A new report by former Forrester analyst and Groundswell co-author Charlene Li has evaluated the social media engagement of the world's most valuable brands – and Starbucks comes out on top.
"While much has been written questioning the value of social media, this landmark study has found that the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social media engagement. The relationship is apparent and significant: socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful."
This claim has always been made for marketing and public relations, of course. Those companies that listen to their customers and are more responsive to their markets or environments should perform better. But there are some new dimensions to social media:
- The proliferation of media channels poses a problem. Not all top companies choose to manage their relationships across multiple channels.
- Media and technology companies have a headstart when it comes to social media. This finding is consistent with the list of brands used to support the authors' case in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. But where is Apple? Answer, 'selective' in its use of social media.
- The four categories of engagement are 1) mavens – highly engaged in multiple channels; 2) butterflies – they are widely involved but less engaged; 3) selectives – fewer channels, but highly engaged where they choose to be; 4) wallflowers – fewer channels and less engagement.
There's one more thing not addressed by the authors. When you look at the top five brands (Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google, Microsoft) I'd suggest there's another dimension to be considered. They are all 'yo-yo' companies that evoke strong 'love-hate' responses (sometimes even simultaneously). Take Starbucks: the Seattle business with an exemplary approach to community and corporate responsibility is for some one of the more visible examples of rapacious globalisation and anti-competitive practices. Similar contradictions can be noted about Dell and Microsoft, and even eBay and Google have experienced growing pains and the difficulty of living up to youthful idealism ('don't be evil').
So is prominence another factor? On the grounds that 'he who lives by the sword dies by the sword', some prominent brands have chosen a high-profile leadership position and have little option but to engage with the public (including their critics) in all available forums. Others that have adopted a more cautious 'business to business' approach have the option to be more selective (though this exemption does not apply to Apple – ever the maverick.)