By Molly Flatt, Word of Mouth Evangelist at 1000heads.
Brands are well aware that openness and dialogue are the watchwords of Web 2.0; every marketing rag is exhorting them to get into social media, and get it right, or get left behind.
They understand that customers want them to listen to their opinions, offer personalised deals and be permanently, publicly available on the platforms which are becoming our default for information gathering, sharing and debate. They may have even jumped in with a blog and a Twitter feed. But they’re also beginning to wonder how on earth they’re going to sustain this model long term.
Many marketers seem to be scrambling from one hot platform to the next, eager to be part of the switched-on early adopters rather than the corporate dinosaurs. However, using these tools appropriately takes some serious resource and even large-scale internal restructuring.
Those companies with an effective presence in social media are deeply embedded in the community and employ specific individuals able to personify their brand voice. General Electric’s B2B blog, GEReports.com, is full of engaging and detailed updates, photos, video interviews with staff and YouTube product demonstrations; their Twitter feed is helmed by Megan Parker, an informed and enthusiastic employee who is quick in responding personally to the online business community.
On the B2C side, Shelly Bernstein runs an excellent blog for the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Recently speaking at the Communicating the Museum 09, she emphasised how important personal investment in the brand voice is; she is responsive on the museum’s Twitter feed 24/7, answering questions, updating news and debating with visitors and artists.
Bottom line, there is no point in maintaining a social media presence if you can’t do it well and add real value to both the brand and the online community. But having a clear aim and strategy is surprisingly rare amongst brands blinded by the technology.
If your aim is to use Facebook as an extra customer services forum, you’d better make sure you have the resource to respond to each message personally, and visibly change according to the feedback so it doesn’t just degenerate into a hate group.
If your aim is to use Twitter as a news and developments feed, you need enough original information to keep it fresh several times a day, and engaging content to link to that isn’t press releases or technical specs. There is enough white noise on the web as it is, and propagating useless presences will only dilute and even harm your brand voice.
The examples cited above are effective because the friendly conversation is always related to the brand’s offering. Consumers want to feel that the people they are paying to provide them with goods and services have authority and expertise, and the brand voice shouldn’t just be generically friendly, but passionately engaged in the products and character of the company.
Push the boundaries of your legal and security teams and publish as much relevant content as possible about their product development, technologies and breakthroughs. You don’t have to hide your commercial nature under a patina of inconsequential chat, and it’s OK to sell if you’re listening and engaging in conversation too – links to product pages from Dell’s chatty @DellOutlet Twitter feed have generated over $3 million in sales.
An ongoing narrative will also give a brand voice consistency and longevity. Evolution needs a story of progress and growth that consumers can connect with at different stages and in different ways. What is at the heart of your business offering and your vision for the future? The best brand voice is in fact a composite of the voices of your customers.
So find ways to turn your brand narrative into a sensory experience, so that your customers can feel, smell and touch what you are and be inspired to share. Give them immersive sessions with your products; organise meet-ups with staff and each other; design exciting collaborations which make them feel that they’re actually helping build your story of progress, not just watching it happen.
Then let them take their independent content and conversation, inspired by that experience, to their own venues and communities. By encouraging customers to talk about you, not just with you, you ensure that they are taking conversation about your brand into the heart of their own communities. These evangelists will get you heard, with respect, in spaces a brand could, and should, never tread.
So although brands are being encouraged to project their voice more pervasively, the rule of thumb is to do less, but better. Chose your platforms, have a clear strategy, and invest in the right people and the right internal approach.
Build a long-term narrative which will allow consumers to collaborate in your story of growth. And then encourage them to be the eclectic, independent and emotionally engaged ‘voices’ of your brand out in their own venues and communities.
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