social media’s brand-building potential

Right before the holidays, MarketingSherpa released its “2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report.”  sherpaThe report indicated that “improving brand or product reputation” and “increasing brand or product awareness” did not rank highly in the list of social media objectives targeted and measured by U.S. marketers.  This confirms my own findings that companies are overlooking the importance of using social media tools for strategic, proactive brand-building.

MarketingSherpa found that only 20% of companies who they classified as being in the “trial phase” of their use of social media are using it for improving brand reputation and only 21% for improving brand awareness.  Although both of these numbers double to 54% for companies in the “strategic” social media usage phase, that incidence still seems quite low to me – particularly when compared to the 88% using social media for increasing website traffic and 75% for lead generation.

Perhaps that these latter objectives are more easily measured has led to their higher rate of implementation, but it seems companies are viewing social media as very tactical.

In a related effort, I audited over 30 organizations’ social media guidelines (including Sun Microsystems’, General Motors’, IBM’s, and even Yahoo!’s) and found another skew.  The most thorough social media guidelines encourage users to be responsible and respectful, indicate how confidential information should be handled, and reiterate the corporate rules of business conduct — but none indicate how the brand can and should be promoted with these new tools.

MediaPost recently asked me to write an article about this.  In it, I talk about the difference in between using social media for what I call “Defense” (protecting the company and its brand name) and “Offense” (promoting the brand.)  I ask,

“In recent years, many companies have cultivated the role of employee as brand ambassador.  Front-line employees in particular are recognized by many as critical brand touchpoints; “friends and family” discounts or coupons are often distributed through employees in order to generate broader awareness and positive impressions in the community.   Why not extend these efforts to the new social platforms and encourage and enable employees to use these tools to promote the brand?!”

Perhaps, as with setting objectives, taking a Defensive stance in social media is easier than adopting an Offensive one?  What not to do is certainly more obvious than what to do.  Understanding social media’s full brand-building potential and then figuring out the best ways to leverage that potential takes time and resources (budget, staff, and infrastructure).

MarketingSherpa observes that “the effort (time and resources) required of a social marketing tactic often trumps the effectiveness of a tactic in determining its use. The more effort required, the less likely it will be implemented.”  This “fast and easy” approach may be the first step in companies’ usage of social media, but to take full advantage of the brand-building opportunities in social media and networking, companies need to evolve beyond it.

My MediaPost article suggests that companies need Brand Guidelines to inspire and instruct employees how to generate excitement and interest in the brand.  I outline suggestions for specific content Brand Guidelines should include in order to address the usage of social media.  Please give it a read and let me know what you think.

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