Are you embarrassed that a 16-year-old knows more about social media branding than you? Don’t be! It can be daunting—and not just for those of us who got our first email address after college.
You aren’t alone, either: The 2017 Small Business Marketing Trends Report found that less than half of small businesses use digital advertising and social media effectively. It’s a fast-changing world with metrics, visitors, and hashtags. And don’t be fooled—branding is more than conversions.
Let’s repeat: branding on social media is NOT simply about conversions
I know you’re thinking, “But I need conversions for sales!” Of course you do. But branding is much more nuanced and significant. A sale today may create an unhappy customer tomorrow if you close someone that shouldn’t be buying from you. Think about it: How many times have you accidentally purchased something you’ll never use because of a snappy incentive, only to resent the supplier later? Your focus must be wider and deeper.
Well-crafted branding is the thing that makes consumers remember you and love your business. It helps instigate a need for a product or service. It creates and solidifies your positioning in the market. A conversion is simply a purchase—one that could be based on impulse, insufficient availability of appropriate options, or any number of factors that are not good for your business. A lifetime customer seeks your brand over all other options.
The two questions to ask are:
- Am I attracting single-purchase or lifetime customers?
- Does the conversion help or hinder my business from building lifetime customer value?
Perhaps creating consistent branding and messaging was simple before Facebook and Myspace. In the past, brands were visible only on a handful of public television stations, printed in widely-read regional newspapers, and heard over radio stations. Now, it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest…should we stop there?
What’s a small business to do?
If you are just now expanding into social media, you’ve hopefully constructed some sort of brand platform (positioning for your company that is expressed graphically and verbally). At BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE, we take our clients through discovery, research, and strategy to develop a brand platform that serves as the beacon for all marketing vehicles (not just social media) visuals and messaging.
The message and identity conveyed through social media is no different from the identity in the company newsletter, packaging, or brochures; still, the social media site where it is expressed will have its own best practices. To help ease a little of your pain, here’s a brief branding guide to four of the largest social media platforms with a few tips to keep in mind.
Basics: Facebook allows consumers to connect with each other, create events and groups; share photos, files, and links; and embed videos (and a LOT more). Posts can allow for commenting, as well as hashtags for search engine optimization. Businesses can make free posts to a free business page, or through paid “boosted posts” and ads. Facebook’s complex array of privacy settings seems to change with regularity.
Tips: Brands can create “pages” that allow businesses and consumers to connect…yet less than 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies interact with consumers on their actual pages. A growing business can safely assume most, if not all, of its U.S. customers have a profile on Facebook.
The newest and most effective avenue for branding on Facebook is to use video, live or otherwise, a trend rapidly gaining interest (see this post). Facebook videos will appear in Google search results (just like YouTube). Facebook also allows a brand to create “custom audiences” for specific ad content. That’s right—target existing customers with specific video content based upon what you already know. Keep ‘em short and sweet and targeted, and pay attention to the response so that you can adjust accordingly.
Strong brands use the calendar year to plan and organize topics that they would like to cover far in advance, just like magazines. The holy grail here is to control your video and messaging well enough to subvert traditional media all together, building an audience of your own on a much smaller budget.
Basics: Consumers (and businesses) share videos, which can be linked to specific user profiles. Videos can allow for commenting, sharing, and thumb up/down features, and include the number of views (associated with that specific user’s video). The counter can provide a snowball effect: A video with 50 million views may continue to gain new views and shares as it is listed at the top of popularity listings and algorithms, compared to one with only 50,000.
Tips: YouTube videos can function as ads, particularly for more off-color content (consider Poopourri, as an example), but the video itself can also begin with a short ad.
Well-branded videos have a wide array of strategies (take a look here for some great examples). Humor. Absurdity. Emotional needs. Awareness. The key for your brand depends upon the perception you want to create. T-Mobile’s flash-mobs tend to be effective because they unexpectedly draw attention. “Life is for sharing” is their motto, and T-Mobile helps share with a cell phone. Yet, flash mobs are unlikely to work for financial services. Your desired perception must guide the video content that will appeal to your target audience.
