One of the struggles inherent to marketing is maintaining control of one's brand. We spend much more time policing our brand image than we do actually developing the logo, design scheme, style guide and tone of voice that will forever embody it (at least until it's time for a brand redesign).
This is particularly true online, where CGM, mash-ups, social news sites, forums and blogs make it easy for consumers to manipulate the way in which our brands are both perceived and received. Our concerns are no longer limited to our brand and corporate websites, where final say over messaging falls upon us. We now have to monitor a whole new battery of online properties, many of which are as potentially hazardous as they are helpful.
Building an identity with Web 2.0
On the helpful side, these social media-enabled sites allow marketers to enhance their messaging and extend their brand's reach. Consumers aren't limited to a single source for company information anymore, or a single environment for viewing your brand. They can stick with their favorite service or tool and still get to know what your company is all about.
The negative is that these tools were built to favor the consumer, not the marketer. And while there are ways for us to employ them to our advantage, they often become a conduit for "brand bashing" as frustrated and dissatisfied customers seek ways to transmit their annoyance to their peers.
This makes it all the more essential for marketers to get to know popular Web 2.0 tools. What follows is a list of the top three you should be considering from a branding perspective, and how to go about creating a presence there.
Marketing talk surrounding Facebook is usually in reference to its innovative (and sometimes controversial) advertising options, but for marketers interested in extending their brands to the social media space the focus should be on Facebook Pages. These free mini-sites, which live within Facebook, can be styled to mirror your existing brand site. They can be used to interact with current and potential customers through "wall" postings and a discussion board, both of which let marketers respond to inquiries and concerns the same way they would through a forum or blog. They can also house surplus content and exclusive information that can't be found on your stand-alone site, like photos, videos and Facebook applications.
Most marketers use Facebook Pages to increase brand and product awareness, or as a CRM tool. If your objective is the former, be sure to link back to your brand site in order to give consumers a way to pursue a transaction. You could also consider incorporating the first step in the purchase process directly into your Page; for example, through a widget that allows consumers to search for store locations, vendors or movie times.
You know that Wikipedia is a top 10 web property that routinely garners high search engine rankings and can add credibility to a brand. But if you're thinking of creating a Wikipedia entry as a form of advertising, think again. The site has strict rules about corporate PR, and an army of contributors ready to delete your submission at the first sign of biased promotion.
If your brand and products are well established and you have something of value to highlight -- like a well-known dedication to developing environmentally friendly products -- you may have a case for creating a page. Someone might even have already done it for you. Either way, it's important to ensure that your brand isn't being misrepresented there. Control over Wikipedia content lies in the hands of its users, and your entry will typically undergo numerous changes over time. So check back often, correct any inaccurate information and update text and images as necessary to reflect changes with your brand image and positioning.
On the surface, Twitter seems to be a pretty fruitless (albeit entertaining) way to pass a few hours. In actuality, this micro-blogging web application has a lot to offer marketers as a supplement or alternative to a corporate or product blog.
The trick is striking a balance between business and pleasure. Countless companies have launched "Corporate Twitters" that focus on company news, such as JetBlue with its airfare sales and weather advisories, and GM, which is currently using Twitter to promote its employee discount promotion and routinely delivers advice on which of its vehicles is right for its Twitter followers.
While this approach serves its purpose, it doesn't appear to be as successful as a less formal one, like that implemented by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. On his Twitter page, Hsieh shares his movie plans, pictures of his dinners out and experience at the Olympics in Beijing. He even occasionally references his business. This might not be your typical Corporate Twitter, but Hsieh himself represents the Zappos brand, and the Zappos brand is well represented through his youthful and lighthearted posts. As a result, the Zappos Twitter has far more followers than most companies' attempts -- nearly 11,000 and counting.
To fully take advantage of all that Web 2.0 has to offer from a branding perspective, it's best to integrate these channels as much as possible. Not only does this create cross-traffic between sites, but it encourages more interaction from consumers as well.
One company that has done a good job of this is Paramount Pictures. Its Facebook Page blends exclusive film content with corporate features like job opportunities and sister-company news. A corporate overview includes the company's boilerplate, the Recent Updates page section highlights new products in their official capacity, the Our Films section links to individual movie sites and a branded button links to the company's Twitter page.
The Paramount Facebook Page has relatively few fans (just over 9,300 by my last count). But collecting subscribers clearly isn't the brand's objective, as evidenced by its efforts to drive consumers to its unique film product pages and sites. In establishing and maintaining a presence on Facebook and Twitter, the brand is able to offer consumers a place to go for official and authentic brand information. This can go a long way in countering any negative brand imagery that may have emerged on social sites, and asserts the company's dedication to connecting with its customers through open conversation.
As more sites and services emerge, retaining your brand identity in the Web 2.0 space is bound to get more complex. Doing so is well worth the effort, though. And with so many new tools at our disposal, there's almost no limit to how far our brands can go.