they don’t know and they’re less likely to engage on a regular basis. You fracture the community before you even have one.

It’s possible that your fans will do your social media work while you sit back and do nothing, but it’s just as likely that being passive will come back to haunt you.  Instead, find ways to work with your audience and to empower them to get loud on your behalf. Work together to combine their passion and realness with your goals for your company.  If that doesn’t work. Call Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris is suing MySpace for taking the name of what he calls everything around him. True fact.

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