Social media’s popularity in amplifying brand messaging, engaging and interacting with customers is a hot button for many established businesses who recognize the importance of reaching audiences in new ways. When brands seek to build up identity loyalty among consumers, it is important to recognize that consumers interact on social media in ways similar to their own social behavior off-line. In many ways, social media interaction is a lot like dating.

Parallels to Dating
As Samuel Botts, partner at PersonaPartners points out, “Brands are using social media to either create a relationship with customers in the same ways that an individual might use a dating site to find a potential partner. And just like with online dating sites, successful relationships only develop when is authentic and its intentions are transparent.” The digital agency Huge has pointed out these parallels in social media to existing social relationships.

At SXSW this year, Mea Cole Tefka and Andrew Cunningham from Huge, shared a presentation about these ideas. Tefka points out, “Our life experiences had individually felt like a never-ending cycle of the high school atmosphere: establishing oneself, meeting new friends, and climbing the social ladder both personally and professionally.”

As companies strive to reach audiences via social media outlets and build identity loyalty, it is important to remain authentic to brand values. Instead of trying to force engagement by infiltrating Facebook feeds, it is advisable that companies get invited and that people seek them out. “Brands have to be much more subtle so it doesn’t come off as, ‘We’re invading your space to try to sell you something,” says Americus Reed, Persona Partners. “There’s a big authenticity push now.”

Your Personal Brand Matters Too
Reed also points out that social media engagement extends beyond corporate accounts to personal ones as employers, clients and networks pay attention to the digital footprints of people they want to work with. In fact, he points out, ““Twitter and Facebook are a bit of a loaded gun. With whatever you post, you’re signalling something about who you are.”

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Empowered Consumers and Signaling Value?
“The Internet and social media have massively expanded the range of information available to consumers about products and brands,” says James Surowiecki, staff writer for the New Yorker in a  with Dr. Barbara Kahn, Director of Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at The Wharton School, Americus Reed from Persona Partners and WHYY Public Radio. As consumers become empowered, their knowledge affects their affiliation for brands and subsequent identity value. ??“In the new world we live in where information is readily accessible and search cost is zero, people have more power. I think all that really does is expose the brands that are really not doing what they are supposed to be doing. The brands that do not deliver on their features are the ones that get exposed. The brands however that can tell a story showing how they authentically connect with consumers are actually benefiting I think from increased [identity] loyalty. Consumers will seek out information that is consistent with what they want to believe.”

In summary, recognizing how people engage on social media networks is essential to crafting a communication strategy and messaging that will connect authentically with your audience. It is important to create content that mirrors your actual brand values as consumers can easily do research on your company and key players as well. As you build up social equity in content that genuinely articulates values your brand believes in and supports, you will also build up a corresponding audience that appreciates what your brand has to offer and in turn, develops a strong identity loyalty to your brand.