What Makes a Brand Worth Following?
People are rethinking their relationship with social media. The endless scroll of content from family, friends, celebrities – and increasingly, brands – has always been nebulous. Holding a strange balance between distraction and inspiration, participation and escape and a recent wave of stories like “The Social Dilemma” have only exposed the deleterious role we always suspected these apps can play in our lives. That puts marketers like us in a delicate situation. If people are awakening to follow less online, why would they still follow a brand? I posed this question to my fellow MGHers and found the responses followed three general principles.
1. THEY’RE INTERESTING
Social media is a conversation tool. When we’re on it, we’re actively using it to read updates, join conversations, send jokes, and more. When we’re off it though, we often find ourselves passively using it as the subject of conversation. “Did you see Eric got a puppy?” “The pictures are adorable!”, “Are so-and-so dating?” “I can’t tell from their posts.” If we’re interested in a brand, there’s no difference. Sneakerheads sound off on whether or not they like Nike’s latest drop both in the comments and at parties. That connection is why they follow the account, not because they plan to buy every pair of sneakers they see.
Nike is a famous example, but there are plenty of smaller brands that stay interesting in different ways. Ashley Brannock, one of our go-to Art Directors, said Sticker Mule did a great job getting her to follow them. “They did a promotion where they gave away free stuff every day for 100 days, from a box of nuts to a free vacation, and I kept following to see what they’d come up with next. Turns out their feed is pretty cool, so I never left.” When asked if she buys custom stickers, she said “Nope, but if I ever need to I’ll probably use them.” That’s modern marketing, a niche brand creating and retaining interest with some silly giveaways and fun posts.
2. WE CARE ABOUT THEM
Our feed doesn’t just reflect our interests, it reflects our community. When I lived in Baltimore, I loved visiting Union Craft Brewing, and yet I never followed them on social media. Never even crossed my mind. But when I moved to Boulder, CO, I found myself engaging with their account all the time. I liked pictures, tagged friends in giveaways, and even donated to their COVID relief fund. It was an unexpected, welcome connection to home, and now I try to be conscious of the companies that matter to me before I move 1,000+ miles away from them.
Maeve Gonder, another brilliant Designer at MGH, made a similar connection this year. “I think my favorite brand to follow currently is Ash & Oak Salon. Honestly, I haven’t seen a salon in the area that gets this in-depth with their online presence and I know this absolutely is making a difference in their business.” She specifically loves how their entire social presence flows, from a consistently bold visual identity to a healthy rate of flash sales, and how their behind-the-scenes photos and stylist interviews are clearly done by a professional. “It makes you want to be a client of theirs because they’re so invested in what they’re doing. Everyone can attest to a bad haircut or dye job, but the curation of their feed reassures future clients that they don’t ever have to worry about that if they come into the salon.”
It’s not just small businesses that play a meaningful role in people’s lives, either. To Ryan Goff, CMO and head of the Social Media team at MGH, Sesame Street is the most important brand he follows. “As a dad of small children, I may be biased, but they find ways to connect audiences from all ages and backgrounds through always-relevant content that also nods to the past. They even established unique social profiles and voices for several of their most popular characters, including Grover, Cookie Monster, and Elmo. Each can regularly be found commenting on modern day events in their own voice and tone, including Count Von Counts number counter.” So while Sesame Street’s Twitter and your favorite salon’s Instagram don’t share a lot, what they do share is an understanding of the role they play in the lives of their customers, and their social media channels actively participate in that role.
3. WE JUST VIBE
Before you write this off as too vague, please know that vibes are serious business. The New Yorker dedicated 3,000+ words to the subject just last week, proclaiming that “what we’re after on social media is not narrative or personality but moments of audiovisual eloquence,” which is a refined way of saying we like to look at pretty things and listen to pleasant sounds. If we’re in a bad mood, we seek out the opposite. Dave Wassell, MGH’s CCO (and my boss), agrees, and it’s why he likes following YETI. “They really do a great job straddling the line of product and lifestyle. Everything’s on trend without being too trendy. They have a great outdoors vibe without being too outdoorsy, and the “Yeti Presents” films on their site are incredible -- both from a storytelling and production standpoint. Plus, their emails are just as beautiful and informative as their Insta feed. At the end of the day, I still marvel in the fact that they can get away with selling $300+ coolers. Do I really need another water bottle because it’s now offered in “Aquifer Blue?” I just might…”
The idea that a brand’s content contributes to the aesthetic of our lives isn’t so farfetched. Every day we are inundated with images designed to sell us something. If those images are ugly and the messages are loud, it’s fair to think that our moods might be too. But if they are beautiful, or at least attempt to be, perhaps our disposition might also become sunnier. That’s why mood boards have increased in popularity. It’s why Aimé Leon Dore, a streetwear brand I cannot afford, is one of my favorites to follow. Everything they put out into the social sphere reflects their sensibilities. If you like it, which I happen to, you can follow. If not, carry on. No hard sells. Not even any CTAs. It’s a remarkably refreshing approach in this day and age.
People describe how they’re feeling inwardly as a vibe, but they also vibe outwardly with others, particularly when values align. Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s has gained a cult following not just for their delicious pints, but also for a brand voice that speaks candidly about political issues other companies wouldn’t touch. It’s a bold approach that has certainly cost them customers while attracting new ones. What matters to them is that they post what they believe, and people gravitate towards that authenticity.
It’s important to reflect on our relationship with social media. Purge the brands, people, and platforms that bring us down; celebrate the ones that lift us up. It’s also important to see companies for what they are: Services. Andy Malis, our CEO and the M in our moniker, follows the MLB and his favorite teams “for highlights” and the streaming services he subscribes to “for premiere dates,” and there’s a massive amount of people online who are also just looking for dates, locations, and prices. Those people will always follow you. But if you want to hold on to everyone else, you need to be interesting, you need to know your role in people’s lives, and you have to be authentic, whatever that means to you.