Social media’s upside and downside on brand image

There’s no question but that many companies and organizations are flocking to social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to polish brand images as more traditional forms of marketing diminish in influence. But, social media is more complex than many realize … it’s an open door to your brand.

Used badly, social media has its downside …. like a costly black hole.

Some companies … a few … are using social media to genuinely engage with their customers and audiences. Others … a good many … use social media to continue the traditional style of pushing out sales and marketing messages, seldom taking the time to engage with people and … listen.

Take camera maker Leica or public broadcaster PBS, for example. They are on constant transmit on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t bother asking a question because you will not get a response. Far too many companies simply delete concerns and negative remarks expressed by customers. These companies misunderstand that social media’s purpose is not for cheerleading but rather conversation.

Makes me wonder … what’s achieved by not listening … other than blatantly telling people you don’t care what they think.

Zappos Founder and CEO Tony Hsieh is one authentic leader who learned early on that resolving customer complaints through social media would bring bountiful favorable publicity and media coverage. Hsieh listens to what people are saying and takes action to make customers happy. He welcomes complaints because he can resolve them so the whole world will see. Small wonder that his company is such a success.

Most companies and organizations, however, just use social media to drone-on with dull marketing jargon … and then, wonder why they have so few followers and no one is paying attention.

Some fundamental tips about social media:

  • Protecting a brand reputation begins with understanding the implications and potential cost of not protecting a reputation. Be smart about who is in charge of brand management on social media because too much is at stake for missteps.
  • Managing an organization’s social media is a critical part of brand management. Do not relegate it to junior staff and summer interns who lack the experience and nuance to know that a brand is merely a perception that can be damaged with one wrong word. Besides, it’s a fallacy to believe that young interns know more about social media.
  • There’s more … much, much more to social media than just Facebook and Twitter. It is essential to also use StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit … and, explore the galaxy of social media that might be more appropriate and more incisively reach target audiences.
  • Listening to and engaging with people on social media … especially those with a problem … is more important than simply talking about yourself. Use social media as an early alert … a warning sign … of problems and respond appropriately.
  • Handle social media in-house. Assigning social media tasks to advertising and PR agencies, many of whom lack the experience, can lead to problems.

Think of social media as the most immediate direct line to customers and audiences. It’s no place for amateurs.