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Branding in the era of social media

Many companies are at a point where their brand identity in an on-line environment is static in an era of chaos. Things that used to work now don't. Traditional branding has always been built on out-branding the competition in an ever-increasing advertising clutter-filled environment, media fragmentation, and the seemingly limitless choices that are offered in just about every product category.

Why do some companies “get it” and some are being left behind in the dust? Why are Nike, JetBlue, and Zappos the poster-children for companies that “get it”, and how are they achieving their social media success? Why is transparency so important? Will these things have a positive ROI and how do you measure it?

We have to remember that social media is just one piece of the puzzle and a component of branding. The following are things you have to remember when trying to build a strong brand interactively:

Listen:

I’ve mentioned numerous times that as a brand you have to actively listen. Create ego-centric searches on as many social media platforms as you can—Twitter, Facebook, Google Blogsearch, Friendfeed, Technorati. Read blogs and people’s comments—understand what people are saying, and always ask yourself why. Why are people saying what they say?

Care:

Ultimately one of the core aspects as a company or brand is that you care about your customers and your own product or service. I know this sounds fundamental, but many companies' online presence suggest that they just don’t give a damn about either—and they didn’t have to in the past. Customers were forced to rely on brands that gave them bad customer service and they had no say in it. The power of broadcasting bad customer service wasn’t transparent.

Online Real Estate & Interaction:

Wherever there is conversation you have to connect with it—connecting with people is integral, not only as a brand but as a society. Build your brand on:

• Twitter (Word of Mouth on steroids)

• Facebook and/or Myspace (soon becoming obsolete unless you’re a musician)

• Flickr (for photos)

• Youtube (for video)

• StumbleUpon/Digg (for discovering websites and voting on them)

• LinkedIn to connect with your employees and business related individuals

There are other social networks out there like Plaxo, Friendfeed, Bebo, etc., but those depend on your needs versus wants and on the audience or consumer you want to target.

Signing up for these services is just the first step, actively listening and participating is the second step. Participating on a timely manner and correcting situations is the next.

Content:

Content is key! Create new content regularly. Think about it as your interactive voice—you want to have something to say, but don't be annoying and obnoxious (no one really likes jerks). Create content on you website or blog regularly—at least twice a week (create one if you don't have one—it also helps your website’s SEO). Create engaging content—company and industry news—and make it personal (people like human emotions, we're hardwired that way). And if you promise something follow through with it. Many have promised the world to their customers (*AHEM—Cuil*) and don’t follow through 100% of the time. You lose credibility as a brand and trust is hard to get back once you lose it.

Conversation & Community:

Now that you are listening to the conversation, you should participate to stay actively pertinent. Comment on blogs and converse with “Tweeters”—all in a reasonable time-frame (the sooner the better). If you discover bad news or negativity of your brand, try not to be too defensive—be honest, professional, and deal with the situation as best as you can (and always try to go above and beyond what's expected) .

Also make sure that you are easily “accessible” by the community, since you are so connected. When a customer needs some customer service, don’t shun them! Connect with them!

Also be human—I know this sounds stupid, but people forget (intentionally or unintentionally). These social media platforms are tools to connect—Twitter is a powerful tool to connect, sometimes faster than email and phone communication. Quick response is optimal, but any response is better than no response.

Passion:

Last but not least, have some passion! Passion is one of the most important factors, if not the most important factor as a brand. I’ve briefly touched on this earlier with caring for your customer and product. Sure you have to have a quality product, conversation, avenues, listening skills, but if you’re doing all those things without passion, you may as well not do them at all. Because it will show.

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