Social Networks: brands and the market between real and virtual

The new scenario that is taking shape in terms of communication and investments on a worldwide level is that of the Internet. After having "branded" real things, the more structured brands - and not only those - are colonizing the virtual world. And the world of tissue is certainly not just standing by watching!

Paola Pellegrini

The net is a place that is in continuous evolution, a new connective tissue characterized by the abi-lity to link people and things that are far away from one another. Marketing and communication must keep it into consideration. In the last two years, this trend has become even stronger and today, many companies answer much more quickly to the marketing opportunities offered by the new media. The social and political worlds join these trends (see Obama's meetings with youths, in the California headquarters of Facebook transmitted "on demand" - April 2011). Even the tissue sector seems to have realized this and not even the Perini Journal is exempt from this experimentation. The PJL cautiously crossed the threshold of "social networks", entering a dimension that is still to be discovered, certain that it would more fully and completely understand its potential only with time.


The traditional approach of advertising needs radical changes in order to turn the usual relationship between enterprises and consumers into an opening, a dialogue and a co-creation process typical of the new media. Evolution and the continuous quest for the right means to reach the reference target through increasingly more surgical messages and campaigns capable of unleashing emotions and aspirations in a split second is today a must. Time is always too little and the attention span is always at a minimum... The new media do not create an imposition of the message but rather a voluntary participation that seems to yield a different efficacy.


Let's give some definitions. A "social network" (SN) is a web platform that exploits the potential of the new media allowing the user (person, company, brand) to manage not only its own network but also its own identity. Within these "virtual spaces" (forum areas) the user can build and exhibit its profile. The profile must be accessible, at least partially, to all users of the space. Starting from one's "own" space, a list of other users can be created - the network - with whom it is possible to enter into contact and to communicate. It is possible to go beyond one's own network and in particular, to explore other users' connections. And this is the very aspect that differentiates social networks from previous virtual communication media such as chats or forums: the ability to make one's networks visible and usable in order to detect personal, relational and even, why not? - professional (see Linkedin and Xing) and marketing opportunities.


Protagonists of these mechanisms are hence relationships that in a SN can be of two types: bi-directional or multi-directional. Facebook is bi-directional. A "friendship" request and acceptance is necessary in order to allow users to fully access the profile of the new "friend" and vice-versa. This mechanism creates "closed" social networks where only people accepted as "friends" can enter, or at most "friends of friends". Relations identified instead as multi-directional, typical of Twitter, distinguish the sender and the recipient. The sender's messages may be general, shared with lots of people or individual, i.e., directed at one specific recipient. Multi-directional exchange creates "open networks" where most of the recipients, defined followers, do not have other contacts with the sender apart from that of the social network. Two opposite but complimentary needs bond the sender and the recipient: senders are looking for visibility and want to put themselves on show; recipients, instead, want to know the impressions, the movements, the life of the chosen senders and to comment by entering this world and being part of it. It's a bit like looking for one's favorite channel or program on TV, memorizing it on the agenda in order not to miss any episodes, with the added possibility of actually introducing oneself into the saga!


The need for security, the need to associate, the need for esteem and self-fulfillment are just some of the more or less conscious variables that drive most of us to use the SNs. But the attraction for these virtual ambiences is not justified merely through this nor through the ability to offer opportunities that are very different one from the other - which remains, however, one of the most plausible explanations for their success. Recent psychological studies define the experiences connected to their use as "optimal experiences" since the SNs are able to supply their users with a sort of "reward". The capability of an experience to be gratifying - independently of the reason why it is lived - is generally the most effective kind of motivation and it is what leads the person to repeat it: following an initial approach phase to satisfy a need, we continue frequenting the SNs because the feeling of total absorption and involvement we get when we are connected causes an unexplainable sense of wellbeing!


This strong psychological appeal explains why a large portion of the time once dedicated to television has now shifted toward these media that not only allow us to relate to our real friends - overcoming the main constraints of face-to-face and the space/time contiguity - but also to extend our social network even to people that we have never met and probably never will meet! They allow us to decide how and when to present ourselves to our real-virtual friends, what to tell them, what images to propose, what aspects to reveal. They offer us the chance to disclose our "real self" in a more uninhibited manner than we normally do in real life and the chance to discover our friends' identity, to know what they do, their interests and the people they frequent. They are taking on an increasingly important role also in sentimental relationships because the seduction process, too, is made easier in this dimension. And also aggregation and the development of creative collaboration networks capable of generating new concepts, new ideas, new products and new styles become easier, too. Even the concept of "gift" is stronger in the SNs and it is what justifies the birth of many social activities in the net. So, all kinds of opportunities exist!