What’s another way to use YouTube? Instructional videos! If anyone is interested in how you do what you do, this can be a great place to show and tell. There are literally tens of millions of YouTube channels that explain the processes within very successful companies. These videos serve as client outreach marketing, just like old-fashioned facility tours and consumer meetings. If done well and frequent enough, these can create lots of customers who understand your company, which, in turn, shortens the sales process.
Basics: Instagram, now owned by Facebook, emphasizes visual imagery. It allows users to share photos and videos with each other, the public, and through other platforms like Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr. Photos and videos can be shared directly from mobile devices, which makes for an informal, easily updated, social media tool. Commenting, tagging users and geographic locations, liking, and private messages are also features. Instagram is all about sharing and discovering, which is great for small businesses looking to generate a name.
Tips: An image is worth a thousand words, and Instagram proves it. Not everyone enjoys words. Perceptions can be more succinctly made with images. Use Instagram to show how your brand meets consumer needs rather than telling them.
Instagram has an array of filters for photographs, but your visual identity should remain consistent. Just because a filter looks great doesn’t mean your brand should use it. Does it wash out or change your colors (do you recognize Tiffany’s signature blue box) if it is in black and white? A vintage and dusty filter may contradict your high-tech services. Be consistent. If something isn’t working, rather than merely picking a new filter, pause to consider if it’s your visual identity that needs a tweak.
Last, use hashtags: they are automatic, clickable search terms for Instagram users. Your photo is included in search results when someone clicks on a hashtag (of any photo) and your photo includes that hashtag.
Basics: Brevity. Although Twitter allows for images and links, its genesis is in 140 characters or fewer (including hashtags). Tweets can inspire or backfire. A tweet can be made at someone or to the public at large. Tweets can be liked, retweeted, or printed and displayed on the Senate floor.
Tips: Engage, engage, engage...with carefully-worded copy. Don’t create a twitter account and then ignore it. A recent trend among consumers is to use twitter for customer service complaints…and more than 70 percent expect a response to a complaint within an hour. But don’t panic, because almost 80 percent of consumers feel positive when a brand responds to a tweet, regardless of the outcome.
Identify a specific brand voice for Twitter (and your entire company, for that matter). One exercise that BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE conducts with clients, when developing a verbal identity, is to consider their business vocabulary. This is because specific words, particularly in U.S. English, carry distinct impressions (for example, Disney calls their employees “Cast Members”). We also select company brand archetypes (i.e., gender/non-gender voices, the hero, the magician, the caretaker?) This exercise creates consistency, and helps avoid sounding like everyone else, which is particularly important on Twitter where brevity is required.
Remember: Branding is multi-faceted
Branding is visual and verbal. It includes logos, colors, words, images, and designs, each of which contribute to your personality. Consistency across multimedia platforms is not impossible and may simply mean a shift in emphasis between verbal and visual. Both identities are required, but not necessarily in every platform.
Social media doesn’t change the ingredients to building a brand, only its execution
Stay true to the standards you’ve created. The script that worked on YouTube may not be possible on Twitter, but word choice remains relevant. Images that look great on a desktop computer might not size properly when viewed on mobile devices. Consider both.
If multiple platforms are daunting, start with two or three, and focus your efforts on executing your brand effectively rather than tackling multiple avenues only to abandon several of them. A brand that ignores consumers may find itself ignored, but a brand engaged with consumers, wherever they are found, may find that it has raving fans.
Re Perez is a seasoned Brand Consultant, with a Fortune 500 background at top global brand consultancies including Interbrand and Siegel+Gale. Since 2011, his agency BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE, has delivered Fortune 500-level branding to thousands of entrepreneurs across more than 45 different industries around the world—from start-ups, Inc. 500 fastest growing companies, and established multi-million-dollar businesses.