Customer-Brand Relationship Strategy and Social Media – Why, How?

I recently had the opportunity to examine some cases of companies that did, and did not utilize social media as a part of their branding and communication strategies. Social media has a variety of powerful uses for an organization, some of these I have discussed here on my blog. However, one use, commonly overlooked by many organizations, is the customer-brand relationship strategy.

The fact that many firms overlook the ability to build their customer brand relationship through social media (in fact I would argue social media is the easiest way to do so) is definitely unfortunate. Companies spend millions in advertising and branding in non-conversational channels to build brand, but customer brand relationship is unique in some ways to our classic view of “branding”. The most obvious way being that it is a two way tactic.

Customer brand relationship takes two most common forms, both of which have power and purpose, but they apply to products in different markets and times. These forms include Loyalty / Intimacy and the other is Passion. Loyalty / intimacy requires a great deal of interaction, but investment in this strategy means that a brand becomes more protected from severe reputation swings or damage in the face of a disaster. The passion relationship is known to drive interest and buzz, but tends to lend less credibility and trust to the brand.

Building out a social media strategy that accomplishes one of these relationships with your target consumers is complex and requires dedication. I would recommend doing research to see how other brands have accomplished the task (see a case study on how Commonwealth Edison did it a few years ago). I can assure you, taking the approach of simply sharing neat things, will not get you there. It is surprising how many firms have yet to realize that there is so much more value that can be pulled from social media than driving people to one of your blog posts or pretty picture (see Home Depot’s Twitter account).

How much is investment in something like this worth? I would say, quite a bit for sure. Organizations spend a great deal of time and money on risk management, crisis management and reputation management. A dedication to building a consumer brand relationship of loyalty / intimacy gives you a foothold on each of those, and if your network is large enough, and your strategy is targeted, your brand becomes far more protected in a time of crisis. Take a look at the Nestle – Greenpeace, Palm Oil case. Had Nestle taken this seriously, and taken Greenpeace’s social network capabilities seriously, they would have avoided significant brand damage from the occurrence.

So my recommendation here is this, determine which consumer brand relationship your company, product or service would benefit most from, then research how to achieve this relationship and then create the strategy to make it happen. Far too many companies still overlook social media’s true potential. In this case, it is brand protection, risk management and reputation management, all wrapped up together.

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Which Social Media KPI’s Should Marketing Leaders Monitor?

Much like the rest of digital marketing, social media provides marketers with measurable results. Marketing automation platforms, web analytics programs and social analytics programs all offer the ability to paint a pretty clear picture of how your team is doing growing your company through social media. As a person in charge of a marketing team, you can’t possibly look at every last report and micromanage all scenarios. For a marketing leader that has an already mature process in place with his or her team, what Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) define your social marketing success other than the obvious ROI? What should be measured about your team’s social media marketing strategy to determine whether or not profitable revenue from social media marketing will be growing next quarter?

One could make the argument for a variety of deeper factors, but to me, when considering the whole, big picture of modern marketing, these three KPI’s stand out the most, and contribute to successful revenue generation, ROI and critical growth factors for your other marketing and communication channels. Lead Generation, Increasing Following and Influencer Outreach are measurable, assignable KPI objectives that will ensure growth each and every quarter. Put them in place, guide the strategies and the positive reports will follow.

I have intentionally left social media advertising completely out of this equation. This is intended for organic social media marketing growth, to me, ad spend falls under its own channel.

Lead Generation
This is an obvious one. High visibility on social media can generate leads. As your team grows your social media following, outreach and activity, leads will increase. Typically, this consists of
1) Passers by who are curious about your company via a post or your profile description. The person then checks out your site, then converts.
2) Conversions generated by posts and messaging that includes direct or indirect company promotion.
3) Also, the obvious soft lead generation through content marketing is a primary way to move a social following into your funnel.

