Your small business brand: 4 Strategies to Build Brand Engagement on the Social Web

In this post, I will be setting out some definitions and best practices that will help the small business owner, start-up venture or entrepreneur take the steps necessary to build brand engagement in the social web space.

What you’ll learn

To begin, I’ll provide an overview of brand engagement and its importance to your business. Then we’ll look at how the use of multiple media affects the impact of a communication effort in the traditional “broadcast” advertising world. All of this is precedent to presenting the 4 strategies for your small business to build brand engagement in the digital/social space. Whew! Ready?

What is brand engagement? Is it like a wedding engagement?

Actually,yes. Brand engagement is the quality and quantity of positive thoughts, emotions, and associations that consumers have towards your brand promise.  Just like your significant other, the strength of the engagement is tied to how positive these associations are. Weak associations make for a week engagement. (On the opposite end of the spectrum lies brand avoidance – the marketers’ equivalent to being left alone at the altar.)

Why is it important to build brand engagement?

Another way of looking at brand engagement is that it is the degree to which your target consumer believes in your brand promise. Hearing, understanding, and believing your brand promise are the prerequisites for brand engagement, and purchase. No engagement = no purchase. (The only exceptions are impulse purchases where no prior brand engagement exists. These scenarios are rare; the marketers’ equivalent of eloping.)

Just like ordinary relationships, the level of engagement in the minds of your target consumer will vary over time, and depends on:

  • The frequency of contact (too little or too much contact is disagreeable)
  • The length of contact (being curt or babbling on at length are perceived as negative)
  • The quality of contact (depends on each party’s preferences. The content that is brought out during the contact should ideally be of interest to both sides – otherwise, it becomes a monologue, not a conversation.)
  • The brand personality, voice, tone and manner. These are all elements of your brand that should be aligned with the needs, wants and expectations of your target market.

Where does your brand “touch” consumers?

Intuitively, it makes sense that the target segment(s) that you have selected for your small business should be presented with the opportunity to engage with your brand in a variety of ways over a period of time.  If one of your strategic marketing objectives is to build consumer engagement with your brand, (and it should be) here’s a 2 step “how to”:

  • Identify all the “touch points” where your target consumer can or does come into contact with your brand. Even when you introduce the reasonable (and ever-present) constraints of budget and time resources, this should be an expansive list.
  • From this list, select those touch points that are likely to have the greatest efficiency – meaning the largest impact at the smallest cost.  These are the touch points that will matter the most.

These touch points are not necessarily limited to traditional business to consumer advertising – in fact, quite the opposite. Your shortlist above may include:

  • The appearance and conduct of your frontline customer service staff
  • The hardcopy documents you present to clients or prospects
  • Your business card
  • Your answering machine message
  • How you ask for the sale or ask for payment

A lesson from traditional brand building: The Media Multiplier Effect

Media planning theory proposes that within a tactical effort targeting a specific audience, the impact of any given media will be enhanced by the every other media; the sum impact being greater than that of each individual media itself.

This is called the media-mulitplier effect, and is utilized to varying degrees in the communication campaigns of all the top-100 global brands.  A great example of this is Apple, who used the MME approach when attempting to develop large-scale product awareness during the launch of the iPod. Integrated messages appeared in:

  • TV
  • Web display and animated media
  • Print
  • OOH and billboards
  • Store-level promotion
  • Everywhere else?

Essentially a textbook case of “broadcast branding,” the target consumer found themselves faced with the same integrated message from Apple in a variety of media for the duration of the (successful) product awareness/launch campaign.

Broadcast marketing is sooooo 1999. How do I build brand engagement now?

Usually recommended by media agencies to small and large businesses alike in the context of developing mass communications efforts, the media multiple principle holds true when the objective is building brand engagement in the digital space – and particularly on the social web.

4 Guiding Principles:

  • The social web is where real people go to interact with each other. As such, they (i.e. the social web in aggregate) don’t really trust marketers.
  • The social web won’t respond to a traditional marketing message or offer: you’re crashing the party if you try a sales pitch.
  • Building engagement on the social web means building engagement with people.
  • On the social web, you don’t have target customers: you have peers.

4 Strategies to build engagement with your brand on the social web

1. Be open to engagement.

You are looking to start a conversation with someone who may be interested in what you have to say. Running with the “real world” inter-personal relationship analogy, you won’t meet a romantic interest  by staying at home and hoping someone calls you. In short, you need to get out there – your brand has to have a presence on the social web.

How to do this: As mentioned above: On the social web, you don’t have target customers: you have peers. Identify the “social media” spaces where you are most likely to be approached for a social conversation by your peers.  The familiar examples:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • MySpace

Be open to being engaged:

Just because you got into the nightclub doesn’t mean you are on the dance floor. In your posts, tweets, and wall postings, make sure you make it easy for your peers to reach you.

How to do this:

  • Make it clear that you are looking for comments or feedback on your recently posted content.
  • When you receive a comment, whether positive or negative, say thank-you.
  • Demonstrate transparency: use open, honest conversational language. Don’t put your brochure copy on your Facebook page.
  • Speak to your peers directly. Use “you” not “our customers.”
  • Share button: allows your peers to share your content with their peers. Getting mentioned on a blog is a highly effective and genuine way to increase brand engagement amongst your peers (and peer communities) on the social web.

Start talking about things people care about.

This is the old “ok, I’m on Facebook, now what?” conundrum that invariably takes brands out of their “broadcast message” comfort zone and encourages them to mingle. As discussed, this does not involve marketing messaging, sales pitches, or a call-to-action.  If you don’t know what to speak to your peers about, visit blogs or web discussions that they frequent. (You, being a peer, should frequent those online spaces as well. See point one above.)

How to do this: Identify the periphery conversations that your peers are having. Demonstrate that your brand is a valuable go-to for up-to-date info about topics that are relevant.  This will encourage blog and e-newsletter subscriptions, Twitter follows, and video views.

Example: You are a  Toronto-based organic catering service brand. You have secured a presence on the online web and have noticed that your peers are discussing the best place to get locally sourced organic tofu at a great price. Maybe you know of other places to buy this product that your peers would be interested in knowing about. Share this knowledge with them – no sales pitch, no mention of your services. This approach will be appreciated.

Connect across multiple digital spaces.

This is the media-multiplier effect of the pushy broadcast-messaging era evolved for the digital social space. Most social media tools allow interconnectivity .

  • Your blog posts will automatically appear on your Facebook page and Twitter.
  • Comments on your YouTube video are tweeted and posted on your wall.
  • Your RSS feeds appear on your MySpace page.

The same relevant content and conversations you are having with your peers are dispersed and shared throughout the digital space, potentially engaging individuals outside your peer group.

Akin to WOM (word of mouth) communications strategies, increasing the scope of your brand reach on the social web serves to increase your “openness” to engage and connect with peers.

From this connection comes conversations, and from there a level of engagement previously not obtainable through mass-media interruption communications.

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About cojent. marketing communications.

advertising better marketing for your business. brand branding brand promise business strategies communications consulting consumers copywriting
This entry was posted in branding, social media, the thinktank: communications ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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