Maximum Community Management: Celebritising The Brand

Popzazzle | Saturday, 14 November 2020 |

“Any brand can be celebritised. But how do you celebritise a brand?...”


Brand celebritisation
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash (image modified).

By Bob Leggitt
© Popzazzle
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If you thought community management was little more than diverting a brand's negative social media feedback into the dark depths of the private messaging system, we really need to talk. In fairness, most mid to large sized businesses do have a broader vision of community management than that, but even at the upper end, not always by much.

They might, for example, equate community management with hopping onto forums and review sites with an “I'm sorry you feel you didn't get good service”, and a polite but subliminally sulky defence of the company's reputation. And maybe they also equate community management with trying to sliver-tongue or basically bribe bloggers whose less-than-glowing assessments of their offerings are rapidly creeping towards Google's front page... They're covering the defensive bases. But if you know your old sayings, you'll be aware that defence, is not the best form of defence...

The majority of businesses play community management on the back foot. And that's not only labour-intensive - it's also high-risk.

As a blogger, I've received publicity-management outreach from brands, and it could so easily have backfired... If you blog honest, warts-and-all assessments of products or services, and those assessments start to challenge a brand's own content for search visibility, there's a fair possibility that a friendly little note from a brand rep will drop into your inbox. The rep's goal is to get you to change what you wrote so it looks more like an ad. They know you were entitled to say what you said, but if they can just get you to soften the negative bits and lever in one or two “brand values”, they've got their Holy Grail: a free piece of independent content marketing which is already headlining the search results.

That is worth a lot of money to them, so companies can be very dogged and persistent with this process, attempting to bargain with incentives and what not. Some can become absolute pests. Especially if they've concluded that because you blog out of enthusiasm, for free, you won't understand that what they're asking you to do has significant monetary value.

Some companies become so consumed by the orange mist of their self-interest, that they fail to notice how their "community management" tactics look from the outside. Irritating, insulting to the intelligence... And those emotions can have consequences. With a high search presence, if I'd chosen to publicise any brand's efforts to manipulate an honest assessment, they could have ended up with a worse image than if they'd simply accepted that 90% positive and 10% negative is not only good, but credibly good.

Most brands do accept 90% good as natural praise and leave well alone. But some take one-to-one community management way too far. Whether that involves bugging the daylights out of customers with repetitive requests for a Trustpilot review, or diving into social media conversations without invitation, they're crossing a line. This kind of thing is not just annoying - it's blowing the lid off an art which should, if it's done properly, conceal itself.

The ultimate risk is that of a mass public awakening. What happens when the general public, as a unit, begin to wonder why so many companies take nearly two weeks to reply to an email of complaint, but approximately five minutes to pounce on a negative Tweet that wasn't even addressed to them? Are too many of us wondering that already? Will there come a point at which the majority of people realise that community managers don't care about the actual complaint - they only care what the rest of the public might think when they see it? And if a large number of people do reach that conclusion, what will that say about your brand when you deploy an aggressive community management template?

Community management is the role that dare not speak its name. The public don't like the idea that someone they don't work for is trying to “manage” them. And why would they? You can't tootle your merry way into a customer's Twitter mentions and say: “Hi, I'm the Community Manager. How can I manage you today?” Unless you're under strict instructions to lurch your share price into freefall, that is. If this went viral you'd be memed off the stock market in less than half a day.

But you may not even need to explicitly blow the lid. Since most businesses have exactly the same approach to community management, the public are now beginning to spot a pattern. If people see that copy-and-paste “I'm sorry to hear you've had a problem, let's IMMEDIATELY move this out of public view” too many times, the bubble bursts. And I sense that the ever-irreverent underbelly of Twitter is not far away from launching a full-scale assault on that very bubble. Many people already know that community management is not about trying to help customers. They know its real goal is to preserve or enhance a brand's image. And they know that's not considerate. They know that's selfish.

