The social media world await a new world to define brand image, but something else is lurking- consumers. Organizations and brand managers no longer control brand image online. Consumers no longer want to be marketed at; they want to be part of the conversation. No longer passive, consumers need to be not only engaged, but empowered. Consumers that are able to get involved with the product selection or marketing process experience a shift in thought; they develop a psychological ownership to the product or brand because they had a hand in the development.
To reach this level of engagement it helps to have a basis of trust and respect with target audiences. Earned media is an excellent source for both an organization and consumers that look towards other third parties for guidance. But before earned media comes about, interest from influencers must be gained. These online influencers can allow organizations to reach not only audiences they targeted, but also an even broader audience. Influencers act as a filter for audiences because of the information overload they can experience online; therefore, consumers look towards just one trustworthy source. This gives organizations third party credibility.
Once interest is built through earned media, the consumers voices must be steered in a direction that is desirable for the organization. Ditch the top-down approach to social media marketing, and encourage user-generated content (UGC). UGC can be in the form of reviews, ratings, incentivized content (for example sweepstakes), other contests that require photo submissions or idea submissions. The Lays ‘Do Me a Flavor’ campaign where customers were asked to create and vote for new chip flavors exemplifies this well; they had over 22 million visits to their competition Facebook page per week during voting. Although the food industry is another world, the idea of engaging customers to create a new product not only encourages engagement, but empowers it too. This level of engagement can be translated to any industry by harnessing the power of UGC and consumers will amplify any social media marketing efforts.