An effective social media strategy is a direct extension of a brand strategy executed artfully in new channels. The brand posture, positioning, and personality should guide the development and deployment of social media assets and attitudes so that the brand speaks with a single voice across media and consistently engages customers, prospects, media, investors, or other constituent audiences. The forums are new; the basic marketing approach is not.
Social media has an enormous impact on brand equity. Brands should maintain a coherent brand position that unites your Web site, your Twitter feeds, your Facebook presence, and your campaigns. Forrester calls this idea “owned” media and argues a skillful understanding of the properties of distinct social media orchestrated or leveraged effectively in service to brand objectives will yield customer engagement, consistent messaging, brand portability, and possibly a boatload of “earned” or free and viral media pass-along.
Imagine that rather than concentrating your Web presence in a single Web site, you distribute the messaging by using satellite sites and syndicating content to present your brand in an array of venues aligned with an array of target audiences and brand objectives. This creates a much wider and deeper conversation between your brand and your customer base at modest cost increments.
Syndication trumps destination in this model where content elements (e.g. games, videos, animations, polls, and images) become media attracting, alluring and interacting with those you seek to know, engage, and persuade. By orchestrating content and brand positioning through social media, marketers can maintain a level of control and initiative in the face of user-created content and uncontrollable user interactions and conversations.
The key to mobilizing social media to achieve this result is to understand clearly what the social media properties are, who uses them, and how they are commonly used. Consider these preliminary observations:
Brand Web site. Window-shop for the brand aimed at educating and engaging prospective employees and clients. A Web site validates the brand’s claims offline and establishes a tone and manner for digital communication. The persuasive burdens is to quickly and easily present the value proposition, build demand, and prompt lead generation or purchase. A site should be the base of operations for online marketing and include the mother lode of data, imagery, and copy necessary to fully represent the brand posture. Separate landing pages should be constructed to manage campaigns, and the site should be optimized for natural search. Blogs can be built into brand sites or established (and linked to) as independent entities, depending on the content and the marketing objectives.
Facebook. This is a personal customer relationship management tool where people manage relationships and connections. Different age groups use it differently, but all are protective of their privacy and uniformly try to separate their personal lives and connections from their business lives. Brands are welcome, but only on restricted terms. Facebook is a cheerleading and affinity building tool for brands. Some have sold merchandise and distributed coupons, but no best practices have emerged. Fans seem to want deals, but overt selling or shilling is frowned upon. Brands are experimenting with Facebook in linking online and offline behaviors, but it's too early to make generalizations. Facebook seems to be a place to illustrate or articulate your brand personality and begin to gather friends and fans. Linking your Facebook page to your Web site adds to your search authority because it is among the most semantically optimized platforms. The same holds true for MySpace and Friendster.
LinkedIn. Primarily a job-hunting, network-building site, LinkedIn skews older and slightly more male. They have a range of discrete targeting options that enable you to zero in on target segments or individuals. People turn to LinkedIn to check out companies, prepare for interviews, or find a way into your ecosystem. Your brand profile should be consistent and enticing but not enough to give away your strategy. LinkedIn groups are a second avenue into the database. Many offer discussions and forums, which enable a marketer to float trial balloons, test arguments or offers, and solicit ideas and practical advice. Conversation is fluid and almost entirely business focused.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the default knowledge bank on the Web. A huge percentage of searches end there, so you have to be present. Interaction is at a minimum since people search, find, read, print, and exit. Your entry should be thorough, well written, and up to date. Illustrate it with charts, graphs, images, or schematics and add links to other significant assets. Police your page regularly since the changing editorial policy may encourage unauthorized or inaccurate updates.
Twitter. This is a short, fast-action or reaction tool to pump out a brand’s point of view on marketplace, customer-service, or merchandise issues. It’s like having a party line and being able to watch or listen in on popular sentiment change, morph, and evolve in real time. Some brands use it to talk; most use it to listen and to gauge attitudes, sentiments, and customer proclivities. Like talk radio, the content is a mixed bag, ranging from the immediately forgettable to the sublime. Using Twitter starts with deciding how much you are willing to talk (or how much you have to say) versus how much you can learn from listening.
YouTube. Video and search are the twin attractions. YouTube is the second ranked search engine; younger people prefer it. Americans expect that almost anything that happens will be available on YouTube within hours, and millions upload their own videos each day. A window on the collective consciousness and psyche, YouTube can be a bully pulpit for brands seeking to influence the conversation and attract new customers.
By understanding who uses them and what users do or expect, brands can orchestrate campaigns and parse messaging to fully leverage the platforms and the SEO benefits that accrue from linking with the most semantically effective sites on the Web. Consider these social sites as the generic baseline. In many cases, vertical communities, even gated communities, will offer important access to key markets and customers. They need to be analyzed and placed into a brand’s context and marketing strategy.