Learn to syndicate your brand identity

by

iMedia Connection

To get the greatest value out of your social networking strategy, you need to communicate consistently across every platform used. An online communities expert explains how.

Online social environments have multiplied at an exponential rate over the past few years. In fact, many of us have at least two or three identities online in various social networks (I have at least 15). At the recent iMedia Breakthrough Summit, 32 percent of the audience admitted to having three or more profiles. As a result of the social networking gold rush, I am often asked how to best leverage the ever-expanding social web to market to consumers in an effective manner. My goal in this article is to help marketers formulate strategies for engaging consumers in a meaningful dialogue across various social channels.

The distributed web for brand emphasis
Since the onset of the web as a viable marketing solution, brand marketers have been creating what is commonly known as the microsite. Despite the fact that that we label these online brand shrines as “micro,” many treat the microsite as the centerpiece of their strategy (perhaps we should have been calling this interactive marketing vehicle a macrosite). While I believe that online brand initiatives ultimately benefit from having all roads lead to one place, we simply cannot always expect consumers to leave their current environments in order to become immersed in centralized brand experiences. After all, consensual brand presence in a consumer’s social environment is a much more powerful statement than a consumer’s presence in a closed branded environment.

You may be asking yourself, if we are no longer to place emphasis on the microsite as a central component to marketing initiatives, where should this emphasis go?

The answer to this question is rooted in the concept that many are referring to as the distributed web. I define distributed web strategy (as it pertains to marketing) in the following way: consistent brand presence across various social channels. Distributed web strategy is based on the notion that the sum of all syndicated content and messaging is greater than any single brand presence.

Last November, Forrester Research Senior Analyst (and personal blogging inspiration) Jeremiah Owyang penned an analysis of Open Social and how its impact should be explained to executives. In this incredibly prescient post Owyang writes, “Web marketing no longer is limited to your corporate site. Let go of the concept of ‘driving traffic to your website’ as a sole measurement of success. The web, its message and your battles are now fought on the open and distributed web.”

Nearly seven months later brands are still ignoring the impact of the distributed web. I understand why marketers would be reluctant to put their brands into a sea of uncertainty; however, we have reached a point where brands can no longer solely compete on their home turf. It is time to let go!

Content as social currency
People are talking about your brand whether you like it or not. In many cases they are taking your digital assets and using them in ways that you did not originally intend. Some marketers approach such activity with aggression. However, savvy marketers know if they proactively create a presence in a variety of social environments and consistently seed the community with interesting content, it is more likely that their voice will be heard and respected.

For example, some of the presidential candidates have leveraged the social web to influence voters and fill their war chests by tapping into a huge population of small donors previously absent from the process. As I write this article, Barack Obama has compiled a donor list of more than 1.3 million contributors. His campaign’s use of social marketing has been so effective, that he has perhaps perpetually changed the future of campaign financing — rather than it largely being driven largely by fat cats and super-donor bundlers, more than 90 percent of his contributors gave less than $100. This has, in part been due to Obama’s ability to leverage content as social currency on his Ning platform, my.barackobama.com.

Consider Douglas Rushkoff’s explanation of social currency: “Social currency is like a good joke. When a bunch of friends sit around and tell jokes, what are they really doing? Entertaining one another? Sure, for a start. But they are also using content — mostly unoriginal content that they’ve heard elsewhere — in order to lubricate a social occasion. And what are most of us doing when we listen to a joke? Trying to memorize it so that we can bring it somewhere else. The joke itself is social currency. ‘Invite Harry. He tells good jokes. He’s the life of the party.'”

While our current candidates may not have been telling jokes, the content they’ve provided has allowed them entrance into various communities, drawing new constituents into the conversation. It’s somewhat ironic that some brands have not more readily adopted the notion of content as social currency, as it is as old as mass media itself (consider the soap opera where a brand’s ability to sponsor content was its ticket into our homes).

While some brands are learning to let go, as an industry we still have some progress to make. Here is a brief checklist of things to be considered when deciding how to best maximize the impact of your content:

1. Create a Flickr account and upload and tag all of your product/brand photos (see Ford Motor Company example below).

  • An RSS photostream (see image below) is created and can be brought into various environments.

  • As an added benefit, search engines love RSS feeds

2. Create accounts/channels on various video sharing sites (Vimeo, YouTube, DailyMotion, etc.) to house all of your video content (including television commercials — someone is bound to rip the commercial and post it; you may as well be the first. If timed properly, search engines will recognize your content as the original).

  • Below is an example of a brand putting its television commercial (Armani Beauty/Beyonce Diamonds) on YouTube before anyone had a chance to do it. This ensured that the brand’s version is the one best positioned in search results.

  • Try a tool like TubeMogul to easily upload content and track activity across all video-sharing sites.

3. Use Facebook fan pages for those would-be brand advocates.

4. If you have compelling audio/video content, syndicate it to iTunes. This allows consumers to easily put your brand on their iPods and take the content to go or watch/listen from their PC.

5. Try creating a stand-alone social network (e.g., on Ning).

  • Experimental rock band Radiohead recently tested the Ning platform with an initiative called w.a.s.t.e central. The effort was meet with some criticism, but it is obvious that the band truly understands the fundamental changes that are taking place in our media ecosystem.

The social media scorecard
As we all know, what we cannot measure, we cannot optimize. As a director of emerging and creative strategy, I am often tasked with formulating measurements to validate and support our clients’ social media initiatives. Those of you working in the social media space know that it can be very difficult to provide the type of concrete metrics that our clients are used to getting from other interactive advertising channels (search, behavioral etc.). That said, quantification of marketing in social channels is not impossible. It may, however be very different, and somewhat challenging.

Because of the inherent difficulty of quantifying the results of social marketing efforts, I have been spending a lot of time with our social media team developing a scorecard to not only help gauge user activity, but to also make sense of the data and use it to learn how to improve future efforts. We have built a template that tracks all inputs into social environments (content) as well as outputs (comments and conversation). We have developed a systematic way to bring the lowest common denominator of many social environments to the forefront, so that friends, followers, fans, etc., can be tracked as one entity. By aggregating very granular metrics in order to create higher level metrics (buzz, engagement, etc.), we are able to tell a meaningful story.

Conclusion

The interactive marketing space continues to change at an exponential rate. One of the fundamental changes that have occurred is the shift away from point-to-point communications to a multi point, conversation economy. Central to this shift is the way in which content is syndicated (RSS) and the ease with which consumers can pass along information and talk freely about it.

While the mainstream still does not explicitly utilize RSS to get content and create conversation, it is central to all of our social lives online (knowingly or unknowingly). Understanding new models of syndication/distribution is central to a marketer’s ability to create consistent brand presence across the social web. Strategic brand identity syndication must be part of every modern marketing initiative.

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