How your social media may be killing your brand

With the degree to which many companies drank the proverbial social media “Kool-Aid” last year, it’s no wonder that a slew of organizations are feeling a hangover effect in 2010. Many firms are beginning to realize that all their time and money spent devising and implementing such an approach has not only failed to produce measurable results, but also damaged their own brand equity in the process.

What happened

A good number of companies jumped into Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and other platforms over the past 12-18 months without a well conceived plan to bring those conversations back to their primary web site. Sure, discussions are occurring, and many in fact may be positive in and of themselves. However, without a solid strategy, it’s very difficult to measurably tie social media back to business goals.

What’s more, many companies have conducted their social media initiatives as though it were a virtual popularity contest. What is the significance of having a million fans on Facebook? Unless those fans are engaged, they represent nothing more than a collection, and the value fades faster than their memory of having clicked that button. The underlying problem is that companies have essentially offloaded hard-earned traffic from their sites as individuals opt instead to follow their Twitter and Facebook accounts almost exclusively. Worse yet, those fans and followers are orphaned by a shortsighted content strategy that ends with an editorial calendar.

This isn’t the first time organizations have jumped on a bandwagon and blindly built a marketing plan around the latest shiny object. This “knee-jerk” tactical reaction to social media is not dissimilar to the dotcom gold rush of the mid nineties, when everyone needed a website, but many weren’t quite sure why. The unfulfilled promise of riches, and the bubble that followed, forced many to reevaluate their priorities. More recently, we had seen throngs of people on public street corners competing for drivers’ attention by twirling a life-size sign pointing to a nearby coffee shop, jewelry story or other outlet. While they’re still present, their numbers are dwindling because the net effect is proving to be slim at best.

What’s next

That’s not to say that Twitter, Facebook and other similar platforms will die in similar fashion – what will change is the ways in which they are used. These platforms can still be valuable components to a company’s comprehensive marketing strategy, but organizations will need to get smarter about how to leverage them in order to reclaim the conversation and draw attention back to their own domains.

The solution could be seen as the social media equivalent to the “hub and spoke” method many airlines use in their operations. The primary domain should always be considered the hub for social media. Most conversations should be drawn back to central areas through hyperlinks and recommendations by the originator. In doing so, customers and prospects are funneled to more detailed information and content that can help them take action, thereby increasing the potential for more conversions and sales.

 But it doesn’t end there. The most successful examples are seen when social media channels are fully integrated into the brand site, allowing users to engage and share without leaving. This is not to suggest that companies should try to create their own social networks. Rather, give existing social media users access to the functionality they would find in Twitter or Facebook, and one such example of this type of integration can be seen at Threadless (http://twitter.threadless.com). A successful social media strategy requires a component that will transform followers into return visitors to your primary site.

As obvious as this may seem, it’s often neglected, and many “social” approaches seen today are not social at all. Baiting hooks and throwing them into the water is not social, especially when those hooks are not tied to anything.

Organizations must not succumb to “Shiny Object Syndrome” or chase the latest fad just to keep up with perceptions. Rather, companies can leverage social media to its maximum benefit by having a concrete strategy and measurable objectives that align directly with their business and branding goals before submitting their first post. This takes a concerted and dedicated effort by both management and those responsible for its execution. Trust me, though, when I say that it’s time very well spent.

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Categories: Sales & Marketing