Who’s controlling your brand message?
Recent high-profile Twitter blunders from Progressive Insurance and online store CelebBoutique underscore the challenges of outsourcing your voice as a brand.
Not too long ago, every brand communication was painstakingly crafted in a boardroom or executive suite. Now, in the age of social media, control of a brand’s message can be in the hands of countless social media experts, consultants, freelancers, or even interns. They’re communicating with consumers multiple times a day on Facebook and Twitter, which raises two problems: maintaining consistency in an integrated marketing plan -- especially when social media is outsourced to social media agencies or consultants -- and establishing an authentic brand voice that can keep up with the consumers’ demands for unlimited access.
In order to successfully outsource your voice, here are some key strategies:
1. Find a way to blend your brand knowledge and social meda expertise
Unlike most other media channels, your brand voice in social media must be flexible -- you have to appeal to fans on an individual level and respond quickly to their comments. The challenge is maintaining a consistent tone while still being timely and multidimensional. There are several ways that brands try to stay true to their voice -- with varying degrees of success.
The first way that brands have established to adjust their communications is by working with a social media agency, which handles all of the daily interaction with consumers. The second way is by creating an internal department to handle all of the social media communications. The third way is a hybrid between the two -- the brand has a social media team internally but works with an agency in creating concepts and execution.
The first two approaches are fairly common, but have their drawbacks. On the plus side, an internal team has instant access to customer service, public relations, and legal resouces to answer questions and draft appropriate messaging. However, the internal department may lack expertise in with managing multiple diverse communities, analyzing the latest methods in benchmarking and measuring ROI, and often the awareness of what other brands are doing to push the envelope.
The third approach is ideal because it combines the talents of both the brand team and the social media agency. Brands that do this successfully often keep certain aspects of community management in-house, like customer service, but rely on the social media agency to help set benchmarks, to increase engagement, or to come up with campaign ideas.
For example, an agency and a brand will work together in the real world by splitting up certain social media tasks and joining forces on others. Customer service and public relations are owned by the brand. Social media strategy and campaign concepts are created by the agency. The editorial calendar is written and published by the agency, but establishing what trending topics are brand appropriate, deciding which products to focus on and defining social media objectives are ultimately up to the brand. This collaborative process allows for the best balance of expertise.
2. Inflexible messaging never sounds authentic
It’s easy to fall into standardized, robotic messaging to keep a brand’s communications in check. However, fostering fluid conversations with consumers gives the brand more power than it takes away. Consumers can spot the difference between a company that is passionate about speaking to them and one that is afraid. They will rally behind brands that they can make a more meaningful connection with -- and rally against ones that sound like machines.
One brand that is doing a great job of balancing control and authenticity is Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. This hospitality chain successfully encourages regular engagement among fans without sounding repetitive or formulaic. When a fan posts about how great her stay was, Four Seasons asks for photos from her trip. When another fan asks where he should stay in Canada, the chain offers smart, timely advice. Not only is Four Seasons sparking engagement, it’s encouraging sales in a natural way that doesn’t speak down to the consumer. Four Seasons positions itself as a resource for brand-loyal travelers -- a valuable network of people to be communicating with regularly.
The lesson is clear: It’s no longer enough for a brand to use social media purely to push out commercial messaging. Today, corporate entities must put systems in place that invite genuine two-way communication with consumers. They also must ensure that the communication is true to the brand and sounds personal. A brand can do both by collaborating with a social media agency and holding its voice to same standards as their customer -- their Facebook fans and Twitter followers.