The question which brands are the best at “socializing” with their audiences is often asked, but rarely answered. Now Vitrue, a social media advertising solutions company, has attempted to capture a snapshot by releasing a Top Social Brands of 2008 list. The ranking is based on the Social Media Index (SMI), a measurement system the company launched to help track brands' share of voice on the social web. The Top 100, which range from the iPhone, CNN, and Disney at the top of the list, to Jet Blue, Puma, and Sears at the bottom of the list, were drawn from Vitrue's daily analysis of online conversations about more than 2,000 popular brands in blogs, social networks, microblogging services, and photo and video-sharing sites.
Strikingly missing is the Obama brand, arguably the most social brand in 2008, and there are other shortcomings. Vitrue’s press release states that some powerhouse technology brands were omitted from the list “as they provide the backbone of many social networks. While Google, Facebook and others are top brands, The Vitrue 100 is measuring companies that are using social technology, not those who are the technology.” You could argue, of course, that this distinction is rather arbitrary as the lines between technology and content are somewhat blurry and will continue to dissolve. Just take the iPhone as an example – it provides social technology, per Vitrue’s definition, but also uses it to socialize its own brand. The same applies to Amazon, CNN, the New York Times, and all other brands that constitute either latent or manifest social networks online.
Another pitfall is the narrow focus on volume and the lack of analysis as to what makes brands score higher. A high score may not always be attributed to an effective social web strategy. Brands may simply top the list because their sales have been successful and they are therefore much talked about (or, conversely, everyone’s talking about them because their sales are tanking). There is no metric for measuring if the conversations were largely positive, negative, or highly contested. As one commenter on Vitrue's blog poignantly remarks: “Looking at brands as something capturing share of voice online, without understanding the drivers of said volume, is kind of like looking at shadows on the cave wall and mistaking them for the truth?”
In any case, Vitrue’s list has started an interesting conversation and helped socialize its own brand.
Press Release: Announcing The Vitrue 100
Advertising Age: The Most Social Brands of 2008