But there are, however, many "dangerous" dynamics. We speak of "inter-reality": a new dimension characterized by virtual/real hybrid relationships that blend together through the exchange of information. In forums and chats, the real world and the virtual one rarely enter into contact and in any case only through the explicit will of the interacting subjects. In the SNs, this always happens, even if the subjects involved do not want it or if they are not aware of it. We lose the ownership of our tags that may often be associated with others, even without our permission. SNs are hence a very powerful instrument with which we can describe and model our identity, but they are also an instrument with which "others" can easily do the same without our ok. Others can rebuild our real identity by following the tracks of our virtual one and use it for economic and professional purposes (for example to assess a candidate for a job interview), or maybe even fraudulent ones. Just by entering a person's name and surname you can discover his or her tastes, relationships, activities.

Everything seems to be much simpler and easier in this very special dimension certainly a fascinating butalso complicated one that attracts economic marketing and companies which increasingly consider the SN an important communication instrument for an effective direct dialogue with their target. Concepts connected to the pervasive power of advertising are found in these worlds: influence and manipulation go hand in hand with belonging and participation, creating an even more explosive mix. The interactive aspect that characterizes the new communication media is changing the role and characteristics of the consumer: no longer a passive subject like the TV spectator, but rather an active generator of contents, comments and discussions related to products/services, hence capable of interfering also in a company's reputation (see - A Reputation on the Web - Packvertising PJL n.34). Terms such as "spectAuthor" and "comment-Author" define the role of the consumer in the era of new media to a tee.


Social media hence represent a new "prime time" - the most important time span as far as visibility is concerned - and represent an unprecedented marketing opportunity since they exceed the typical intermediate figures of traditional marketing, allowing a direct connection between the company and its users. Mass marketing seems to disappear and a completely different social unit seems to be retrieved from the past. And with it come also less articulated and more personalized market forms where each one can manifest his/her opinion and choose - with the awareness typical of these new media - what to do, invent, how to dialogue or communicate and with whom (acquaintances, friends and strangers), how to promote events and activities, make reflections and connections, invade others' territories while maintaining his/her own identity.

That's why no business can afford not to explore these high-visibility channels capable of "selling" anything! •


The Tissue brands on Facebook: some more famous than others, there is Bounty, Tempo® and the Morbistenza®, Kleenex®, Grazie Lucart, Zewa, Renova Blackpaper... each of them with its own page and a good number of fans or "friends". On these pages, new web-business and web-communication strategies are applied and invented, with the tacit support of the users (almost absolute protagonists) and of the company (a sort of moderator), generating often unexpected dynamics and discussions.


FLICKR® here, we would like to mention Fazzoletti Tempo®'s Photostream (Tempo® handkerchiefs) where you can find official photos of the product and of the events or initiatives connected with this brand. Also, it is curious to note that also Tempo® photographs shot by other members of the community can be viewed: how's that for collaboration?


TWITTER: The Scottex® puppy and, of course, Renova Black. "Who wants to win a stuffed animal of me, the puppy? Find out how you can participate in the new Scottex® Collection contest"; this is one of the "tweetts" that the "star" of Scottex® has launched on the net. Renova uses Twitter to communicate its "moves" and the countless promotional activities that it organizes and that have always characterized this brand. The activities developed in this space mix with those brought forward in other web spaces and SNs: a sort of reiteration technique in a virtual "pass the word" process. "Followers" are just 4 for Scottex® and 160 for Renova but, since they are to be considered pioneers of this type of SN (it is not easy to find other "tissue-presences" on Twitter), we wish the best of luck to these initiatives!


Being "glocal" even virtually: Pampers is one of those brands that has more than just one page. There is the Pampers page, the Pampers Latino, Pakistan and the Comunidad Pampers. Here, mothers, nannies and godmothers from every part of the world exchange advice and sweet images of their "little ones". The purpose of this corporate marketing is successful competition in today's complex and fragmented market (even the virtual one!), and to do so, it is necessary to increasingly focus on the customer, generate added value and satisfy that customer. In this case, the Milagros initiative on Pampers Latino is well worth mentioning: it offers a cash prize for your child's education fund: on the net, even miracles become a reality.


The mascots on Facebook: on the pages of the Scottex® puppy, the baby elephant Teresita and the Carta Camomilla Ant, the traditional mktg strategies in support of the fabulous Big Five (TV, Print, Radio, Cinema, Outdoor) integrate with "online" activities aimed at improving many company aspects, with particular attention to enhancing the product's life cycle - basis for sales and business - and to highlighting the famous character that brought it to fame, involving the consumer in a practical way by, for example, selecting him or her as fan of the month!


The PERINI JOURNAL Fan Club on Facebook: a page with more than 700 fans (they may not be too many, but they're growing!) that does not want to be a duplicate of the magazine's already consecrated online presence with its website, but rather an amplification of its initiatives. Web mktg activities can be easily defined as a converging branch of traditional mktg that works in transversal fashion with the new media.


Tissue multinationals on FB: SCA and P&G. In these pages, themes and initiatives parallel to the "core business" can be treated, inviting the consumer to participate by offering advice on the topic of the moment, which may be anything from hygiene to bargain shopping. Any topic makes good "food for discussion"!

Login or Register to publish a comment