Even the biggest brands struggle to make sense of social media. How do you protect your brand from criticism or attack? Can you get all of the people on side, all of the time?

Brand owners tend to be control freaks, so it’s no wonder they’re wary of social media. To make sure it’s not a missed opportunity, first you need to view it as neither a universal panacea nor scary monster. It’s just another element in the media mix.

Creating your social strategy

Just as you would with any other media, it is essential to decide what role social will play in your marketing mix – if it has a role at all?

Social media is not free. There may be no cost to create a Twitter or Facebook account, but you will need people to run and monitor them. Making sure you have free-flowing content that’s relevant and engaging is not cheap – in time or talent.

If you want to deliver customer service in this channel, you need to invest in the team that’s responding directly to customers or invest in specialists who have the expertise and time to react quickly to activity. One sure fire way to create customer resentment is to respond too slowly or inappropriately to customer queries. That’s if you respond at all. Money must be spent on training, expert advice and internal systems.

Social media marketing cannot be fitted in around other things. And if you’re not willing to make the investment, stay out of the space – it’s abundantly clear to even the most casual observers which brands have adopted a half-hearted approach to social.

If you’re not willing to make the investment, stay out of the social media space.

Most brand owners quite rightly worry that they can’t afford to ignore Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the review sites and forums. Social media is increasingly where B2C brands meet customers. It’s where you can pretty much guarantee you’ll get honest feedback. And it’s a lot cheaper – if occasionally harder to swallow – than a formal survey.

Brand activity in the social space generates so much data the insight opportunities are vast. Experian buying a social media agency tells us that these opportunities are to be ignored at our cost. However, further investment is required to collect, understand and then get a return from this data.

It’s also vital to keep monitoring your social media activities. Compared to other media, developments in social media happen at lightning speed. What worked for you last year may not work today. And you need to understand why. Continual investment in monitoring will not only help you listen to conversations about your brand, it could stop you making expensive mistakes.

If your customer isn’t active in the social media space, a situation most likely for B2B brands, then you may be right to put your budget into other media. If you simply want people to renew a contract or try a new product, maybe what you need is an email or perhaps direct mail. Social comes into its own when you want to engage more immediately, react superfast and be proactive about developing your relationship with customers.

Also, if suspicion, poor internal buy-in and a lack of experience in creative execution for this channel would mean your social presence is, at best, token, your decision not to use social media could be wise – a dormant social presence can be more damaging than no presence at all.

Failing to understand exactly what is required from a social media programme and what the overall aim of social activity is has been the downfall for many large and small brands. Mostly, this falls down to limitations on the time that can be committed to understanding the medium and capitalising on the consumer insight and interaction it offers. Whilst committing to such a high investment is a daunting prospect, there are providers who can plan, execute and maintain social activity. Such a solution enables marketers and brand owners to focus on integrating messaging with the peace of mind that the social world is not passing them by.

Who owns your brand?

Done well, social media can help demonstrate that your brand is absolutely in tune with its audience. You’ll have understood that your job is to have an interesting, rewarding conversation with customers. You’ll have given them something they value – a game, information, a forum for debate, a film, even an outlet for complaint. But you can’t fake it.

You need to get the basics right and not just the aesthetics. You must ensure your social presence continues to reflect your brand identity visually and that your values sing through. It needs to join up with your other communications. Consistent logos, colour palettes and typefaces are as important here as anywhere else. If you’re going to be directing your customers from social media to your website any inconsistencies will be immediately apparent and potentially damaging. Most importantly, you must make the role that social media presence plays in your marketing mix clearly understandable for the customer.

By its very nature, social media is a collaborative experience. To be in this space, you must give some control of your brand to the customer. Screening or editing what they do and say goes against the essence of the channel, and is a sure fire way to alienate your customers. It’s because some brands can’t handle this perceived loss of control that they end up committing the most monumental faux pas.

Gap, to its initial embarrassment, quickly discovered the benefit of working with, rather than fighting against, the spirit of social media. When it posted its redesigned logo online it attracted a firestorm of criticism. It then attempted to crowdsource new ideas via Facebook – and that bombed too. Instead of considering the exercise a disaster, the experience became priceless feedback. It confirmed that everyone loved the old logo so they decided to stick with it. You can develop your brand all you like but if you decide to share it in the social space, you must be prepared for your customers to have a big say in how it is ultimately shaped. A lesson to us all.

Phil Dean

Phil Dean


Phil Dean is Managing Director of Communisis.