“Friend” is the big buzzword right now. Many brands seem to be in a frenzy over the need to “friend” consumers on social networks like FaceBook and MySpace.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, it’s important for us to step back and ask the question:

“Does my brand have what it takes to be a good friend?”

If not, asking consumers to become your friend can actually back fire. Most of us already have more relationships than we feel we can handle. Don’t ask us to commit to another one unless you are sure you can deliver some added value.

Figuring this out whether your brand is “friend-worthy” is pretty similar to evaluating friendships in real life.

Here are my criteria for friendships (the human and the brand ones).

1. BE INTERESTING. Have something relevant and/or useful to say. If you don’t, leave me alone. No viral strategy is going to help you. It’s not going to make you seem cooler or hipper than you actually are. Consumer s are a pretty savvy lot and can see right through that. Just like a nerd is still a nerd, no matter how pimped out the sneakers. If you can’t pass this test, you need to step back and do some pretty basic brand work on your value proposition .

2. BE THERE IN GOOD TIMES AND IN BAD. Most of us have lots of people we can list as acquaintances, but can probably count on one hand the number of people we’d call at 4am in the morning during an emergency or a moment of existential anguish. Real friends are there in good times and in bad. And since we are often in the “bad times” camp lately- brands need to prove there in it for the long haul. It’s been talked about a lot – but the Hyundai layoff protection is a great example of this.

3. KNOW WHEN TO STEP UP AND WHEN TO BACK OFF. People who know me well, know not to talk to me in the morning until I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and have successfully finished NY Time’s Crossword puzzle. Once I’ve had time to properly wake up…I’m all yours. Similarly, my good friends know not to call me after 9pm. I always think it is bad news, and it disturbs the precious “tucking in” time I have with my family. Good friends seem to have a kind of ESP. They call just as you were thinking about them. Great brands also seem to contact me just at the right moment- when I’m thinking about taking a trip, re-ordering my contact lenses, or looking for a killer spring dress.

4. DON’T TRY TO BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE. There are friends I like to exercise with, others I like to go out drinking and dancing with, intellectual book buddies, friends I turn to for career advice, and others that just make me laugh. I don’t expect any one friend to satisfy all my needs.I appreciate them each for their individual gifts. What I do hope for is that they be authentic and consistent in what they can offer. The same is true with brands. I don’t want my shampoo to give me financial advice or to teach me ways to be more green. First and foremost, do what you’re supposed to do – really well.

5. DON’T SHARE ALL MY SECRETS. The quickest way to lose a friend is to betray their trust. Brands need to learn this. Consumers aren’t stupid. It’s no coincidence to me when I sign up for a newsletter on healthy living and all of a sudden I get an email or an offer in the post for a new weight loss pill or low fat cooking magazine. I know who has been sharing my information. Treat relationships with respect and the bond will be stronger.

So if you are having conversations about viral strategies, deepening relationships etc, etc, it might be a good idea to first to step back and make sure your brand really has what it takes to be a good friend.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What makes your favorite brands friend-worthy?

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Julie is the Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build stronger, more profitable brands.