What's Holding Your Brand Back From Success in Social Networking?

I just read a really great article in Marketing Profs Daily Fix called, A Brand's Largest Social Media Obstacle, by Samir Balwani, in which he makes the bold statement that the biggest thing holding most brands from truly engaging in social media is ... the brand itself.

Some of the reasons Balwani gives for why brands get in their own way when they try to plunge into social media are:
  • Just jumping into social media because that is what competitors are doing,
  • Cultures that strangle innovation and risk taking (social media marketing is ALL ABOUT RISK TAKING - it is a complete break from the old way of doing business),
  • Failure to allocate resources to the effort (especially failing to devote the time and people to do the work),
  • Resistance to humanizing itself (give your CEO a blog, let her listen to feedback, engage in real conversations with real people in the real world),
  • Failure to understand the company's own customers (Too often companies assume they already know the people who buy from them),

Jumping into social media requires that a brand, and the company, make some fundamental changes from the top down. The company must willingly become more transparent and be willing to engage in two-way conversations with the marketplace.

Wal-Mart, famous for its repeated failures in its social media experiments, is an example of a company that will not listen to outside criticism. When its Facebook campaign became full of conversations about its use of foreign sweatshops to make its products, the company just shut the site down.

Yes, their page was hijacked by those who objected to these practices, but the folks from Bentonville demonstrated all the candor and openness of Dick Chaney when asked about water boarding.

Dell is an example of the opposite mindset. Dell has made real efforts to listen (and improve) its quality standards based on the feedback it has received via social media. And its brand has benefitted accordingly.

Another Wal-Mart example: According to Tara Hunt, in her book The Whuffie Factor, Wal-Mart's first adventure into social media went like this:
Its first attempt in 2006 was a blog supposedly run by independent customers who were traveling across America. The blog characters, it was discovered, were faked and the content written by a public relations firm.

The backlash to the deception was severe, and Wal-Mart quickly pulled the blog off the internet.

But not content with learning a valuable lesson about the need for transparency when venturing into this new world, Wal-Mart again tried to use deception on social media. It created a site for kids called "The Hub," which one commentator said "had all the makings of a politician wearing a backwards baseball cap in a bid to win the youth vote."

But the worst thing Wal-Mart did was that it AGAIN tried to get away with creating false characters:
The company apparently tried propagating the site with fake profiles of hip kids wearing Wal-Mart gear. The dead giveaway was that the kids were talking about their Wal-Mart clothes in their profiles.

So how should a company use social media to promote its brand? Here are 7 ideas:
  1. Create TRUE case studies and feature stories about satisfied customers. When you get positive feedback, interview that person and either create a video or text story to post online.

  2. Showcase TRUE examples of your employees as heroes. When you learn that an employee has gone the extra mile to help a customer, USE THAT STORY and get the maximum exposure from it. Let customers see the human faces behind your company's brand.

  3. Educate customers with practical, "news you can use" content.

  4. Do good. Use social media to talk about any charitable causes your company or employees are involved in.

    One company learned that an average customer was about to lose her house to foreclosure due to a family illness and raised money to help this single individual. This is the kind of story social media was made for.

    Or use your social media site to raise money for a good cause or charity.

  5. Show your quality control standards. If you jump through hoops to produce a great product or deliver superior customer service, record a video of your process.

    Check out this article about how a beer company highlighted its quality control standards in its advertising.

  6. Listen to customers. Social media is a two-way conversation. Your customers will give you great ideas and feedback if you will listen.

  7. Drive traffic to your content. Once you create good content, make sure it gets noticed with social media. Attach links to blog articles, tweets, and Facebook updates.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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