If you hang about on any of the social networking sites, you will of course have noticed that more and more companies are joining you there. The advantages to them are obvious. It's another way to promote their brand and try to convert you into a customer. But now more than ever it's important remember that companies are not your friends.
The nature of social networks means that companies now have to interact directly with you. While this is a relatively new thing for the big brands, comic book companies amongst others have done this for years nurturing fans at conventions. Giving people a glimpse behind the curtain makes them feel a sense of ownership which of course encourages them to keep buying.
When people feel this sort of connection with a company their decisions are based at least partially on emotion rather than facts. They're also likely to go to surprising lengths to promote the company for free, both online and amongst their family and colleagues.
In some cases, people have formed this sort of connection with a company even when it doesn't embrace the social media. Apple is perhaps the most obvious example of this. Owning a Mac has taken on a cultural significance far beyond the qualities of either the hardware or software under discussion.
All this loyalty and enthusiasm is of course wonderful for the companies involved. It's the sort of promotion that money can't buy. A free sales force and PR team rolled into one, and an audience that is primed to buy whatever they are offering.
An obvious extension of this for companies has been to set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to "interact" more directly with their customers. Don't mistake this for real interaction however. This is a carefully controlled and directed PR exercise using employees paid to do customer relations work. They're not there out of love. Just to be clear, there are enthusiastic employees for many companies actively involved in social media. But they do it on their own time and not via company sponsored accounts.
So why am I droning on about things that seem perfectly obvious to you? Because I guarantee you are affected by this too. For me it seems to be Google. For no goodreason that I can give you, I find myself hoping for Google to win in battles that I'm not even involved in. This is utterly irrational. I have no vested interest in Google. I don't work for them, I don't have friends who work for them and I don't own any shares. I've assigned a personality to a company and decided that that personality meshes with my own.
Google is not my friend. Apple is not my friend. Marvel and DC are not my friends. They are companies. They don't have a personality and their sole function is to earn money. The decisions made by the people running these companies are made with the aim of earning money, not making me feel warm and fuzzy.
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