Taking a cab in Havana, Cuba, is nothing like taking one in the United States. The taxis there are communal, but it’s not like being in U.S.-based public transportation either. In New York, for example, people on the subway read, listen to music or thumb their iPads. There’s not much eye contact and striking up a conversation is considered an invasion of privacy.
Havana, which I visited recently, is another story. Taxi drivers group you based on destination; then you climb in with six or eight strangers. By the time you get where you’re going, you’re not strangers anymore. Through conversation you have established new relationships.
The exchange starts easily. People share casual small talk, but also trade information and make connections. They laugh and have a good time. No one regards the journey as a waste.
A Lesson to Be Learned
Watching this friendly dynamic play out, I got to thinking that there was a great lesson here for brands, who are trying to create relationship connections much like those in the Havana taxi cabs in their social spaces online—places where people congregate due to a shared need or interest (a product, service or just a desire to be social), establish dialogues and, from them, community.
The problem is, companies make the mistake of thinking that just by turning their cab sign on (putting their Facebook page out there), a community will follow. Not so.
Going back to Havana, though the people in the taxis might be strangers, they already have quite a bit of cultural context in common. They are bound by solidarity, sharing intense pride and some issues with their socialist system. They share a day-to-day struggle with living in a very poor economy that is isolated from their big neighbor to the north, and from much of the world. Their language is peppered with “since the revolution,” and how “we must do this” or “together we will learn that” and “our experience is….” They view fellow Cubans as family members, even if they’ve never met them before. They look out for each other. So when they step into a cab, they aren’t starting from a blank communal slate, but rather from a rich shared cultural and political history and a strong sense of camaraderie.
How To Do It Right
To be successful in social, it’s up to brands to create their own rich cultural context around the customer’s experience with their products or services, or their experience with each other. It doesn’t take a political revolution, but social media programs do need to provide more “socialized brand culture” than they usually have in their traditional advertising and media. And then they must manage social media to foster the connections, dialogue and relationships.
Just as the people of Havana already have a shared sense of cultural values, most brands have shared values among and with their customers. In defining a social media program, we have to start by considering how a given brand reflects the core values of its customers and what values and context that brand can bring to them. That’s what we call the social architecture of a brand community, and it’s where social media planning should start, but is a step often skipped over in the rush to “get active.”
Social media marketers must first focus on establishing that cultural context and then work on enabling customers to experience and develop it through dialogue and relationships. (This is the brand’s equivalent of the cab in Havana.)
- Conversational Programming: Social media is a relationship and dialogue venue. One-way messages don’t resonate or build relationships or community. Sparking and then participating in real conversations does.
- Cultural Cues: What community managers post and how they talk about it tells visitors what’s “normal,” making them comfortable to share similarly. A regular flow of content creates needed brand-led cultural context.
- Persona: The brand’s own participants, be they the community manager, a marketer, product developer or executive, become emblematic of community norms. Are these people active? Are they transparent and personal? Do they relate to visitors as peers or as authority figures?
- Philosophy: The tone and context, supported by moderation guidelines, the topic mix (social, category, brand) along with the graphics, the About page and any other supporting content should establish a vision for the community and provide clear guidelines for community standards of conduct.
For many people, daily offline life provides limited opportunity to mix and mingle with others beyond our pre-set social graph—family, colleagues, etc. Social media creates a huge opportunity for brands to provide spaces for customers to connect, create a dialogue and build relationships with each other and, in turn, the brand. The brand’s job is to provide the cultural context (revolutionary or not), and then help their customers get into the social media cab to be with each other.