Brands Are Not People

And why you should avoid this trap if you want your brand to be successful

It’s one of the most used metaphors I have seen in a planning department (and I've been to a few) that Brands are People and therefore should have a personality, an attitude and a set of beliefs just like people do. But with Social Media, I recently learned, this metaphor is broken.

Two months ago I decided to (1) understand how the different “social networks” of today are being used for consumer marketing and (2) create a systematic approach to identify what can be considered “good” and “bad” content from a consumer perspective.

So I created a database and started cataloguing the most popular profiles on each service (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr), keep track of their fan base size and the content published by those profiles.

This system I built currently monitors more than 6,000 accounts and I’m just getting started with the analysis that got me started on this journey in the first place but — even though they should not come as a surprise — my first findings astonished me because of how brutally they come to life in the numbers.

1 // People don’t care nearly as much about Brands as they care about other people

When ranked by size of their fan base, you almost never see a brand among the top 25 profiles. That means regardless of all the money being spent today and spent in the past on sponsored reach and fan base growth, most brands are relegated to a merely supporting role on Social Media.

The level of interest people demonstrate for consumer brands on social media is ridiculously low when compared with celebrities and media.

Here are the very few Brands that appear on the fan base size rankings:

  • Facebook: Coca-Cola (#4), Mc Donald’s (#18) and RedBull (#22)
  • Instagram: Nike (#23)
  • Twitter: no brand among the top 25 profiles.
  • YouTube (Subscribers): no brand among the top 25 profiles.
  • YouTube (Total Video Views): no brand among the top 25 profiles.

Brand fan bases are also dramatically smaller than those from Celebrities, using the top 10 profiles from each group (Brand vs. Celebrities) they are, on average, close to a third of the size on Facebook (33M vs. 83M), half on Twitter (10M vs. 22M) and a fourth the size on Instagram (5M vs. 20M).

Source: — November 2014

Not only Fan Bases are smaller but also engagement rates (total amount of interactions of any kind as a percentage of the fan base) of the top 10 are dramatically smaller: Facebook (0.04% vs. 0.4%), Twitter (0.02% vs. 0.04%) and Instagram (3.2% vs. 4.4%).

Brands and Celebrities on Social Media are two completely different worlds and comparing them, I learned, is moot. Which lead me to my second finding.

2 // People engage differently with posts by Brands and Celebrities

I know how much everybody loved 100 days of Oreo Sutra on Facebook but the truth is that while virtually nobody is interested in brands that talk about themselves, that’s exactly what what they want from the celebrities they follow — and that is why Kim Kardashian’s kids gathered 1.6M+ likes on Instagram becoming one of the most popular posts on the platform so far.

For the record, and before we start talking about what seems to work in the Brand world, the most popular post by a brand on Instagram that I have record of is this one by Nike with less than 320k likes as I write this article.

In the social media world of celebrities, the most popular posts in any service (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) are about their new haircut, their kids, their friends and — sometimes, only sometimes — some athlete talking about a recent game (mostly Neymar Jr.) or a combination of 2 or more of these.

People are genuinely interested in them and in everything they do.

Some of the most popular posts of November from Celebrities. Source:

But the world of Brands is completely different: the most successful brands are not the ones that entertain with triviality but those that actually bring something to the party. This month we saw recipes (from Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Jell-O and Green Giant that constantly had their posts among the most popular of the day), inspiration (Nike, Go Pro) and service to the community (like Applebee's and Wendy's).

Obviously, there will always be Victoria's Secret bringing the girls to the afore mentioned party and no social media commentary this month is complete without mentioning Alex from Target. So here it is.

Some of the most popular posts of November from Brands — Source:

As you can see, in the case of Brands and Social Media, people are not interested in the Brands (or their campaigns) but in what they offer and it doesn’t matter how large of a fan base a brand has, people will not engage with the content if it is not truly relevant.