Question: social media and brand relationships

Posted by on Feb 19, 2009 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments


My chum Chris has asked this question:

We all believe that people's relationships with brands are changing as a result of Web 2.0.

But what's the real evidence for it?

Evidence that's more than anecdotal? Evidence that will stack up with a numerate skeptic?

My first thought are datasets like the Edelman Trust Barometer which has plotted the long-term decline or trust in companies and their activities…Prahalad laid out the argument here…

But what's the real evidence for it?


  1. Dan Thornton
    February 19, 2009

    There’s still not an adequate list of detailed case studies readily available, sadly. (An idea if I ever get enough spare time!)
    But the first example that springs to mind is comparing the ranking of banks on the trust barometer, with the fact that
    ‘Martin Lewis, creator of the “consumer revenge” website Money Saving Expert was the most searched-for personality by UK Internet users during the 12 weeks ending January 3 2009.’
    From Hitwise.
    But the difficulty is in finding the most concrete data which can’t also be attributed to the economy, for example, for the time being.
    And the fact that skeptics will always be incredibly hard to convince, particularly when most brands are still at the very early stages of changing – even the cutting edge ones.
    We could list the usual examples, such as the growth and revenue of Zappos, or the revenue generated by Dell via Twitter, or the ROI of the WillItBlend campaign etc.
    Or the circulation figures of U.S print media.
    Essentially though, the changes are a gradual evolution as more people are exposed to the idea that they might demand more interaction, or be able to switch more easily – compare the reluctance of most people when it comes to changing banks, with the churn rates of more modern ‘institutions’ like mobile phone companies, social networks etc.
    And often the people asking for the absolute, 100%, empirical data proof of social media, or web 2.0, or engagement etc, are the last to have the same data for the traditional routes, or to be prepared to admit those measures had any margin of error in them!

  2. John Dodds
    February 19, 2009

    1) Maybe the previously hidden reality of the relationships is now being revealed.
    2) Maybe there is a real change but one that has more to do with saturation and nothing to do with web 2.0 which after all is just a bunch of tools.

  3. Paula
    February 19, 2009

    We’re actually doing some research into this question right now and will hopefully summarize our findings in early March.

  4. James Cherkoff
    February 19, 2009

    Good question and I’m not sure the evidence to satisfy your numerate skeptic exists yet. However, there are many disparate figures that might pique his interest. Such as this report from Nike about their running community: “As of February, 2008, Nike+ members have run over 50,000,000 miles, logged over 14,000,000 runs and issued over 450,000 challenges. We created the world’s largest running club at 40% of community members who didn’t own Nike+ ended up buying. That is pretty tangible.” Is that evidence that people’s relationship with brands is changing? Maybe. Is it evidence that people’s interaction with brands is changing? Yep. So are we talking about a different interaction – or a different relationship?

  5. bonnie Larner
    February 19, 2009

    I haven’t an iota of proof that 2.0 has changed a relationship with a brand. It’s not so much people’s relationships with brands that are changing, but people’s relationships with each other.
    triiibe on!

  6. Samantha Wood
    February 20, 2009

    I suspect the truth is that the relationship _has_ changed, because the power balance between brand and consumer (and employer and employee) has shifted. Now in this real time world where we have no limit on our access to information and experience, it is so much easier for us to ‘walk’ on by and see what else is available to us.
    Although the relationship is still about “is this brand really right for me?” the pressure isn’t on the consumer to conform to the Nike brand (for instance), but rather for Nike to personalise themselves in such a way as to fit in with the consumer’s own personal brand.
    This means they *have* to interact differently and provide space for self expression, because that’s the only way for them to get reach a huge number of people and still make it feel personal.

  7. Steven Devijver
    February 22, 2009

    There is no evidence, there can’t be by design:

  8. Mark Earls
    February 24, 2009

    Thanks, Steven. Not sure I understand why there cannot be any evidence.

  9. Mark Earls
    February 24, 2009

    I tend to agree, Samantha. Just looking for evidence to demonstrate these kind of changes