In his book Engage, Brian Solis drives home the point that conversations through social media are changing the way brands and businesses communicate with customers.  Now, more than ever, consumers have the power to influence the decisions of their peers and can easily affect perceptions of brands.

Solis outlines for us a plethora of social media tools to use for integrated marketing.  Each of these tools has its own unique specialty and application.

  • Blogs – a hub for demonstrating expertise, listening, and responding
  • Podcasts – a tool to reach individuals who prefer audio
  • Wikis – facilitate collaboration and allow visitors to update content from any browser
  • Social Calendars/Events – See what events friends are attending
  • Livecasts – live video on demand
  • microblogs  – allows for aggregation and conversation threading with real-time, searchable conversations.
  • Photo/Multimedia Sharing/ Video Broadcast- allows interaction around photos, music, and video
  • Dashboards – aggregates social information into one page
  • Social Networks – connects influencers, peers, friends, and family

Understanding the benefits and application of these specific tools is important but before starting a social media program, brands must have an engagement plan that includes objectives, procedures, and social branding.  This plan should also consider the personality of the brand and identify how online profiles will appear.  When creating content, the author’s personality must also reflect that of the brand’s. Todd Wasserman of Mashable places this point as the first tip for maintaining brand consistency across social media.   According to Solis, The first step in creating an online branded personality is to develop a Brand Reflection Cycle Chart.  This chart will include brand attributes such as core values, pillars, promise, aspirations, brand characteristics, opportunities, culture, and personality.  The core values make up the center of the chart and must remain consistent with every engagement.  Establishing a brand’s voice is crucial as it reflects these core values, for example when representing the U.S. Navy, the personality may reflect one of a patriot or hero but wouldn’t reflect humor.  In contrast, a less serious brand such as Doritos has more flexibility to weave in humorous elements.   Along with producing content that is insightful or entertaining, consistent voice builds a foundation for people to follow, admire, and trust.

Attention to details such as voice, tone, and shared content is important also for personal social media interaction.  The things we share help to shape the definition of who we are. Building personal brands and managing personal reputation on line is important as it can portray our personality and values to friends, family, and potential employers.  The posts, statuses, photos, videos that are broadcast on social networks can establish how people perceive us.

Companies and brands must also take care to manage their online reputations.  To do this, they should develop polices, guidelines, and rules of engagement for employees who create content for any kind of social media that represents the brand.  The guidance may include instructions like: ensure a brand-enhancing tone or voice, add value, be respectful, and be transparent.  According to Layla Revis of Mashable, corporations should adhere to the following 6 steps to avoid an online reputation crisis:

  1. Don’t Pretend a Crisis Is Not Happening
  2. Don’t Refuse to Backtrack
  3. Become Influential and Change Perceptions
  4.  Don’t Make an Empty Gesture
  5.  Develop Channels of Communication
  6. Establish a Crisis Communications Response Team

Taking care to engage by following an engagement plan and following set guidelines is important, yet it’s not enough.  Brands and companies must also actively listen to conversations about them that are taking place across the web.  The Conversation Prism is a reference tool to help businesses gain insight into the various networks where relevant conversations are taking place.

Conversation Prism

Conversation Prism

This tool organizes and categorizes how people use the various social media networks and offers a framework, which can be utilized to build a conversation index.  The conversation index is a tool to assess the state of the brand.  Building a conversation index involves first listening, followed by documentation, presentation, and observation.

Engage provides some valuable insight — for example Solis provides clear guidance on how to create a conversation index and illustrates the importance of going through this time consuming process.  However, this section almost feels like an after thought at the end of the Conversation Prism chapter.   The Conversation Prism seems to be an infographic that illustrates the relationship between networks and the brand.  It highlights the richness of social tools that are being utilized today. For me, the real value was found in the conversation index.  Solis could have gone deeper in his explanation of how to listen to build the index.  He provided a detailed list of listening tools but could have provided the reader with a strategy for listening.  In other words, which listening tools or set of tools make sense for which organization?  What makes sense for a non-profit operating on a limited budget and which ones more readily benefit the Fortune 500?  I guess we’ll just have to start listening to find out.

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