Increasing Your Following
Clearly the main goal of social media for business is to increase your following. Being comfortable with a smaller following than your competition or a stagnant following means that you aren’t moving the needle well enough. Improving your following, expanding your reach, growing your numbers are critical to generating revenue and improving ROI through social media marketing. There is almost no follower that is a bad follower. If you have 10 people within your industry that retweet a key message, thats great, hopefully their followers see the message, click through, retweet or take some form of action that then spurs another couple of layers of eyeballs on the message and additional action takers. If you have 100 followers who see your message, take action at a similar rate, obviously your reach is exponentially greater. This is key to your content marketing efforts and PR capabilities. Plus, as an added bonus, a large following lends greater credibility to your organization.

Influencer Outreach
How well is your team obtaining influencer relationships? How well is your team making friends with influential people? Influencer outreach is key to content marketing, PR, affiliate lead gen, SEO, branding, credibility and more. In order to take full advantage of these relationships, your marketing team must have certain channels built out and ready to deploy. However, when things are in place and your influencer outreach strategy is effective, the publicity, branding and lead generation power improves exponentially.

Going forward, measure your team’s social media marketing success with these three KPI’s. It will make the management process and reporting back to the CEO both easier.

Maximizing Your Organization’s SME’s – Grow Traffic, Leads and Social Media Reach through Your Talented Employees

Most leading organizations have Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) that they turn to for things like heavy technical work, high profile speaking engagements, consulting jobs etc. Within many SME’s lies tremendous marketing potential. Also a characteristic of these tremendously talented industry thought leaders is their lack of knowing how to market themselves or how to transform their marketing potential into action. This is where a marketing team can step in to harness this power. With a few simple changes and steps a marketing team can use this power to their advantage and can charge forward with high return campaigns with relatively low involvement.

Build an Internal Affiliate Program for Lead Generation

The question that marketers have to ask here is; what is the best way to get in front of this traffic with the buy-in of the employee. The answer is an internal affiliate program. I have personal experience with creating this type of program and the buy-in is usually VERY easy to acquire. These SME’s typically don’t have any form of monetization on their sites. An affiliate program can change that for them. Setting this up is quite easy. Build an affiliate form with an offer attached to it and have the SME post it on their blog. The affiliate form can be built via iFrame, and in cases where the blogging platform rejects an active javascript form, you can have your affiliate form then default to a more simple text link that refers the traffic to an internal page on your site that captures the affiliate ID and gives the appropriate credit. Both functions of this form can be tracked through your analytics package and with your CRM. That way, you can automate monthly reports to show the SME how their affiliate campaign has performed. Depending on how much you want to invest in the function of the form, other features like dynamic ip address location recognition can be added to do things like optimize the message on the form. Since you are creating a relatively simple iFrame form, multiple versions of the form can be set up to allow easy A/B testing.

Obviously, in order to keep the program alive, you have to show results / commissions to the publishers. Your sales staff should be notified of the source and nature of the lead. It also helps if you have a Marketing Automation or Revenue Performance Management platform that will nurture the leads, depending on how direct your affiliate offer message is. Leads can be scored and then put into a salesperson’s hands when they meet the criteria to do so.

Get Traffic and Link Juice from Your SME’s

High levels of targeted web traffic is relatively hard or expensive to acquire. In most cases you either need to invest in developing a powerful SEO presence (this obviously doesn’t work over night) or you need to buy the traffic via ads or a few other referral sources, which can really bite a chunk out of the monthly marketing budget. So typically, you are looking at making a large investment however you get your traffic.

Most organizations do not think to tap a resource that they have in their back pocket, the network of websites that their employees own. Many SME’s run industry blogs where they talk about things that they come across in the day to day challenges of their job. Many of these blogs get steady, really really targeted traffic.

So, this is an easy one. Hopefully your company is running a content calendar or some form of high output on quality content, in the form of blog posts. Tap your SME’s blogs for traffic and link juice by offering content or content ideas and request appropriate pieces be placed as posts on your SME’s blogs.