So as a brand, you have to be really careful with community management. As soon as people suss out that you're trying to “manage” them, your brand is in danger. What do you do?

Every community management technique we've looked at so far operates in the small picture, one-to-one. That's very time and labour intensive. And there's another noticeable feature of popular community management strategy. The brand voices its own defence. That's often uncovincing, falling into the category of “they would say that, wouldn't they?” But what if a community could be motivated to voice a defence on the brand's behalf? What if a community could be motivated to proactively help spread the brand's message? How much labour would that save? And how much more convincing would it look?

WHAT IS MAXIMUM COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT?


If you're a social media native - someone who uses it for entertainment as well as for work - the phrase “cancel culture” will instantly ring a bell.

The “cancellation” of a social media star is a mass withdrawal of public support. Once that support is withdrawn, the star's personal brand is no longer able to function, and they progressively drift into obscurity.

If you look at some of the big individual stars on social media, you'll see that they have much more momentum than most companies. One person, outranking a 2,000-strong corporate team. How is that possible? And I'm not necessarily talking about celebrities. Social media stars can be influencers, campaigners, vloggers ... But what sets them apart and gives them their incredibly high social profile, is their innate management of the community. These are people whose fanbases are so compliant that they self-moderate. If they see a complaint, they will deal with that complaint. And they'll do it in a way that looks a lot more passionate and natural than a company trying to sweep all the dirt under the carpet.

It's crowdsourced community management. Provided a social media star keeps showing up and motivating the crowd, the scale of the community management is vast. But what keeps social media stars ahead of most companies in terms of social reach, is also their Achilles heel. It's also what enables them to fall so quickly. It's what enables them to be cancelled. Once you take away the role of the community in keeping them visible, their presence collapses. Only then do we notice just how much the public were doing to support the star - or former star. And how little the star was able to sustain without that massive, crowdsourced PR machine.

Corporate brands have to realise that when they vie for visibility on social media, they're not really competing with individual influencers, celebrities or vloggers - they're competing with entire communities. Armies of people who form a support network around a figurehead who encapsulates their goals, beliefs and self-image. These are communities that don't need managing. They're communities that manage themselves.

HOW TO MOBILISE CROWDSOURCED COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT


So how is this support mobilised? Some might say that being a fantastic singer or a spectacularly good-looking movie actor is the central component. But there are thousands and thousands of fantastic singers with fewer than 100 social media followers. And there are many influencers and campaigners who come from nowhere, with no singing or acting ability, and... Well, they're well-groomed but they're not really the height of Hollywood glamour. The most popular gamers are not the ones who get the highest scores. The most popular activists are not the ones who attend the most protests. How does this crazy world work?

The most successful community managers are those who best reflect back the passion of the community. And they do so in a way which is not just immensely relatable, but which makes the community feel proud to hold the belief they hold. In a way that powerfully reassures the community that their gut instinct was right all along. Succinctly, great community managers turn the general public's deepest and most highly-charged feelings into a type of modern poetry. It doesn't rhyme. It doesn't have a format. But it makes the audience think “Yes! THAT is the phrase I was looking for! That ENCAPSULATES my entire outlook on life.” When a recognisable face and voice makes that powerful connection, the result is an instant, one-to-one human bond. A bond strong enough to evoke loyalty, support, and up to a point, forgiveness.

But there are two hurdles for product and service vendors here. One is that they desperately seek to avoid taking a side, because that will instantly alienate the opposition, inevitably losing sales. And the other is that the public have a tolerance threshold for what they perceive to be marketing content - and the threshold is really not very high.

Even though influencers and campaigners are usually raising a fair bit of money, they're not considered to be salespeople. They may have written books, or set up donation pages, but these things are rarely mentioned in their social media posts. They may promote a book once a month, or just on a single, pinned Tweet; whereas a vendor plugs its wares multiple times a day. So to their audiences, social media stars are seen not as the commercial enterprises that most of them they really are, but as friends.

