Everyone has a personal brand, and if we have any desire whatsoever to nurture it, it very likely lives online. It’s comprised of the content that we publish, along with the things that are published about us, and it’s critical to our public persona, both online and off.
Whatever our objectives are for marketing ourselves (establishing a reputation as an industry expert, selling a book we’ve written, or finding a new job are just a few ideas that might apply), our personal brand can help us familiarize our target audience with the facets of our character that make us an appealing investment.
In other words, they reflect our personality.
Brands have a personality, too, and it’s up to the marketers responsible for promoting them to discharge this personality to their target customers. Social media offers an invaluable opportunity to do this well. In our modern world, a consumer’s investment in a brand doesn’t necessarily take the form of a purchase. It might be a Facebook “Like,” a word-of-mouth endorsement, or another piece of content that ultimately leads to a loyal fan. Regardless of the action, maintaining a consistent brand persona is absolutely critical to success.
But there’s a problem. All of the social media touch points we employ to create and sustain our brand online require ongoing maintenance. And the individuals maintaining them have personalities of their own.
This issue has grown particularly thorny with the rise in popularity of sites such as Twitter and Pinterest. In order to retain an audience and attract new followers, brands must post regular updates. Brand marketers have two options: They can delegate this job to an in-house employee of the brand, such as a member of the marketing team, or they can outsource it to their interactive agency’s social media division. Time constraints often make the latter the more sensible choice, but outsourcing social media efforts requires a thorough understanding of the brand voice. How can brand marketers be sure that the updates made on behalf of their brand are consistent with the persona they’ve worked so hard to create?
Developing a social media style guide
The first step in safeguarding your brand online is to create a social media style guide. You already have something comparable for your offline marketing materials, ads, and site design — a brand style guide that meticulously outlines everything related to the way your brand’s presented, from the required minimum clear space around your logo to your acceptable typeface. If it also includes information about copy lingo and image tone of voice, all the better; this can become the foundation for your social media style guide.
While, like your brand style guide, your social media guidebook should feature very specific guidelines about your brand tenets as they relate to the production of online content, it should also focus on two things in particular: tone and imagery. Together these two elements can get you and your staff through every social media content development situation imaginable.
The tenacity of tone
Brand tone is important not only because it conveys to the consumer the overall character of your brand, but also because it distinguishes you from your peers. It’s a brand’s most powerful tool and, therefore, will require the most attention from those responsible for managing your brand’s social endeavors.
Some possible considerations:
- Does the language used in your previous online content portray a brand that’s warm and fuzzy or staid?
- Youthful or mature?
- Feminine or distinctly male?
- Is it represented by formal or informal language? Is that language exclusively English?
Subject matter aside, a Facebook post on the “Dora the Explorer” Facebook page (“Beautiful Dora cakes, made by our fans! ¡Fantástico!”) is going to sound very different from a post on Monster Energy’s page (“Props to Monster Energy riders Paulin Gautier and Tommy Searle, who just bossed the Motocross GP in Bulgaria”). Using contractions such as “wanna” or “lemme” in a Facebook post might be deemed acceptable by a brand like Adidas, just as terms such as “rad” and “chillin'” might be commonplace in Converse tweets, but they aren’t choices competitor Nike tends to make.
These are important distinctions, particularly if you’re about to hire a social media manager who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish or uses nothing but contractions in everyday conversation. If your hires go on to break from the copy tone that consumers have come to know and understand as being specific to your brand, your loyal customers may begin to question whether they know your brand at all.
The implications of imagery
The emergence and growth of social media applications that focus entirely on photographs has required brand marketers to take a closer look at the way images reflect on the brand persona. The way in which Instagram and Pinterest take the persuasive power of pictures to a new level, creating engagement between consumers and brands based entirely on visual cues, demands that the imagery put forth on behalf of your brand is coherent.
One of Instagram’s claims to fame is its filters — a series of photographic overlays that change the look and feel of pictures taken with a mobile phone. While brands can expect to see more Instagram marketing opportunities now that the service has been acquired by Facebook, some are already using it to upload images to a Facebook page.
Even something as seemingly trivial as an image filter warrants careful study when it’s going to be made public as part of a brand’s persona. Brands must therefore educate their social media managers in the acceptable language of their visual assets. Would a company like Apple, with its clean lines and cool color palette, be comfortable applying a retro-looking Instagram filter to an image of the latest iPhone? Probably not. But it might be just the thing for In-N-Out Burger, which has a history that dates back to the 1940s and still maintains a vintage look.
With a site like Pinterest the challenge is similar. Here again marketers must put their brand persona in the hands of social media managers tasked with pinning (or tagging) photographs that have some brand relevance; but if a brand fails to define its pressure points, the results could be damaging.
For example, would Diapers.com be comfortable pinning a slightly revealing photograph of a breastfeeding mother? What would happen if Whole Foods pinned an image sourced from an article about genetically modified tomatoes? These are questions brands must ask of themselves and talk about with their employees — who, let’s not forget, have interests, beliefs, and a comfort level all their own — in order to avoid potential embarrassment and controversy.
The branding opportunities provided by social media are beyond compare, but so is the importance of sustaining a brand persona when faced with the infinite production of online content. Recognizing the different ways in which you can define your brand can help. So, too, can relaying these to the people who, regardless of their own personas, can create a seamless portrayal of your brand.
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