Using Social Marketing Management Techniques to Influence Brand Image

In a competitive world where news now travels extremely rapidly, maintaining a positive image of a brand is more important than ever – and much more difficult to do. This presents a challenge for all the aspects of social marketing – management, moderation and campaign direction.Digital media, fast communication and social networking have changed the landscape for advertising beyond all recognition. Even the most far-seeing science fiction writers did not imagine the explosive growth of the internet, and the ability of the public to comment upon current events and the behaviour of large corporations. Stories spread incredibly rapidly – a mere mention of a celebrity or topic currently in the news will trigger searches to find out what is going on. As always, bad news travels the fastest, and very few can resist the opportunity to have a good laugh at the expense of a corporation.Studies show that the number of people that trust advertising is falling every year, and each new brand problem or scandal worsens the situation. It will take some time for the British supermarkets to recover from the horse-meat scandal, although the country’s small local butchers are reaping the benefits.With trust in advertising becoming increasingly difficult, how can brands improve their image and build new markets? One answer is to open and maintain communication channels with current and potential customers. This is where an efficient social marketing management strategy is essential.The social presence of a company needs to be up to date, honest, identifiable and influential. This last parameter is the most important. The challenge for the social marketing management team can be summarised as ‘how can I influence a community where I have no control over what is posted?’ Ways to do this include:¬∑ Find and influence the right people¬∑ Moderate the conversation¬∑ Act quickly to solve problemsFind the InfluencersIn the offline world, becoming an approved supplier for a big organisation is one of the main ways to gain a large amount of business. That means gaining the approval of the person who influences the purchasing decisions. For brands marketing directly to consumers online, the same analogy applies – if someone influential likes and uses your product, there will be a high chance that others will follow suit. These ‘influencers’ are the people to target.Finding the influencers means not only locating the right people, but also being in the right places. Technorati’s latest survey of the social network landscape consulted about 6000 people who are regarded as ‘influencers’. The report shows that consumers see blogs as a very important part of their purchasing decisions, second only to the brand sites themselves. However Technorati also found that only ten per cent of the average digital marketing spending is allocated to social networks, with more than half of that used on a Facebook presence. So it appears from the report that marketing funding is not being directed to the influential blogosphere.There are also analytical methods of finding the influencers. For example, algorithms have been run on Twitter to track followers and re-tweets, especially when there is a hot topic of the day. Some interesting results have come to light from these studies, showing that many of the most popular people on Twitter are not always the most influential. While celebrities may have the highest number of followers, they may not actually be exerting the most influence.Moderate the ConversationMonitoring and moderating what is said about and to the brand remains the cornerstone of social marketing. Management of the conversation, responding to the public and appearing to be honest and approachable are all simple maxims that can make all the difference to how a brand is perceived.The detailed techniques of content moderation vary between the sites used. It is important to achieve a balance between managing the content and stifling the debate. At the least, open forums and sites should be protected against spammers, obscene postings and other forms of inappropriate content. Beyond that, it will be necessary to decide whether the site should be moderated pro-actively (all postings approved in advance) or reactively (postings only checked when flagged as inappropriate). This decision is also affected by the budget available.Act Quickly To Solve Problems – and continue to actRecent events provide a good example of how an apparently perfect campaign can suddenly hit controversy, for completely unforeseen reasons. The brand managers at Nike may be rueing the day that they chose the slogan ‘I am the bullet in the chamber’ for their campaign featuring Oscar Pistorius, the athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend with a gun. The advertisements were swiftly removed as the story broke, but they remain featured on news stories about their removal. In some ways these news stories give the advertisements more coverage than the campaign itself.This shows that removing inappropriate content is no longer sufficient, especially when it is virtually impossible to delete something from the internet once it is has been posted. In these situations, it is vitally important for a brand to make pro-active statements and to be honest about what is happening. This is the best approach to reassure customers that the company is not trying to cover up unfortunate events, and to retain a feeling of transparency and integrity.Some days after the event, Nike have now taken further action to suspend their sponsorship contract with Pistorius, but have also stated that they are monitoring the situation and believe that he should be afforded ‘due process’. It is not their role to examine and assess what has happened, and this statement shows that they understand that. The fact that they did not immediately suspend the contract also gives the feeling that they are thinking before reacting. This considered response shows them in a good light and may even bring in more business.While quick reaction is important, careful postings are even more important to avoid inflaming the situation. ‘Careless talk costs lives’ said the World War II slogan. This could be adapted now to read ‘careless posting costs sales’. While it may appear possible to remove unwanted postings or content, this is not always the case. As noted above, information now propagates so rapidly that any unfortunate comments could be taking on a life of their own in minutes or less.It can be seen that influencing the image of the brand is more of an art than a science, although there are many tools available to help. Frustratingly for marketers, it is true that the most successful marketing campaigns are driven by the consumers. The role of social marketing management is to help find the key to these successful campaigns, and then to manage them once they are up and running.