Conversely, the vendors' route-one approach to selling is incompatible with high-octane community management, because people just don't care enough about gardening equipment or gas boiler cover to donate their time and energy to championing its cause.

So maximum community management is something traditional vendors just can't get involved with, right? Absolutely wrong... Any brand can be celebritised. But how do you celebritise a brand?

The first piece of good news is that companies don't need to take a side in order to evoke passion in an audience. The second piece of good news is that vendors don't need to plug their wares on a loop. Influencers still sell their books. Campaigners still raise their donations. And this happens because social media stars make people care enough to actually look at their pinned Tweet or visit their bio links. But what they need in order to achieve that level of support, is a human focal point.

Analysis reveals one consistency across nearly all of the best community management drives. They're fronted by just one person. A trusted face. Have you ever considered that despite being businesses, most influencers and celebrities don't have a logo? Well, actually they do have a logo. Their logo is their face. When the public see a familiar face, there's a trigger, and a response. And if that face is associated with positive things, the response will be positive too.

As I mentioned in the Twitter Marketing Paradigms article, people tend to see a business profile as a “thing” rather than a human entity. And this dynamic sits, alongside pushy promotion, at the core of why businesses don't capture public hearts the way social media stars do.

People can't see a “thing” as a friend. So as soon as you make one person into a group of people, the human to human bond evaporates. It doesn't matter if you put pictures of your team on your website or social feed. There's still no single point of focus. Ultimately, people have to know which specific person they're being asked to support. And they have to know enough about that specific person to make a decision on whether or not they will support them.

Imagine a political party trying to fight an election with no leader. Just “vote for the party”. Even without seeing it put to the test we know how disastrous that would be. We can see the evidence writ large on social media. Currently, the official Twitter account for the UK's governing political party has around 500,000 followers. Their leader has well over three million on his personal profile. In America the gap is much more exaggerated, with the current President displaying about thirty times the following of his party. There are few areas of activity dependent on public support where putting forward a single, human, focal point does not offer much greater performance potential than putting forward a team.

It's how we have relationships. We don't have relationships with "a team". Our friends are not "a team". They're individual people, with names, faces, and a voice we know when we hear it.

SO MAXIMUM COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT REQUIRES AT LEAST ONE “COMPANY CELEBRITY”


That doesn't mean you have to fly Rihanna in. You can create a brand celebrity of your own. In fact, some companies have multiple brand celebrities driving their message. And some brands don't even manufacture celebrities. They simply foster a culture where brand celebrities can develop naturally. It's surprising how easily celebrities emerge when company representatives are given the freedom to be themselves, rather than automaton mouthpieces who are so restricted in speech that they can't say anything at all.

Obviously, you need to make sure you're giving the right people that freedom, but unless you give someone some freedom and licence, this is not going to work. You can't build passion by saying nothing at all. There's a very long list of failed politicians who can attest to that.

You need to give your allotted representatives carte blanche to be themselves. Give them channels that allow them to connect with the public, and leave them to do that.

HOW DOES A FACE GAIN COMMUNITY TRUST?


Agree with the community. We trust people who agree with us. But don't just agree, because that looks fake. Instead, take agreement to a new level. Super-agree, by reflecting back what the community is saying, but in a more dynamic package that looks as if you're saying it yourself. This is exactly what influencers do. They've mastered the art of regurgitating popular opinion, but with such fire, vitality and personality that in the end, it doesn't look like they're agreeing with the community. It looks like the community is agreeing with them. They know they're saying the right thing, because they've seen the community say it. They're just glorifying it, attaching kudos to it, making it more chantable.

COULDN'T THIS GO DISASTROUSLY WRONG?


Brands have become almost hysterical with fear of saying the wrong thing on social media. But even in very high profile situations that fear is mostly unwarranted. The public are negatively triggered by bad intent - not merely someone mistakenly saying the wrong thing. And this applies at the highest level of publicity.

