Depending who you listen to or read in the social media space, the best reason to use social media for your brand varies. It can be for listening; resolving issues; lead generation; focus groups; recruitment; and much, much more.
All good reasons. All good value. And yet….
While these are all solid enough reasons to be on social media from a brand’s point-of-view, they mean nothing unless you have an audience. Not just an audience, but also one that actually trusts and supports you, and will listen when you speak. Without that, you’ll just be another tree in the forest that no-one hears fall.
So how do you build that most valued of commodities in social media (and business in general) – identity and trust? Especially in such a crowded space to start with?
Step 1: The Message is the Key
The big mistakes that brands make when jumping into social media is they see their competitors doing it, so think they need to as well. Wrong answer! (Insert buzzer noise here). For sure – social media can (and does) offer a fantastic additional tactic to add to your existing marketing mix. Yet only if it’s right for you – so make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and not because of forced impressions.
Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, the most important part comes next – defining what your message is going to be, and how that is going to build the loyalty and brand identity that will define your success in this space.
The core points to consider here are:
- What’s our brand’s value proposition, and how do we convey that?
- Who will be our spokesperson/spokespeople, and in what capacity? How do we want to be perceived – thought leaders, the company that listens, educators, or something else?
- How will we ensure the message we’re sharing is consistent and built to last?
These are some of the initial questions to ask, and answers to provide. Without these, you’ll be floundering pretty quickly and people will move on to the next brand. Don’t let that be you. Think about the above questions, and make sure you have the answers (or know who the person is with the answers).
And, for the love of God, please make sure you actually know internally what your business stands for before you go outside!
Step 2: It’s Not What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It
Once you have your goals defined, and know exactly what will be said and who will be saying it, you move on to the next most important part – building your brand identity with these components.
This, probably more than anything, will be the part of the puzzle that either builds your identity and success, or sees you crash and burn on takeoff (I watched Top Gun again the other night, so forgive the gung-ho analogies!).
While it’s crucial to have the right people and message defined, it’s just as crucial (if not more so) to take it to market properly. What you say, and how you say it, is going to be the difference between you and your competitors. And if there’s one thing social media has taught all brands, it’s that people are always waiting for you to slip up.
To ensure your message is understood in the way you want it to be seen, you need to be consistent across every touchpoint: If you’re setting up a blog, make the editorial guidelines clear, both for internal bloggers and guest authors, determine the message from the blog, and make that core across all posts.
On social networks, the people that will be the “official” voice of your company need to share communications with each other regularly, and know whose role it is to reply to a certain question or issue.
Finally, on social media-led promotions that carry over to the offline space, ensure the same people promoting and answering online are attached to any offline teams as well, to keep the message clear and integrated.
These are just some of the ways to ensure the messaging from your brand is consistent and clear. That’s one of the first steps to building a true identity online. On top of that, obviously you need to make sure that your brand’s look and feel ties into this identity too.
The last thing you want to do is confuse people when they visit one of your online outposts (blog, social network, Pinterest board, etc.) and find a different colour scheme or look and feel at each place (unless you’re building external resources as a separate part of your brand identity, for SEO or thought leadership reasons).
Get the message consistent; get the look consistent; the rest will start to fall into place.
Step 3: The Long Road of Investment
Of course, this is all pre-identity stuff. Or, at least, pre-social media identity (you have identified what your brand stands for internally, right?). That’s the (relatively) easy part – the hard part is making sure that message is seen and, more importantly, retained time and time again.
And that’s where many brands fail, by expecting social media to be the quick fix to all that ails them. It’s not. Social media is not a fire sale – it’s a long-term investment and tactic, strategy, campaign, call it what you wish.
If you’re expecting your brand to be immediately identifiable through your actions on social media, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, it’s the consistency of the message and voice that will build your identity, not the speed in which you bring that to market.
Customer loyalty isn’t something that can be bought – and the brands that identify the most with their customers’ needs will be the ones that are rewarded with loyalty, referrals, and word-of-mouth marketing.
Social media can enhance the reach of these referring voices to the Nth degree – but you need to make sure you’re deserving of it to start with. Get your identity right by planning it and building it up the right way, and the world (social media or otherwise) can truly be your oyster.
The choice is yours.