There’s a lot of talk of personal branding in social media, but when it comes to commercial brands, many of the questions that you or I might take for granted when setting up a social media presence become dilemmas.
It’s not just the way organizations engage through social media that matters: the portrayal of a business brand in this space is affected by a range of factors.
1. Networks and Tools
Many businesses feel a competitive obligation to set up Facebook pages, but it’s true that your brand’s presence — or absence — from a given social network reflects on your brand as far competitors, clients, and industry watchers are concerned.
If your brand is the first from its category to develop a presence on Facebook, that says something. What it says, and how well that fits with your branding and communications strategies, will likely determine whether you’re the organization that breaks that new ground.
The tools you use to manage your social media accounts may also, perhaps inadvertently, affect your brand. Do your brand values include approachability, friendliness and responsiveness? Then it would be better to manage your account through a tool that alerts you immediately when you receive a direct contact from your network, and allows you to closely monitor what users are saying about your brand.
2. Types of Engagement
Brand personality and positioning will also influence the types of engagement you champion, seek, and try to avoid.
Is your brand the type to initiate engagements with others? What sorts of engagements? And what sorts of contacts? Is it the type to provide resources to followers and fans, or to give advice and help?
Branding can influence the types of campaigns and involvements your organization runs through social media, the frequency of updates and engagements, the methods of brand, product, or service promotion you use, and the degree to which you engage with contacts around issues of corporate and social citizenship, among others.
Finally, these decisions may, of course, influence the choices you make around networks and tools.
3. Who’s Making the Updates?
Whether your organization chooses to centralize or decentralize — or outsource — its social media management may be affected by brand, since brand can imply certain priorities for various social media factors, and those priorities might necessitate a certain type of management.
One consumer-focused technology consultancy I worked with would never dream of outsourcing its social media. This decision was simple: if the company was to position its brand as an experienced social media innovator, it’d have to prove it could walk the talk. Social media expertise was a core value for this brand.
However, the decision to decentralize its social media management was impacted by another aspect of the brand, which championed the employment of skilled, experienced, mature, knowledgeable experts who clients could get to know and rely on, no matter where they fitted in the consultancy process. As a result, every member of this consultancy had access to the organization’s social media accounts, and was expected to engage through them regularly.
4. Degree of Integration With Other Offerings
How, and how seamlessly, your business integrates social media activity with other means of audience communication, research, and engagement can be impacted by brand values, and, in turn, impact your brand.
One of my clients timed tertiary student-focused social media advertising with on-campus orientation week presentations as an experiment with social media. A more experienced, social media-savvy organization might tie those on-campus presentations to, for example, a Facebook competition, the winner of which might have been announced at an industry event the following month.
It’s clear that these two approaches would have achieved different response rates, results and brand resonance within the student segment.
5. People Your Brand Follows, Friends and Fans
On entering the social media space, most organizations are focused wholly and solely on attracting followers, friends and fans: a solid contact base. Yet the amount of attention you pay to customers, competitors, pundits and peers within the social media sphere, and who your organization follows and friends, will reflect strongly on your brand.
Again, the organization can use its brand to direct an approach to these different types of engagement. A conservative organization, or one whose brand is tied to quality, best-practice performance, is unlikely to form social media alliances of any sort with brands that are known or found not to adhere to industry standards, for example.
An Evolving Approach
Whether the branding choices you make for your organization’s social media presence are made by internal brand custodians, your marketing team, advertising creatives, an external social media consultancy, or senior management, be warned: some of those decisions will likely be altered as the organization’s experience with social media, and its online audience relationships, deepen.
Each time the organization faces a new challenge within the realm of social media, an opportunity likely exists for the brand to help influence the response. Ignoring your commercial brand in making decisions for social media is as potentially harmful as an individual ignoring their personal brand in this space. The difference is that the social media audience may be more willing to forgive mistakes made by personal brands, given the innately human, personal nature of the medium. Commercial brands may have more to lose, and may lose it more swiftly, if their activities and interactions jar with the audience’s evolving perceptions of the brand.