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personal-brand(Read time:  2 minutes) Pete Seeger got it right: “…The times, they sure are a changing…”  The crushing rise of Social Networks, iPhone connectivity and Facebook in particular (80+ million unique visitors in June alone!)  A just-published Nielson survey suggests that consumers trust real friends (no surprise, that) and virtual strangers the most – This can have immediate and game-changing impact on how companies must manage and defend their brands and reputations.  The risks have scaled enormously, with the opportunities.

Case in point from Core Contributor and Agency Principal, Carl Agers

Last Saturday, my wife and two of her friends were trading opinions of two retail clothing outlets. They were both planning on attending similar summer events and were discussing the options available at two establishments – one a higher end (read pricey) boutique and the other a chain with trendy non-designer (read less expensive) fashions.

The conversation quickly turned to a discussion of how its even trendy now to spend less and still look fantastic. In fact, much to my surprise their opinions of the brands were very different than I expected and were also evolving during the conversation.  Following a quick discussion, each woman pulled an iPhone out and separately ping’d their respective Facebook friends.  Within minutes, the responses had both multiplied and (here’s the learning for brand and marketing managers) had expanded to frank discussions of brand value, perception of quality, and customer service – all outside the big-brand’s sales channel reach

As I watched over the ensuing half hour, the trio’s buyer perceptions were crowd-shaped as networked-friends and then random consumers weighed-in – most armed only w/opinion bolstered by virtual group pile-ons.  Literally 100s of responses ensued. (Remember, these are ladies discussing clothes and fashion.  Great instant empathy for community conversation.)

For giggles, I quick ran the numbers to see how widespread the conversation had scaled:

  • 3 close friends each pinged their Facebook networks (~100 friends each)
  • 15% of the 300 friends in the tier 1 network responded = 45 active comments
  • 45 tier 1 responses were seen by their own respective Facebook networks (~100 each) = 4500 tier 2 impressions
  • 5% of the tier 2 network responded = another 250 comments
  • 250 tier 2 responses seen by their own respective Facebook networks (~100 each) = 25,000 tier 3 impressions
  • 2% of the tier 3 network responded = another 500 comments
  • 500 tier 3 responses seen by their own respective Facebook networks (~100 each) = 50,000 tier 4 impressions

You get the idea, even if the math gets a bit ugly – and all this inside 30 minutes, instigated by 3 iPhone pings. Ok, so dispute the network size (although Facebook reports that the average user has well over 100 friends in their network).

The consumer behavior hasn’t changed.   Consumers have always asked their friends/neighbors/peers for suggestions and recommendations.  What’s different as social networks go digital is the scale and speed.  No longer can companies push messages with reasonable assurance that the company itself will shape and control product perceptions and brand image.

Think carefully… Can your brand survive that iPhone connection to Facebook lurking inside a soccer mom’s purse?

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