(Dear Reader, this post was originally written in 2013, when social media was still a big bawling baby. Now that it’s a toddler, we asked the author, social media consultant Ash Mashhadi, to update it for 2016. Enjoy!)
If you’ve been living under a rock, you just may have failed to notice the phenomenal growth in the use of business social media over recent years.
It has been estimated that 91% of retail brands now use 2 or more social media channels to interact with their clients. Facebook has more than 1.23 billion monthly active users. On WordPress alone, over 56 million blog posts are published every month. When that many people are spending that much time on something, you might think it’s important that every business needs to consider it seriously. You’d be wrong: it’s not important, it’s essential.
What is it?
For the uninitiated, it can seem like an impenetrable jungle of websites with poorly-spelt names: Flickr, Bebo, SmugMug (yeah, I know). But they do have something in common. They’re part of a new way of working with the web; one that puts you in the driver’s seat.
Brand-building in the Virtual World
If you’re thinking of entering the social media world to extend awareness of your brand, think hard. You need to understand the environment and the culture before you jump in. Very recently Habitat almost destroyed their reputation by wading into Twitter without sufficient preparation.
To get off on the right foot, you need to learn the three P’s of Social Media:
1 – Participation
It’s all about participating with passion and adding value. Join in other people’s conversations, but only if you have something worthy to contribute. Gone are the days of old-school advertising-by-shouting-and-repetition; audiences online are never passive recipients, they are judging your brand by everything you say and do, so talk to people with respect. Remember that you do not own your brand, they do, so the way you interact contributes to how they feel about your brand. Rule Number One is Build Relationships, but not customer relationships, people relationships.
2 – Personality
Define yourself to differentiate. Nobody wants to talk to a corporate entity (they never pay for the drinks). What makes you special is your passion for what you do. My Twitter ID is @inspirationguy and that’s my personality too, because I love to inspire small businesses. If I can share an idea or insight that will help them, I’m more likely to share it freely than ask anyone to buy it. I know that people don’t drop IQ points when they go online, so I assume they’re smart enough to know that if I share a few great ideas online, working with me will produce even more. Use your enthusiasm for your work to express your brand values. Lastly, always remain professional. What you say on your social media channels is visible to everyone, so it is absolutely vital to remain an honest ambassador for your brand and your organisation.
3 – Patience
Building your brand online is not like marketing offline. There is no magic bullet with social media. You can’t just place an ad and wait, like advertisers used to do. Working within the social media world is an ongoing activity. Allow some time each day to devote to it and treat it with the same dedication as you would attending networking events. Keep an eye on changing behaviour too. Facebook may be popular, but is it right for your demographic? Maybe you should be looking at developing your story on Instagram or Snapchat instead if that’s where your potential customers are. Be patient, take the time to get it right, stay the course. It works.
So Much More
There is so much more to say on this subject, such as the importance of creating a coherent and consistent narrative across all your platforms. If you sound like a teenager on Snapchat, but like a 50-year-old on Facebook, your overall brand voice will sound more than a little off. So don’t be surprised if people don’t see you as having a particularly high trust value.
However, the key thing is to remember why you’re doing there. If it’s just to make a quick buck, forget it. That won’t work. If you want to develop real relationships and your brand to become valued, then your honesty and consistency will be welcomed. Whether you want to promote a corporate brand or your own personal brand, the rules are the same: an authentic, generous approach can open doors that you never even knew were there.
The Next Step
Two things are almost certainly true though: (1) you are not doing enough right now to build your brand with social media, and (2) the opportunities for businesses of every size to absolutely explode their brand’s popularity online have never been better. Knowing that, what are you going to do about it?