Opinions vary with regards to the power of social media. The activist-minded welcome the democracy of it. The more conservative see the fearful power of unsubstantiated opinion run wild and hide under the bed.
One fact, however, is fundamental. It is your responsibility to control, to the fullest extent you can, your image online. Two points here: your image is your brand and the reach of SM should be considered limitless. That means every effort you make to fashion and protect your brand online must be consistent across all media.
Remember also, the same brand can be perceived differently by online and offline audiences. The best way to manage brand reputation is to tell a cohesive story – to a receptive audience. While controlling the message in an age of social media may no longer be an option, you can still steer the dialogue.
Here are five smart steps to follow from writer Angeley Grecia at Meltwater, a communications company.
1) Make a Good First Impression
What first impression do you want your brand to portray? … Time’s up. It takes less than 50 milliseconds to form a first impression. First impressions are so important because they give way to a ‘halo effect.’ Consider how visual design and the colors you use impact the way people feel about your website on the first view because that assessment is often transferred to its functionality.
2) Own and Embrace Who You Are
Your brand is derived from a mix of who you are (your executives and colleagues), who you want to be (your brand values), and who people perceive you to be (the user experience and branding).
In a perfect world, your reputation follows the brand. Help this along by making your brand present across the customer touch points in the business: how employees answer phones, what employees and salespeople wear, what language they use when describing your services or products, e-mail signatures, social media presence and how they engage online, everything one can think of.
The brand is every employee’s responsibility–not only the communications team’s. The PR Pros among you should ensure the whole company understands the corporate mission, vision, values, and goals so you can all believe, live, and breathe this.
3) Unite and Conquer
People are converging over multiple online channels. It’s important to streamline and manage your brand consistently for every social channel you use. A good place to start is to review and assess aspects of each platform such as reach, popularity, interactions, the level of engagement, effectiveness of messaging, audience demographics, and whether there is any conflicts or confusion.
Try not to use online channels for the sake of it–be strategic and decide where your brand needs to be seen regularly, what messages work, and where your influencers are. If all else fails remember it is all about going to where your audience is and giving them the content they want.
4) Respect Your Community
Building a circle of influence online can have a positive impact on your brand. We all know about the power of influence; it travels faster than ever in a socially-networked world. This message virality is a double-edged sword.
The good news is that people who follow your brand on social most likely already like you, so it’s important to craft a strategy that speaks to fans as people. Converse with them in a timely manner, and always be professional and courteous (no matter what was said). Partake in discussions, offer a professional opinion on the topic, and avoid being too ‘salesy’–only recommend products or services when you feel it can solve a problem or encourage the discussion to move forward.
Be sure to acknowledge positive comments, and attempt to respond to complaints and issues quickly.
5) Listen and Pay Attention
It’s important to keep track of brand conversations, interactions, and positive and negative brand sentiment, so you can join discussions, answer queries, dispel myths, and actually see if your communications strategy is effective. Media monitoring tools let you view and analyze perceptions and activity around your brand and determine ROI. You can turn conversations into customers and customers into brand ambassadors through social media engagement.
The above is commendably simple but those just starting to build a social media campaign will be surprised and probably depressed by how complex it has become. Random posting to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn may be satisfying but will be ineffectual. There are many, many excellent firms with e-books and whitepapers worth reading to raise your understanding and appreciation. Meltwater has one here.