The benefits are tangible; a strong, memorable, compelling brand encourages client loyalty, it reminds them why they use our company. Branded customers are more likely to promote our brand to others, they are more forgiving and more willing to consider new products or services that we launch.
A strong brand facilitates cross selling, it facilitates market entry, it can aid communication with the City and can positively impact on perceptions of value of the organisation.
So why do so many companies forget all of this the moment they embark on a social media campaign?
It used to be relatively simple to manage a brand. Back in the day when advertising was limited to newspapers and customer complaints were limited to letters to the boss, protecting and maintaining your brand was much easier. Nowadays, when customers will tweet or post a Facebook status update condemning your company, product or service for the slightest error, brand management has become a veritable minefield.
And it’s not just customers who can damage your brand in a split second, employees can ruin a reputation built over decades with a simple keyboard click.
Do you remember the Domino’s employees who videoed themselves doing despicable things to food in the kitchen and posting it on YouTube? It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Domino’s brand, it was just a couple of employees having a laugh. Yes, a simple prank could threaten everything you have worked for.
Social media can help level the playing field, small companies can compete against larger companies, the myriad channels enable you to reach a wider audience than ever before. Quality communications and compelling content will be shared across communities, and exciting videos have the opportunity to spread virally.
Yes, social media enhances what you do well. But it’s a double-edged sword; it also highlights what you do badly, to a much wider audience than ever before.
It’s not a panacea to fix all your comms and marketing challenges. You can’t just stick social media on top of what you’re doing and hope it fixes it, much like a band-aid.
To be successful at social media it’s essential to pare everything back to the most basic form of communication and then build a solid foundation of quality traditional communication onto which you can pile the most relevant forms of social media for you.
So where do you start?
With a good old-fashioned communications strategy: one that’s tightly aligned with your business strategy. It needs to cover internal comms, employees, stakeholders, suppliers, media, community, shareholders, and clients. Get really specific. You need to get absolute clarity on your message; who are you, what is your brand, what are your brand values, what is your message, what do you want to say, to whom, and what do you want them to do as a result of hearing your message?
The next step is to Google yourself. You should do this both personally and for your business. Regularly.
See what comes up. See what is being said about you and your company. Do you like what you see?
Where are you on the rankings and where do you want to be? Map the route, from where you to where you want to be, and plan how to get there, that’s part of your communications strategy. And be realistic. If you’re selling cola flavoured drinks you’re not going to come up number one on a Google search. You might need to set time dependent goals, rise a page a month for example.
Now you get to look at how you deliver your comms strategy. You need to consider all the traditional elements, PR, advertising, direct marketing, etc, as well as the social media elements. It might be that you need some advertising or PR.
So you break down and identify your audience(s), refine your message, decide on the tools you want to use – eg there’s little point in using Twitter if your audience is teenage girls (unless you’re Justin Bieber) because teenagers don’t really use Twitter, they prefer texting/MSN or Facebook.
And consider these important questions: do you have the resources for it? Do you have the time for it? Is it a priority for you?
That’s your base starting point. You need to be focused and you need to be specific and you need to be consistent.
Even when you’ve nailed your online identity, your brand consistency, profiles and pages are top notch, it comes down to “what do I say?”
My advice is to be yourself – social media, for me, is about honesty, integrity, transparency and generosity
There’s a huge generosity of spirit on social media – people share valuable knowledge and experience and they’re willing to connect with you and link you to other people. You just have to convince them they want to.
And that’s down to the messages you put out and how you behave in the social media world. In other words, your brand.