Can Brands Really Be Our Friends?

This is an article by Emma Gannon.
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Emma Gannon

Just the other day I realised that what my Facebook newsfeed provides and what I predominately use it for has changed significantly over the last year. My daily Facebook ‘stalking’ ritual now includes scouring the Facebook horizon for updates from brands, news curators or public figures; a quick and easy way of downloading information in bitesize chunks.

This time last year, my newsfeed would consist solely of updates about my friend’s outrageous antics of the night before and pitiful stories of the morning-after. As I scroll down my Facebook ticker right now, I have just seen an update regarding the St.Pauls protests via the Huffington Post Facebook page, a link from Michael Arrington (who I recently subscribed to), Imogen Heap has just posted an update about an upcoming gig and Burberry have posted photos of their new Winter make-up collection. I just ‘liked’ a post by Bombay Sapphire – does this mean I am now not only socialising with my friends but with an inanimate big blue bottle of gin? Yes, I believe it does.

So how are brands successfully permeating a space that used to be only for friendships and knowledge sharing between peers? This is where the ‘social’ part of social media steps in. Consumers are not dim-witted and brand messages are not always subtly placed and copy can often not flow. Including a stimulus within a wall post that asks fans for consumer research or to share their shopping habits can put off fans from revealing their thoughts.

To oppose this, brands should not try and ask questions that are overtly for the brands greater good, but ask questions that give an insight into what your audience find interesting (so you can build on it).

Last month Emma Barnett from the Telegraph wrote an article entitled Brands need to become ‘friends’ with customers on Twitter and Facebook”. I’ve always thought that being community manager is first and foremost about making friends on a local and global level, amplifying the brand by bringing a real personality to the fore and providing a streamlined social voice that the masses can relate to. So, how do brands ensure they become ‘friends’ with their customers?


Traditionally, a brand was just a ‘thing’ you used. An advert would display that object, sitting stationary in the middle of the screen. All marketing tactics would be two-dimensional, such a poster on a bus stop, billboard, cinema or TV advert. This ‘brand’ would talk at you, tell you things and any tactics would probably involve being an agency trying their luck at including hidden messages in a radio podcast. It was one sided, them being the talker, and you being the listener, with nothing but an eyeball interaction in between.

The personification of a brand brings tangible experience and real conversation. This personification is leading the way in innovative techniques for brands to be combine online and offline, such as creating augmented reality stunts and visuals and providing customers with experiences through located-based apps and offers. Interestingly, thanks to the popular social media platforms, we have switched roles completely. The brands are listening, and the consumers are talking.


As consumers, we are our own curators of information. We (to the extent we can) control our online identities as we learn to curate, aggregate, filter and search the things most personal to us. We have taught ourselves the ways to be our own public relations agent, displaying nuggets of information that we think best suit our identity and image, and thus, everyday we are leveraging our own personal brand. The joy of liaising with brands and public figures alike on the same platform, we know, thanks to the latest updates from Zuckerberg, can opt-in with subscriptions from brands and public profiles.

I think one of the important points to be made with social is that we are not in the age of telling consumers what they think they should need, because through the vast vat of the internet, people can find out instantly what they want to know and what they need. Using a website like as an example, consumers can compare their own prices, brands and specs easily and efficiently, and therefore choose and spread the word with friends online.

It is now up to us to make interesting and fun content; to fundamentally make the consumers want to come back for more.

In my mind, I feel the number of subscriptions is one of the most important out of all social media metrics. High levels of engagement by one-off users who stumble onto your page show good incentives from the brand and good traffic drivers. However, loyal fans that voluntarily subscribe to your channel because they like to tune in with your content on a daily basis is increasingly vital for continuous success. By building subscribers, the brand is displaying traits of being the ‘friend’, as people checking in on a daily basis to see what they are up to.

Human Instinct

This is where I believe brands can save themselves in terms of issues and crisis management. Being the ‘friend’ to your audience has never been so important. Common sense and human instinct plays a vital role in dealing with an online crisis. If something goes wrong or something incorrect or accidently offensive has been posted, then you use your personable skills to fix it.

There are people behind every brand, and all customers want to know at all times is the truth. Like a friend to a friend, keeping your customers updated frequently, admitting a fault and providing a quick and efficient solution to the problem normally results in a forgiving audience and a ‘let’s move on from this’ attitude.

You can discuss this article with Emma on Twitter here.


  1. I think there are limitations on the ‘marketisation’ of exchanges: if every relationship was about money, then we’d all be prostitutes.

    There are also brands that operate in more engaging sectors (I’m thinking of sport, fashion, entertainment; rather than personal hygiene.)

    I’m impressed with the thinking of your colleague at Edelman, Robert Phillips, who argues that we should be placing ‘civic’ above ‘consumer’. This seems very prescient at a time of the Occupy protests.


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