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Can Brands “Nudge” us via Social Media?

In our 3/30/10 blog there is commentary about Brands’ use of social media, ideally stimulating consumers to generate and spread user-generated content.   One thought is to use the principles laid out in Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein to “nudge” people to take action on the brand’s behalf.  How to do that is not well documented yet, but maybe there are some lessons from the passionate brand foes – as in Nestle’s current imbroglio around palm oil sources.  There are about 95,000 Facebook “fans” protesting Nestle’s sourcing, and there has been a lot of publicity about this.  How has this protest achieved its scale?

  1. There is a group of passionate consumers – in this case, passionate about protecting rain forests – there has to be passion about a core belief or value at the heart of any initiative, it is the motivator. Ideally, a Brand would tap into deep seated core values (think “laddering”).
  2. The activists who have protested on Nestle’s Facebook page have deployed a variety of tools, including altered brand logo avatars, to personalize and communicate their message.  Providing the tools for users to personalize the Brand engages them and provides content they can share but it must be a light touch. This taps into the same psychology that results in people using Lexus travel mugs or sporting Nike logo clothes.
  3. The Nestle protestors are integrating social media with good old PR, to achieve a big media impact.  

How Nestle responds to this is being closely watched.  Should Nestle shut down this Facebook page altogether to limit this as a channel for the protestors? Or keep it open, reflecting the philosophy of “staying accessible”?  Nestle has provided a reasoned, environmentally sound, and calm defense of its sourcing policies, but wants to avoid a shouting match.   What more should the Brand do to deflect the damage and rebuild its image? Does it undertake a more ambitious PR and social media campaign to showcase its environmental stewardship, enlisting its core users?

Brands’ use of social media is very much in its infancy, not only because it is a new tool to Corporations, but because the technology is evolving so fast, and the user base is diverse and evolving so fast.   We might expect that any “rules of engagement” that work today, may not work tomorrow, as the technology, and those who are using it, continue to evolve. 

Here are some ways Marketing Research can contribute to effective use of social media for your brand.

  1. speak to consumers’ passions: Use qualitative research to uncover these core values, use quantitative to prioritize and evaluate how to best communicate about them.
  2. provide ways to personalize the brand: Marketing Research could be used to discover and evaluate potential “personalizing” tools, which are likely to differ by Brand.
  3. Integrate with PR, facilitate sharing with others: Reward consumers for interacting with others about the brand to build loyalty –just as we test promotional vehicles, we can test the power of alternative ways to motivate sharing about the brand.

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One Response to Can Brands “Nudge” us via Social Media?

  1. I can see how an astute market researcher could play a valuable role in the creation and tracking of a company’s social media plans, especially when they are considering product introductions or changes – or attempting to turn customers into evangelists. This is a meaty post, worth further conversation among the marketing professionals – in-house and outside.

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