Treat your ‘Fans’ with Respect

hese days, ‘Fan’ has become the most commonly used (and often abused) word amongst marketers and agencies. It comes up in almost all meetings and discussions related to digital marketing. There is nothing wrong in expecting people to like your brand and become a ‘fan’, but we need to look beyond just ‘fan’ acquisitions.

Recently, I have seen marketers compare notes on the growth in their ‘fan base’ and agencies boasting about their tactics to capture new fans. Increase in ‘fan base’ is getting quantified and specific fan acquisition targets are appearing in briefs with other key performance indicators. Getting people to press the ‘Like’ button on Facebook or getting them to follow you on Twitter is not that difficult. But keeping them engaged in a dialogue and getting them to market your brands to others is not that easy.

I have been observing activities of leading brands on various social platforms in general – Facebook and Twitter in particular. In my humble view, most brands make the mistake of using their fan pages as an extension of their broadcasting infrastructure. As soon as they start a Facebook page or a Twitter handle they flood it with their own products (or services), offers, and even advertising campaigns. It is nothing but a monologue and most of the content is not specifically created for social spaces.

For example, I recently saw photographs posted by Zara on its Facebook page and it was disappointing to see the photographs without any description and tagging. In one of the album posts, its latest magazine issue was simply scanned and uploaded rather than making that content suitable for Facebook. To me, it looked like a missed opportunity as hundreds of people giving their thumbs up could have certainly benefited from more meaningful and customised content. I have taken Zara as an example, but unfortunately it’s not alone as most brands are in the same boat.

‘Fans’ are passionate about brands and some of them do take the initiative to express opinions (positive and negative) on Facebook walls or Twitter handles of their favourite brands. These opinions largely emerge out of their personal brand experiences (or that of their social networks) and fortunately they care enough to actually post their opinions. Needless to say, most marketers don’t like negative comments coming their way, but engaging in a dialogue to solve problems is the only option available to them. Positive comments from fans are always accepted with pride but seldom treated with gratitude. I’m amazed to see there are so many positive comments on brand walls but almost no ‘thank you’ notes from the brands. Showing gratitude towards people who talk positively about your brand can only enhance your relationship with them. In effect, there exists an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with people who are passionate about your brand and wanting to have a dialogue.

Most discussions and strategies around ‘Fans’ are about bringing them to a brand and locking them in as long as possible. It is like a one-way relationship. Now compare this with any real-life social engagement. Consider this:

You get a very non-personalised party invite from me. You’re still kind enough to accept the invitation and come to my party. When you arrive, I don’t acknowledge you or introduce you to other people. Additionally, I keep boasting about my greatness and my party. I avoid you when you try to have a counter opinion and don’t show my gratitude when you say nice things about me. I don’t really care about your meal or drink preferences and serve you whatever is available. I interrupt when you charm other people in my party. I never acknowledge your kind gifts. And finally, I never ever come to your party but I expect you to keep coming to mine every time I organise it.

The question is “Will you come to my next party?”

I asked this question to my friends from the marketing and advertising industry. Needless to say, all of them came back with a resounding no.

Unfortunately, our industry doesn’t realise we treat our ‘Fans’ exactly like the above-mentioned party description. We expect them to join our brand pages through very generic invites; when they do join our party we don’t acknowledge them enough, we don’t introduce them to other like-minded fans, we don’t want their negative comments, we gloat over their positive comments but don’t say thank you, we give them the same content, and we don’t thank them enough for their business, but we expect them to keep buying our brand again and again.

Fortunately, ‘Fans’ are more forgiving than my friends, and they still come to brand parties despite the not-so-nice treatment. The least we can do is to start treating them with respect and actually go to a fan’s party with a beautiful gift.

Do brands have the courage and willingness to become ‘Fans’ of different individuals who they call consumers?

(Originally published on Nov. 10, 2010 on ClickZ.Asia)