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A company’s brand is a complex, social construction created around your products and business. The impression of a brand comes not just from what you put in your marketing messages, but it also includes all the broader feelings, connotations, interactions and emotional responses associated with it. All of these aspects are built socially, and online social media have created an unprecedented capability for customers to share and amplify these brand impressions. People enjoy talking – and complaining – about brands, so it’s vital that you are part of the conversation.
Social branding is the process of marketing your brand in an online social space. It’s all about creating brand equity, building brand awareness and fostering loyal communities. In basic terms, social branding involves creating profiles on social media websites and filling them with brand-related content that is geared towards reinforcing the business’ desired brand image. It’s not enough to create a Facebook, Twitter or WordPress account, however; you need to engage daily, meaningfully and appropriately with your social networks.
Since it is not an avenue for hard selling, many companies feel that social branding is a nice (but hardly vital) added extra – after all, since it doesn’t attract direct revenues, it’s not a priority. However, this thinking does not take into account the benefits when a brand builds loyalty and customer satisfaction, nor does it account for the harm that could happen if a large social group slanders the brand. The PR disasters facing BP (after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill) and Nestle (whose farming pratices endanger fragile rainforests) attest to this.
Social branding is entirely about communicating with customers and the public, something that has become both easier and much more complex as people embrace the internet as their primary communication channel. Six million of the wealthiest South Africans are online, and over half of them use Facebook. Conversations, good and bad, will happen around your brand regardless of what you do. Therefore, it’s vital that you participate in them and steer them in the right direction. Participating involves both acting – creating and adding content, links and information – and reacting – listening and responding to customers.
The goal is to make your company feel like a relatable, enthusiastic social actor, rather than an impersonal corporate entity. In a world of computers and technology, customers value a human and personal approach – and your business would do well to capitalise on this.
Social branding will be one of the main topics of discussion at the University of Cape Town Internet Marketing course, which starts on 28 February 2011. Visit Get smarter for more information.