I'm old enough to remember when Central Tonight newsreader and reporter Joanne Malin swore on the early evening news show. Result? A pile of letters saying “Whatever you do, DON'T FIRE HER!” The public reaction of support was such that her job was actually safer the day after than it was the day before. The public are not stupid. They can tell the difference between a warm and inoffensive people-person lapsing too deeply into colloquial mode, and a scheming manipulator accidentally blowing their facade.

We should be aware that “cancel culture” is really the comeuppance of the scheming manipulator. It's not “one strike and you're out”. The people who find themselves being “cancelled” have more enemies than supporters, and they almost invariably have long catalogues of manipulative practice. The singular event to which their cancellation is attributed, is just a spotlight that throws their broader plot into focus.

One of the more recent instances of a company alienating a large number of consumers was that of Gillette's “toxic masculinity” advert of 2019, which created a widespread revolt, reaching up to celebrity level. The ad notably also received a lot of praise, but the overall effect on profits was highly negative. We should consider a few things in relation to this...

One, the ad was sanctioned from the top, with the full knowledge of senior decision-makers, and ample opportunity to reject elements that may not be wise.

Two, the concept of the advert was phenomenally stupid. Realistically, what would you expect to happen if you were a shop assistant handing some razors over the counter, and you said: “There you go Sir, and hey, don't be a shitty guy!” Would you expect that to end well? Obviously not. But equally, you know a shop assistant would never say that. So this wasn't a case of an employee having too much freedom. This was a case of bosses and managers collectively making an idiotic decision that a minimum-waged customer service rep would never entertain.

Three, this is a company whose adverts have done barely anything but lecture consumers on how they should be living their lives for more than a decade. A company which, when it did bother to talk about its actual products, was found in court to have exaggerated and lied about them. A company whose breathtaking hypocrisy saw it trying to mount the fourth-wave feminist bandwagon, whilst images of it literally using women's buttocks as ad boards were still circulating on the Internet. This is the precise pattern of events that leads to influencers being cancelled, and companies losing money. A slow drip of progressive arrogance, which finally culminates in a straw that breaks the camel's back.

The problem was not one ad. It was the light that one ad shed on the company's persistent, manipulative, disingenuous approach.

SETTING THE PLAN INTO MOTION


The idea of giving individual brand reps much greater scope to bond with the audience as friends rather than automaton mouthpieces, is in its infancy. But that's why it has so much potential. There are brilliant ghost-writers who can give your brand stars fantastic lines to deliver. Lines that can really encapsulate the way the public feel, without taking a side. Brought to life on video, the connection these communications forge with an audience can be incredibly strong. And the bond between the audience and your brand stars fosters a new kind of community management with real public allegiance. People care about those associates of yours. And when people care, they want to help. You're no longer on the back foot.

Obviously there are issues to consider. One of the difficulties encountered by brands who promote through individual representatives is that the best reps will probably overshadow the whole company in terms of reach, and that reach is portable for them, not the company. They may be head-hunted, they may choose to use their traction for their own purposes... In short, if they do really well, they're not going to be easy or cheap to keep. And if you lose them, you lose a lot of what they built. But the evidence has shown that this practice consistently works as a concept. And that means brand stars can be replaced.

So you if you're a business, you stand at the doorstep of a new means of community management, previously the preserve only of celebrities, influencers and politicians. There is no reason why you can't represent your brand through individual human beings the way politics does. Look around you. You know this works. So do you want to open this door? Or do you prefer the idea of facelessly pouncing on Tweets with a customary “Hey, let's take this into private creepy-creepy land” until it becomes a very embarrassing GIF?
Bob 'Interesting' Leggitt is a print-published writer, multi-instrumentalist and twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, Google-certified digital marketer, image manipulation expert, virtual musical instrument builder, "Twitter detective", and author of successful blogs such as Planet Botch, Twirpz and Tape Tardis. | [Twitter] | [Contact Details]