Nov 30, 2007

Three Ways to Fail Miserably at Social Media Brand Management

I recently read a really nice article by Noah Elkin at iCrossing that covered his suggestions to clients who are considering moving their brand management into the social media landscape. On the whole, I agree with his suggestions, but one item really jumped out at me:

"Also, make sure your legal team is not writing any posts or deciding what's getting written and how. Yes, legal should be involved in crafting and signing off on the policy, but no, legal should not be taking a hands-on role (unless for some reason you're engaging with a legal community)..."

Let me just say, reading that was nearly a "spew coffee on the keyboard" moment for me. There are people who think they should have their legal department speaking for them in social media? Once I regained my composure, I realized that for most traditional corporate clients, that might actually, on the face of it, sound like a "safe" way to engage in social media. So in case you're a brand marketer considering moving your company into the social media space, let me just clear this up right now: unless you'd send your lawyer to represent you on a date (or even at an industry conference or social networking event), don't send them to represent you in the social media sphere. It also got me thinking about other tactics that brand marketers who aren't really familiar with social media and web 2.0 might initially (mistakenly) embrace. So with that in mind, I present to you three foolproof, ironclad ways to ruin your chances of successfully introducing your brand to social media.

1. Try to "Do it Yourself." If you're an in-house marketing specialist, and aren't currently participating in social media, such as industry forums, blogs, wikis, or podcasts, then it's likely because you're simply not comfortable with the medium--at least not yet. Again, let's put this in a context you're probably already familiar with. Let's say you have a marketing coordinator who is an amazing administrator, kicks butt at achieving objectives and completing tasks--but would rather chew a roll of tin foil than do public speaking and is allergic to meeting strangers. Is she the best person to send to conduct a seminar on your company's core competencies? Probably not. So why would you send a person who isn't truly comfortable participating in social media to represent you in that arena? In many ways, the social media landscape is very much like an offline networking or public speaking venue. Except it has the benefit of being mostly written communication--meaning you have the opportunity to pause, review and revise that communication briefly before it goes out into the general public domain. Which brings us to...

2. Hyper-sanitize your social media communications. Social media is understandably a scary communications vehicle for traditional brand marketers, who were weened on the mantra "control the message, control the message, control the message." The informality, two-way dialogue and transparency that give social media its appeal can be the most intimidating aspects to companies who are entering the medium for the first time. It can be tempting to simply copy and paste your static, one-way brand communications into the social media world and hope for the best. Or to edit the content crafted for social media until it's indistinguishable from your one-way communications. Doing so would be similar to setting up your phone systems so that only outgoing calls were permitted. Yes, it would give you more control--it would also cost you most of the usefulness of having a phone system in the first place, namely making your company accessible.

3. Avoid social media altogether. Let me share a little story with you. I was doing a little competitive research for a client interested in SEO work, investigating their existing backlinks (links that lead to their site from other sites). I ran across a link from a hobbyist discussion forum related to their industry. It was a consumer, who stated that he was looking at their brand, among others, before making a large purchase. He wanted to get some feedback from other enthusiasts before committing to a purchase.

The entire thread was a conversation among people who passionately care about the client's industry, and covered issues like quality control, differentiating product factors, and manufacturing processes. This was a site with tens of thousands of members, and hundreds actively reading and posting at any given point in time. If we'd been monitoring social media mentions for this client, we could have given them a heads-up, and gotten some great feedback to contribute to the conversation on their behalf. What potential brand value would you place on that conversation? Among three competitors, if even one of them participated in that conversation, gave thoughtful and helpful answers, what would you consider to be the value of that conversation? Compare that to the value of ad impressions, and the real potential impact on people who are most likely to buy their products. Now bear in mind that the particular forum in question has been online since 1999. Does waiting for this whole "social web" thing to blow over and go away still seem like the best idea? Are you beginning to see the value and power of social media brand management yet?

Are there risks involved in mishandling brand management in the social media web? Absolutely--but there are also risks involved in ignoring this powerful communications medium. The best solution is to engage professionals, who are experienced and comfortable with the medium, and have them work closely with your in-house marketing staff, exactly as you do for print, radio, television and offline public relations.

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