Brandstreaming is suspicious, or "Engagement" means "interaction"

This morning, I learned about brandstreaming, via a post on ReadWriteWeb, which itself covered a blog post from feed publisher Pheedo. I am incredulous about brandstreaming for the majority of companies; I think many will try and fail. I think those that do fail will do so because they do not understand that, for most companies, engagement means actually interacting with your customers, which takes dedicated people and therefore costs money.

First, some background on a concept nearly-too-new to have background. According to Pheedo, "A Brandstream is a consistent flow of content created by a brand." Pheedo is careful to explain that this is not just another content syndication strategy though; they feel that "Brandstreaming is not simply pushing information out to consumers ... A Brandstream shares and communicates a company's ideas, beliefs, passions, thoughts, and values." I'm not sure that I understand the distinction they're trying to draw (they're an RSS company, and RSS tends to be an outgoing-only technology), but it certainly does sounds good, if you turn off your brain.

The trick is, companies don't have passions, thoughts, or values, per se. The people who work there may, and the sometimes that comes through. That's tricky, though -- with so many people involved, it's very hard for a company to get both a reasonable product and an aura of passion; few even achieve the reasonable product part. Thankfully, what's more more important is that a company's customers have values, beliefs, passions, and ideas. And if your company helps its customers embody those, or even see themselves doing so in the future, then maybe people will be interested in your brandstream.

If your company helps users live their own passions and realize their own dreams, then people may want to identify with your brand--subscribe to it, follow it, and actual look at the press releases, product announcements, blog posts, and picnic pictures in your company's brandstream. If your brand inspires aspiration, then people will like the information that can fuels those aspirations. Otherwise, you need to leverage that material differently: as collateral in direct interactions with your customers. If you really want to use a brandstream to build your brand, there had better be a person tending the brandstream--watching how people interact with your materials and interacting back, communicating with those who are spending more time with your product than your marketing materials, and generally trying to understand (1) what your customers want to achieve, (2) where your product is letting them down, and (3) where you're doing well and can therefore build from. I have grown to really appreciate a good community manager; with one, people feel like there's someone watching out for them and interested in their needs. And, if you have a good community manager, and that manager does build a community, then maybe your customers will identify enough with your brand to want to follow your company's output. Chances are though, people don't--not without a lot of encouragement and personal interaction. To engage your customers, you need to have someone with them. Just resyndicating your press releases on friendfeed, though, is not going to build you any good will; it's just more noise, and I'm way too busy trying to figure out how to achieve my dreams for noise I can easily ignore.