Brand networking is the engagement of a social networking service around a brand by providing consumers with a platform of relevant content, elements of participation, and a currency, score, or ranking. Brands are using brand networking to create communities that serve as a fully encompassing interactive destination to encourage brand participation online and off. This evolved level of user participation with the brand creates strong relationships with consumers and leverages sales and generates fan equity.
The development and growth of social networking in the early 2000s gave birth to brand networking. Brands saw the immediate potential to reach and interact with consumers through online platforms like Facebook and MySpace. At first the ability to reach consumers by way of these platforms was inadequate; brands had the option to join as members or simply advertise on these sites. The potential existed to not only display advertisements to consumers, but to engage them to interact with the brand. This is when brands made the shift to create their own networking platforms. Less evolved attempts to connect brands with consumers via networking typically are built as online platforms meant only to complement a product/service and are limited in functionality. Typically these sites offer consumers the opportunity to interact through discussion boards and group pages. The Guiding Light Community was built to complement the popular CBS television soap opera. The site offers members reward points for contributing content to discussion boards and blogs (which is all geared toward the show).
Brand Networking is more than a social networking platform; it is connecting consumers together and constructing relationships directly with the brand. Three key elements, in unity, create brand networking: relevant content, elements of participation, and a competitive currency.
• Websites in conjunction with other media types (TV, radio, print, etc.…) present relative content around a vertical industry or sector of interest or cultural/social issues for a brand. This can be in the form of weight loss, marketing, or business—any content relative to your brand message. Relative content is not only provided by the brand, but also in the form of consumer generated media. By creating a network consumers interact and create content for online site.
• Next a brand provides participation with consumers online and off. This is accomplished through the combination of typical social networking features online (personalized page, friends, groups, messaging), to interconnect fans, and elements of involvement offline. This is not simply connecting online platform with mobile devices, but providing separate mobile features jointly with a secondary media type to drive online usage and build relationship with brand on the go. By participating in mobile campaigns users are interacting with the brand outside of traditional brick and mortar or e-commerce destinations.
• The final element of brand networking involves incentivizing participation with the other two elements. The addition of a currency or point system acts as an anchor to your brand and your network in addition to creating a competitive nature between consumers. These points are distributed for activity outside of the networking site. By incentivizing usage offline the brand image is re-enforced for the consumer and strengthens the relationship. Turning a brand message into an interactive competitive element of a network, consumers are turned into promoters for both the brand and the users benefit. When done properly a brand can effectively interact and network with consumers for the long term. Once a consumer is locked into your brand network with the combination of these three key elements they become fans of the brand.
Fan equity is the idea by locking in consumers to a brand; they are turned into fans of the brand. As fans they are promoting, interacting, and consuming on a daily biases and become assets Apple Inc. is one example of a company possessing fan equity. Customers of Apple are extremely brand loyal and are assets to them.
Creating a fan generated brand is a very hard but effective method of business. Through the use of brand networking a company is able to build a consumer/fan base which provides a strong relationship between business and consumers. The trust is formed and then fans do a lot of work for the brand by word of mouth. Peer to peer channels are the strongest means of communication for a brand (Libai, Bolton, Bügel, De Ruyter, Götz, Risselada, Stephen, 2010), but also one in which they can only influence and not control. For example if a customer experiences bad service with a brand they are less likely to recommend that specific brand to their family or friends.
This method of business is argued to be a relationship handled by the brand generally for their own gain (Bourne, Szmigin, 1998). Many fans do not realise the work they are doing for companies by using their product or service. Facebook is a major fan based brand which has become a global phenomenon through customer use with social media features such as sharing and commenting. The strategic system has a very large fan equity that interacts on a daily bases, allowing the brand to look at trends and certain groups giving them an advantage of remaining ahead of competitors.
The innovative technology has made brand networking simple but effective with social media taking over the world, brands are hoping on board. Marketing and advertising through social media continues to grow with popular innovative smartphone apps such as snapchat and Instagram. Brands can display and promote their products/services very efficiently at a very fast rate where consumers share and contribute to the brand on a global scale (Jothi, Neelamalar, Prasad, 2011). This can also be seen as online word of mouth exposure that can be good or bad feedback for brands.
Once consumers become fans they are typically very loyal, which can create positive word of mouth for a brand. Fans become a valuable asset boosting the status and reputation. Different perceptions of brands can be pinned down to a person’s origin or religion which creates a difficulty when trying to enter a market or gain market share (Chen, Su, Lin, 2011). Businesses need to be aware of the types of products or services they introduce to a specific market, by insuring they are culturally sensitive they may retain or even gain some fans.
Fan pages are created on social media to keep the on-going relationship between brands and consumers. By engaging and interacting with consumers, brands are able to obtain fans and produce positive imaging (Jahn, Kunz, 2012). Social media can also bring bad publicity to a company which will result in a loss in fan equity. With the unpredictable nature of humans it is important for brands to retain fan equity to ensure a solid base of sustainability. Some fans become attached to brands and are often encouraged to remain as fans through the use of celebrities endorsing the brand (Thomson, 2006). The addiction can become very intense and begin to control people’s lives forcing them to make poor decisions, these fans are called obsessive consumers (Chung, Farrelly, Beverland, Quester, 2005). Obsessive consumers can be exploited by brands as they are the most loyal fans and will always be supportive.
This is a very unethical marketing, advertising, retailing and sales (MARS) method that locks in consumers to the same ideology the brand promotes. Unethical practise leads to unhealthy branding, which is recognised by educated consumers that will cause negative peer to peer information about the brand. This will contribute to a loss of fan equity and a great deal of bad publicity. Experiences within fan equity has a massive effect on brand networking and affects potential future relationships. The equity of a brand is maintained and controlled by different factors managed by brands and filled by fans concept of the brand.
Fan equity is effected by many decisions of a brand, which looks to build relationships with a target market. Once they have entered the market companies look to develop relationships with consumers locking them into their fan base. Furthermore, enhancing the relationship by gaining the support of loyal customers that will represent their brand in a positive manner.
There are several examples of brand communities already in existence.