Utilize their Social Media Potential

The first thing to do is to use the applications that are managed within your organization’s social media marketing team to build up the social media presence of your SME’s. SME’s carry an inherent ability to pick up followers because aspiring professionals in their field often want to follow the messages of these experts so that they can learn. Many of these followers have a network of friends and so on.

Create branded social media profiles for your SME’s, ie. include the company brand in their handles, always. Have them include these handles in all of their interaction, business cards, presentation boiler plates etc.

Your SME’s should be trained to acquire followers wherever they appear and wherever they go. Beyond this, the social media team should set the SME up to help build their following. A mature social media marketing team will have tools and applications in place that build social media followings for the company. Most of these platforms allow for multiple user management. The social media team should set campaigns and even automate certain activity at the discretion of the SME that will allow for following growth. Also, acquire the OK from the SME to very rarely promote certain things that the company is doing. This shouldn’t include sales pitches on products or services, but rather, the promotion of company lead gen assets like white papers, contact capture videos and free downloads.

Social following also builds PR outreach capabilities. The social media team can monitor the profiles of your SME’s following and identify people with PR potential (and other potential like websites, co-marketing opportunities etc.). Request the SME to reach out to these followers when an appropriate message needs to be moved. Press Releases, white papers etc. Much of social media is about relationships, as relationships build, favors can be asked.

This is how a marketing team can easily (and with scale) tap the resource that exists within their company SME’s.

How Social Media Strategy “Should” Look at the Enterprise Organization Level

Social media for business is really great. Businesses can seemingly compete on a pretty level playing field (for the most part) with their competitors when it comes to social media marketing. Companies that are successful in social media can gain massive exposure, generate leads, syndicate valuable content, grow mentions and backlinks etc. if they know what they are doing. If your following is bigger than your competitor’s, then you have an edge. So a small business with a huge, targeted following can achieve greater results (again, if they know what they are doing) from social media marketing than could a medium sized business with a much larger marketing budget (putting social media ads to the side here for the purpose of this article). All in all, this seems pretty true right? Well, larger businesses have a much greater asset than simply their company’s social following, that is, the people that work for them.

My experience has shown that individuals generally can be far more successful at achieving many of the goals often associated with social media marketing than a business. AKA, a person’s social media account can do more than a business account. Social media in general is driven by people looking to branch out to other people, not people looking to be sold to. I don’t know of any large organization that is doing this, but here is what a social media marketing strategy should look like, in an enterprise organization.

Obviously, they take the same approach to strategy any business who is successful on social media takes, content sharing, connecting with influencers etc.

The collective following of their employees is the untapped resource I am blogging about here though. Enterprise organizations should be utilizing this. These companies should create a plan to take advantage of this massive social media marketing resource. Here are some ideas for that strategy:

–          Encourage employees to be active on social media

–          Provide them with the tools (make them available on the company network)

–          In some cases, the social media team can manage certain social media tool application for the employees

–          Train people on how to use social media and the tools you have provided

–          Train people on do’s, don’t’s and how to promote a consistent brand message

–          Establish feeds to get them to move your corporate digital content and lead gen content

–          Establish incentives for participation and etch out “social media time”

If your company wants to run a webinar on a hot topic and you are expecting the primary source of promotion to be social media, your firm’s 40,000 Twitter followers will result in some pretty decent results, I’m sure. However, your firm’s 500 employees who are actively engaged on Twitter and probably have about 200 followers each, would be a heck of a lot more effective. My organization has had a great deal of success with this and we have yet to run in to a problem from it. Almost everyone in our company is set up with all the tools and techniques, many of the accounts are actually managed to a certain extent by our social media team, while the employee still has full access. The shares, retweets etc. gain us exceptional results, consistently. If you mature your enterprise social media strategy and harness your employee’s social following (and we all know we should, remember, marketing is not a department, its a company mindset), then you can eventually make your enterprise social selling strategy really rock!

(Time-Capsule Note: Here in 2013, the enterprise world isn’t quite ready to accept a social selling strategy…)