No one cares about the Fortune 500 on social media

How small, nimble companies can outperform the biggest brands

In the brilliant One Up On Wall Street, Peter Lynch argued that individual investors could achieve great results by seeking stocks inherently off-limits to big institutions. It’s a smart strategy on the internet, too. The world’s biggest brands may be adept at multi-million-dollar global ad campaigns, but the Fortune 500 doesn’t have much to say on social.

Want to broadcast your small business’ message in a digital world where money and attention are focused within an increasingly narrow set of quasi-monopolies? For brands with genuine, relevant value to offer, social media remains the rare arena where consumers call the shots. When brand content is viewed directly next to messages from the friends, professional networks and family members, bland, sanitized advertising doesn’t hold much appeal. And institutional roadblocks virtually guarantee scintillating social content like this:

Really? No way!

What holds them back?

Senior executives don’t understand social media.

Perhaps the most fundamental issue for Fortune 500 brands on social is that higher-ups typically built their careers prior to the dawn of Web2.0. They don’t use social networks personally (except maybe a Facebook account shared with a spouse) so they overlook the value.

For executives used to evaluating traditional media, it’s hard to compare metrics from social. How much is a mention on Twitter worth compared to an impression delivered by a TV spot? Print, radio, and TV advertising have been around for decades, and have a well-established marketplace for purchasing said impressions. Investing in social content is inevitably a lower priority.

Some campaigns don’t really translate from TV.

Legal concerns and guidelines

A hallmark of the giant corporation: all-consuming fealty to ‘brand equity.’ What if someone uses a hashtag in off-brand Vine? What if an activist complains in a Facebook post? Marketing plans at large organizations often prioritize avoiding negative situations at the cost of obvious opportunity.

Assuming that our hypothetical corporation has a social effort, the next hurdle is likely to be a cautious legal department. Being interesting on social media sometimes means exposure, in an era where legal precedent has entirely failed to keep pace with technology. Playing it safe on social will lead to some truly mind-numbing, useless content.

Fascinating power meter #innovation

Too many layers of approval to act quickly

Another sticking point for the community managers behind the biggest brands is the need to vet… everything. Large corporates have well-oiled machinery for approving advertising content. Generally speaking, creative passes through several layers of marketing, legal and financial executives before it can be released into the wild.

It’s not unusual to see the most banal content planned out months before it could possibly be used. Of course, an Instagram post is not the same as print insertion… just don’t tell the multinational institutions you’re competing with on social:

One of my favorite holidays!

They don’t have anything to say.

A recent trend in integrated marketing: the always-on approach, where the social profiles can never fall silent. It’s too risky to interact with actual users in social media, but we can always run images from a magazine campaign, or (worse!) ‘real-time’ content from events like the World Cup.

I imagine there are many local restaurants that can produce content more compelling (and inexpensive!) than photoshopped French fries as a soccer team.

Wow, such fun!

Who’s doing it right?

It’s easy to find individuals who are great at social media. It’s hard to find brands that are authentic and valuable. Nonetheless, allow me to make a few recommendations:

Moo

Moo (the printing company) does pretty much everything right as a business, so it should be no surprise that they have a fantastic social presence. Look at this post! It includes a fan offer of value (admittedly at a very low cost to Moo), nice imagery, a snappy hashtag and it’s timely to boot.

I imagine this did not go through seven layers of approval.

Kogi BBQ

A pioneer in the food truck game, Kogi is often credited as the first vendor to announce their location on social media. They’ve grown a bit since those days, but Kogi is no less passionate on Twitter. Kogi BBQ engages with EVERYONE they can, retweeting, favoriting and replying with emojis, questionable language, blurry photos and other content that would leave many a brand manager ducking for cover.

It’s fun, it works!

Benefit Cosmetics

No one social network is right for all brands. Benefit has found their niche on Instagram, a platform with a tremendous beauty community. Their best posts demonstrate products, or feature influential beauty bloggers. Involving your fans is a sure way to build interest in your social profile.

Involving your fans builds tons of goodwill.

Social media should be fun. It’s not advertising, you can’t control it, and the law hasn’t quite caught up to how most social networks operate. If you’re enthusiastic about your company, this is going to be easy.

Images are all screenshots from the official brand social pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.