Are Brands People, Media or Publishers? You’re Missing the Point.

Like any professional industry, social media discussions can become unnecessarily “confrontational.”

The air quotes are to emphasize this confrontation isn’t heated by any means. It’s usually a keyboard-based back and forth that starts when someone makes a point, and someone else splits hairs to create a counterpoint.

That’s what happened in the latest Ad Age Digital column, “No, Brands Aren’t People — and Consumers Don’t Want Them to Be.” The article, a response to “Why Brands Look Like People on Facebook,” goes to great lengths to draw a distinction between humans and brands.

People are complex organisms, products of tens of thousands of years of evolution. Brands are a device invented relatively recently to make it easier for consumers to identify a product and differentiate it from its competitors. Most people, when encountering brands online, realize that there may be humans associated with it, but the brand itself isn’t a person.


I’m doubting anyone argues the above point. The article goes on to cite research noting “only 23 percent of consumers have brand relationships.” Well, if your brand has a presence on an engagement platform as a nameless, faceless entity that follows strict communication guidelines that tend to anonymize it, 23 percent is a smash success as far as I’m concerned.

A Tale of Two Opinions
Less the hair-splitting, both articles make some valid points. But when it comes to a brand’s social media presence, marketers need to understand Social Brand.

  • Purpose: What’s the brand’s purpose of being involved in social media?
  • Tone: What’s tone will the brand have on social platforms?
  • Content: What content is best-suited to engage with consumers in a sustainable fashion? The conversation will ultimately need to be broader than just the brand talking about itself to keep consumer attention.

So in reality, both articles are correct. But they miss a larger point that when dealing with consumers on social platforms, a new approach needs to be taken for success. Consider that roughly every marketing platform prior to social media has been broadcast — whether it’s a niche or broad reaching channel, using a targeted or general message, we’re pushing out a message.

If we want to truly connect with consumers using social media, we need to do it on their terms, their turf and — as a result, considering how people serve up a brand through paid, earned and owned social media.

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Kevin Dugan
Kevin Dugan

My content creation habits were formed as a kid -- filling notebooks with writing and taking stacks of pictures. These habits have evolved through my 20 years in marketing, as I’ve been immersed in all forms of content, social media and online technology. As Editor-In-Chief of Media is Power, I guide editorial strategy and ensure your needs are met. This is one way I help tell Empower’s story as the director of content.