Once upon a time marketing and branding were reserved for big businesses like Nike, Coke, and NBC and publications like The NY Times or Vogue Magazine. To maintain your "brand" was something that was factored into the cost of doing business at a level where only the megastars of the advertising playing field were allowed into the game. Not anymore. With today's culture, branding is not only important, it's hugely competitive and a must for any start-up or small business (not to mention everyone from tween bloggers, stroller moms, and the next hot indie band).
I spend a great deal of my day coaching my clients in rebranding: taking what they started with and retooling their image to actually bring results and bring in revenue. Social media is one of the most requested services I'm asked to perform, and trust me, even I, someone who does this seven days a week, 14+ hours a day, am learning to master the abyss as I share what I know with my confused and expectant clients. If any consultant tells you they are an expert at social media or they are a social media "guru" as many claim, run and run fast. No one, not even the top agencies charging fees in excess of $6000 per month, know social media exclusively. This new land of mass consumer engagement and immediate gratification is what I call "social media saturation" and it's got more than a few start-ups and even established companies pretty freaked out. How do you know what to do? How do you know where to invest your allotted campaign dollars in what area? Do you pay to tweet? Do you pour money into Facebook ads and clever posts hoping they spark communication and eventually lead to clicks to your website? Do you dive headfirst into the newest craze, Pinterest, and let go of the others for a while? Do you link your Instagram pics to your business? What's Google+ mean and will it drive traffic? I hear these questions every day and the slight panic in my clients' voices over all the "what if" possibilities makes me convinced that without a tight strategy that everyone agrees to work on together, every day, a business is going to throw very good money after bad and come back frustrated, depleted, and not-at-all empowered to take on what can be a fascinating journey to build your brand with social media.
So, here are a few things your social media consultant definitely needs to be sharing with you, and a short list of what I think are key points to recognize about social media and your branding. Some of these are courtesy of Fast Company from their September issue, on newsstands now.
1. Set Goals.
Many who are gifted in social media feel that the gold ring is building community. While this is crucial, it's not the end-all. Investing in community building has to result in ROI (return on investment) and that has to translate into revenue, be it direct transactions on your website, subscriptions, member sign-ups, or paid workshops and courses. The social buzz conversation is great and an ego booster to the business, but without a working plan to turn that buzz into dollars it's just a nice place to hang out.
2. ROI Has To Mean Something
Really simple; if your consultant or social-media agent cannot translate how your investment in ad banners, promoted posts, tweet campaigns, or pinning giveaways result in added value in the way of a trackable sales increase, then you want to revisit your objectives. If it's traffic that you want, or scoring a boatload of unique users, and that's good for you, great, but if your company is based on growth and revenue, there has to be a conversation about what your expectations are and how your social media efforts will get you there.
3. Get Over Your Obsession Over Fans and Followers.
Let me say it clearly: Stop obsessing about fans already. My clients are not exclusive in their lust for more and more fans and more and more followers as if those bots and anonymous faces really give a hoot about their service, publication, or latest widget. What they do care about is THEM and how what your company strokes their ego far more than how they can blow some smoke up yours. You want to engage and entice bloggers, celebrities, PR agents, and yes, your competitors to share and spread your message for you. Just amassing "likes" and pushing contests does not guarantee loyalty, and you need to enlist those niche social-media posters and tweeters to get your message out there. Your own posts and conversation are paramount, of course, but again, release the obsession with wanting to see those numbers increase and start interacting with people that will endorse what it is you're doing.
These are a few of the rules of social media that I think are spot on; there are 36 in all, so I've chosen my top favorites as they communicate exactly what has to be recognized when it comes to branding your business with the use of social media:
Everyone says they don't want to be marketed to. What they are really saying is they want you to boost their egos and never talk down to them.
Pumping out content was how this all got started. It's not all about optimizing your content to make it result in ROI.
Boring content is just a waste of ad dollars. Find someone who is a fabulous copywriter and use your ads to accelerate successful content.
Think past your vanity and let go of the need to be validated by fans and followers.
Contests and giveaways are strong tools to build your initial base, but eventually you have to let go of that and give users something by which associate your brand to their own lifestyle.
The only way you can truly gauge if your message is getting shared is with paid advertising. Niche bloggers do it best, and some sponsored ads will work, but you have to spend the money to build the base, then use it to drive revenue.
Update your pages often; in this age of social media saturation and a new "it" thing or person going viral every day, if your pages are more than a month old, you're dead. Update all the graphics on your site and your pages or just delete, since you're not on board.
After all is said and done, if you don't invest in building your brand then you're going to end up extremely frustrated or worse, out of business. We can deny that it's here. We can tell ourselves that it's a passing fad (this agent thinks it's all going to be phased out by 2015, but that's for another article), but the fact of the matter is that social media is here now, it's the global equivalent to what happened to advertising when the Internet came alive, and, if you ignore it or you opt not to be aware of everything that's out there, your consultants and your paid staff will happily take your money and deliver nothing solid in return. If you aren't seeing financial results, you're wasting your money; get past the saturation, rise above your confusion and fear of the unknown, and embark on a partnership with your consultant or agent and "lock and load." Get serious and get busy. Embracing the new media frontier can and will work for you if you just pay attention and start engaging.