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Creating a Dialogue: The Importance of Branding through Social Media

Art Hall

While most companies are still in the nascent stages of capturing and engaging their audiences through social media, recognizing the importance of the dialogue has become critical to successful branding efforts. While the unstructured customer data shared on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook provides stimulation for innovative ideas, the product, process improvements and insights presented can also help transform a company whose mission is to be more customer-centric, relevant and, more importantly, to stay attuned to customer needs.

A number of major brands—Case-Mate, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company and Intercontinental Hotels Group—actively engage their audiences on social networks. These brands began by developing an internal team of executives who understand the strategy, approach and importance of capturing customer feedback through these tools. But even early and successful adopters of social media have not necessarily achieved mainstream corporate acceptance. Many executives are still unsure if they should move forward with a social media strategy that includes audience engagement and executive involvement. The trepidation among executives is warranted—methodologies, process, talent and tools may be limited, maturing or non-existent—but the importance of engaging customers and promoting the brand with executives through social media cannot be ignored.

Integrating Social Media As Part of a Social Media Strategy

Strategies and approaches must be carefully crafted, if companies are to gain acceptance and integrate social media as part of their business strategy and corporate values. If brand integrity, customer service and transparency are core values of your business, then social media should easily fit within the context of your overall strategy.

Organizations must address damaging statements to the brand on offline channels, so they must also monitor the dialogue taking place on social media channels. Companies often extract insights from customers and prospects through offline focus groups and surveys; therefore, it stands to reason that they should extract those same insights through social media. There is a degree of immediacy for engaging the brand in social media channels due to the real-time and viral effects of not engaging customers and the brand through social media.

Therefore, executives need to see social media as a "game changer"—a strategic opportunity that aggressively positions their brand over competitors. The longer executives play the "wait and see" game, the more they run the risk of not being able to connect with their customer base, which can result in potential brand damage, customer attrition and loss of market share.


Mapping Feedback From Social to Customer Records

Integrating social media as part of strategy and focus is not hard to do, but poses various challenges. In a recent 1to1 Magazine article titled "Social Media Data Creates New Analytics Opportunities," James Taylor, CEO and principal consultant at Decision Management Solutions and co-author of Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Automating Hidden Decisions, said the biggest hurdle for integrating unstructured customer data is that it is not a representative sampling of customers themselves. To use data from social media effectively, it must be mapped to customer records to identify who is engaging with the company.

Mr. Jackson’s comment underscores one of the issues most companies have with executive involvement in social media—that is, social media approaches and techniques are still maturing. While agencies and social listening tools can assist with sentiment analysis and data mining, many businesses struggle with "operationalizing" customer-centric strategies and identifying a visionary and strategic owner of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Now, CRM has been around for more than a decade, and companies still struggle with organizational engagement and buy-in at the executive level, so how can organizations that have not fully adopted social media involve stakeholders when the tools are fairly new?

Another challenge to engaging executives is connecting social media to economic value added (EVA) or other financial valuation metrics on an income statement. Most executives manage the business against key lagging financial indicators like Earnings Before Interest Tax Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA). If executives cannot identify the positive impact of social media as a key financial valuation metric, such as EBITDA, it will likely get pushed to the back burner.

Given all of these challenges, here are five tips to help you successfully achieve executive involvement and brand engagement in social media:

  1. Hone Your Social Strategy. Once you have defined your mission, vision and corporate core values, it is important to define and link your social initiative to enable your business strategy.
  2. Define Your Critical Success Factors. What does success mean to your company? What are the measurements and how will you define them?
  3. Establish an Internal Social Media Council. This group can be comprised of cross-functional executives stakeholders charged with setting the direction for social media engagement aligned with the company’s overall strategy.
  4. Hire a "Digital" or "Community" Manager Responsible for Social Initiatives. This individual will not only be responsible for the administration of social initiatives but will have "a seat at the table" with executives to share insights, learnings and trends from a company’s social investment.
  5. Develop an Adoption or Change Management Process. If social media is new to your company, you will need to establish a holistic process to manage adoption and change in the organization. Communication plans and training, for example, are good places to start.

First published on Customer Management IQ