Protecting & Enhancing Your Brand in Social Media – Whether You’re Joining or Creating the Conversation

As the old saying goes, “you have to be in it to win it”. That pretty much sums up the role of social media for brands today. Social media is no longer just one of many tools a marketer can use. It has all but become the cost of entry. In the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 94% of marketers said that they use social media for marketing purposes. It goes without saying that some social media marketing is better than others, and therefore more effective at driving business results. But the bottom line is that companies can no longer ignore social media. This is true for every category and industry from consumer goods to professional services, from healthcare to the financial industry and for both B2C and B2B.

Here’s the rub: Because social media is a two-way street, gone are the days when a brand can control messaging through a monologue of traditional advertising and communication. What is compelling to consumers today, and to a large extent, expected, is a dialogue, back and forth. These conversations can be strategically initiated by the brand to disseminate a particular message, i.e. a new way of “advertising”, or a brand can strategically participate to help steer the conversation in a way that protects the brand.

conversations matter in social media

Either way, whether you are creating the conversation about your brand, or joining in conversations about your industry, which may ultimately involve your brand, follow these rules to not only protect your brand, but to take advantage of this new reality and use it to actually strengthen your brand:

Rule 1: Identify your audiences and then choose the social media platform accordingly

“Fish where the fish are” – If your primary audience is consumers, Facebook is the most popular social media platform with over 1 billion users. If you are trying to reach businesses, LinkedIn is the ultimate business-networking tool. And Twitter can work well for both consumer and business audiences. If your product or service is best demonstrated with video, consider creating a YouTube channel. It also pays to identify where your audience goes to get information. For example, consumers might turn to blogs like the NY Times Well or WSJ Health to search for specific information about health and wellness. So if you are marketing a healthcare product, it is worthwhile keeping an eye on discussion forums and blogs like these so that you can become part of the conversation should your brand or even product category come up.

Rule 2: Develop content that is not about you, but rather helps your customers solve their problems

Many marketers fall into the trap of talking about their products and all the features and benefits from their perspective. The value of social media is that you get the opportunity to tap directly into conversations with consumers or customers and hear about their problems or issues first hand. Use this insight to develop content that directly answers their questions and helps solve their problems. By engaging on their terms, they will pay more attention.

Rule 3: Share and share alike

One of the great things about the vast world of social media is content sharing. Not all content that you put out to your audiences needs to be your own. You can provide great value to your audiences by sharing content developed by others as long as it is consistent with your brand and supports your overall messaging strategy. In fact, sharing other’s content can signal that you truly have your customer’s best interests at heart, i.e. that it is not just about “selling” your brand. Creating this sense of goodwill can help build and nurture relationships with your audience.

Rule 4: Identify a social media “guru” in your organization and empower them

The value of social media is that everyone in the business can be a brand ambassador generating content to increase brand awareness. But that content must be “on brand”. And it goes without saying that it should not do anything to harm the brand. So it helps to have a point person at the corporate, division, brand or product level, who can be both a sounding board for social media content ideas as well as providing oversight for all content to ensure that nothing negative or off strategy is disseminated.

Rule 5: Monitor and keep track of your brand across all platforms, and respond appropriately and quickly

Social media activity works both ways for brands – it can help strengthen a brand if customers are talking positively about it, but it can also hurt a brand if there is any negative chatter within social media. And typically negative chatter spreads faster than positive commentary. So it is crucial to scan relevant blogs, social media platforms and forums for any mention of your brand. Of course it is beneficial to comment, answer questions, clarify etc., but it is absolutely critical to nip any negativity in the bud by taking ownership of the problem or issue and committing to resolve it for the customer(s) if at all possible.

Rule 6: Make use of social media tools to maximize efficiency and reach

There are a plethora of social media tools that help to minimize the amount of time spent posting content across multiple social media platforms. For example, you can set up your preferences on LinkedIn and Facebook to interface with all your social media platforms so that it automatically shares whatever you post there on Twitter, Google+ etc. Other tools like Hootsuite, a social media dashboard, allow you to listen, engage and measure all your social media activity in one interface.

Rule 7: Use social media as a research/feedback mechanism

Because social media is a democratic form of conversation, it can be an effective tool to test concepts, product ideas, marketing messages, etc. Employing innovative ways to invite feedback can generate valuable insights, which can in turn enhance development. Remember though, that while it is a free vehicle for “research”, it is also public domain, which means that your competitors will most likely be listening in, so engage in this with your eyes wide open.

Rule 8: Monitor a wide variety of content

Utilize tools like Google Alerts and other content aggregation sites to monitor for interesting news articles, stories and other types of content that might provide fodder for your own social media activity. Subscribe to blogs, twitter accounts, LinkedIn groups etc. within your industry, but also tap into media outside your obvious industry, as often, parallels can be drawn or lessons learned that are not directly related to your business, but make for interesting analogies and ideas.

Social media may seem daunting for marketers, but it can no longer be ignored and chances are, your competitors are already there. So take the plunge, even if it is one small step at a time. By following these guidelines, your brand can reap the rewards of the new era of engaging connectivity and information sharing.