How the Social Web is Redefining Community and Brand Legitimacy

by Eric Tsai

Recently I gave a presentation on social media in which I mentioned that one of reasons social media is gaining great momentum is that it fosters the creation of community.

Naturally, we all have the desire to be part of a community, to become an insider on something that we’re interested in.

I gave the example of how two fans who loved Coke created a Coke Cola Facebook fan page that became the 2nd most popular page on Facebook with more than 3.5 million fans and yet they don’t work for Coke.

I was then asked “How do I build our community?  Where do we find them? On the internet?” To that I replied “Start by looking around your office, the community should start here, with your employees first. Internet just makes it easy for brand enthusiasts to gather and share their collective values.

That led to a discussion about how internet is redefining the concept of community as we can now gather and form any online community revolutionizing the idea of social capital (connections within and between social networks) and embracing personal brands among audience members.

This is why social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are so popular because they champion the idea of social capital enabling people to form interactive communities to freely express and connect.

It’s impressive to see that Facebook is approaching United States in terms of its population if Facebook were a country.

facebook_population

(Re)Defining Legitimacy: Opportunities and Challenges

For a long time traditional media has been perceived as the hegemonic manipulation of public opinion and consciousness by media authorities until the explosion of the internet.

We went from limited media sources (newspaper, TV channels, radio) controlling what gets passed through to virtually unlimited sources exchanging diverse and counter-hegemonic viewpoints.

In my opinion, this is one of the contributing factors (besides technology, economy of scales etc.) to the acceleration of social media into the mainstream spotlight.

People are seizing control of their own media experiences determining the spheres of legitimacy themselves amongst the social capital.

Particularly with information consumption, instead of being forced to accept and absorb the limited selection of perspectives offered by media controllers, consumers can now also become producers through participating in social media.

This create opportunities for individuals but problems for companies especially the more traditional organizations.

While social media fosters fresh thinking that challenges authorities, it’s actually a double-edged sword that also fragments communities.

To further compound this trend, people may trust information obtained from their social community much more than they do information from your company.

This is why many brands aren’t yet ready to join the social media party even as the distributed web has matured.

In addition, as the global markets shift into “conversation” mode on the social web, consumers are doing things that traditional marketer didn’t expect – taking ownership of those conversations often completely bypassing the hierarchies to fulfill their need for information about products or services.

In other words, social network instigated problem solving and value creation towards connections between people, allowing open influence within the networks.

The bottom line is that mistakes made by a brand in the social networks could trigger widely publicized compilations of the negative tweets, blog articles, images, and YouTube video with unpredictable reactions from all the open communities.

To understand social media, companies must first understand the power of people is in numbers and the beauty of the network is its pervasiveness.

Every company interested in getting involved in social media should develop its own strategy that can benefit from the open transparentness of the network.

The goal is to be perceived as authentic, interesting and personable.

If you are concerned about your social media presence, it’s time to re-evaluate your brand strategy from your customer’s perspective.

In this economy, consumers are rethinking their choices and are more conscious about making smarter choices, informed choices, and more up-to-date choices.

I’ve developed a model called (MEDIA) as tips that I use to help brands in the social web:

Monitor the Conversation

Get into the habit of monitor conversations proactively and listen to what’s been said about your company, your people, your competitors, and adapt accordingly.

Regularly check what’s already out there on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so you can be ready to react.

It also helps to track your competition’s conversation since both of you have shared audiences.

The goal is to build tailored brand advocacy programs based on these insights and form a formal process to help drive brand credibility from the inside out.

Engage with Meaning

Follow Warren Buffett’s quote to deliver value: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

In this case, the time that people take to engage with your brand is what they pay, so engage with the idea to bring value and elevate the conversation (read my last post to learn why social engagement is about conversations).

During your next conversation with your customers offline, think about where the conversation starts and how it ends.

Would you say something different online than what you say offline?

Define Sphere of Legitimacy

Align promises to expectations and draw your own circle of trust and stick your brand in it.  In the context of social media, brands are being perceived as a person thus making mistakes is not where the problem lies, but how you handle the problem when they occur.

There are many examples (search Google) on how some brands got burned doing the wrong thing with their hand caught in the cookie jar.

Simply put, either plea not guilty and be ready to defend yourself or plea guilty and apologize gracefully, know where you stand in the sphere of legitimacy at all times.

Integrate with Brand Strategy

Social media is simply one aspect of your marketing arsenals that’s part of your brand strategy.

In fact, social media should be integrated into your marketing strategies to build influence through communication that consistently and accurately reinforce your brand to your audience.

Try leveraging existing social media resources to help promote your brand such as building a widget, starting a LinkedIn group, or creating a Facebook fan page.

The goal is to integrate offline and online marketing campaign that clearly defines your brand.

Analyze and Apply

Take the above steps and analyze the outcome focusing on the fundamental of the consumers’ online behavior.

Let people know why they should stay and be part of your community.

Focus on the experience of community, the shared emotional connections where members foster the sense and spirit of your community.

The idea is to constantly improve your community and to do so you need quantitative analysis to track the results of your engagement so you can apply what you learn on a larger scale.

3 Keys to Improve Your Brand in Social Marketing

by Eric Tsai

Many businesses continue to operate under the assumption that a website, a basic product offering or great brochure will bring profits and revenue to their bottom line. Those days are over.  Brands are now crossing over into the hybrid marketing era that incorporates some form of social media.

You already know the importance of product, price, placement and promotion, but none of that matters without people. People is what build relationship and creates opportunities.  And that’s exactly what social media has added: the fifth “P” of marketing.

Whether your brand provides information products, consumer goods or services, one thing still remains the same: the most effective marketing is still word-of-mouth (WOM).

WOM generates buzz and it gets passed along over and over and over again in a highly influential way. It’s how friends tell friends about the things that excite them or what business owners tell other business owners on what works for their business.

According to the latest Nielsen Global Consumer Survey: 90% of consumers said they trust recommendations from people they know, while 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online.
trust_in_advertising

It’s indicative that all forms of advertising retains certain level of pervasiveness to them. In the case of WOM, it contributes to instant social proof and is particularly effective in social media.

Consider social media the new viral marketing tactic and will typically involve the following steps in launching a campaign:

An effective message: How you position your brand and the message you’re trying to get across.  Knowing your audience (the influencers, decision makers) is the key to build a winning message.  It’s all about getting the right message to the right people while being authentically efficient.  Communication is the heart of your customer acquisition and engagement strategies, the key is fostering a high quality relationship that aims to build long-term value: the foundation of a trusted connection.

A targeted channel: Although many brands are still utilizing traditional media outlets, ideally you want to target the most cost-effective channel that’s appropriate for your brand.  Social network advertising channel is rapidly becoming the favor platform for brands because online advertising is cheaper compared to other mediums such as TV and print and is far more targeted.  With that said, face-to-face interaction is still the top channel for people engagement.  Nothing will ever replace the old fashioned hand shake, a lunch or even that discovery phone call.

A viral network: Social media has created a new instantaneous viral network, Facebook has more than 250 million users and Twitter has 20 million growing more than 1000% year over year.  There are other social networks you can tap in such as LinkedIn or even the blogsphere.  The point is your customers are already on those networks connected and connecting with other like-minded individuals, sharing and commenting in groups with detail profiles and pictures.  Consider social network that’s a directory with the domino effect.

Now that you’ve got your killer message and a channel to distribute it, how do you get the viral network to be, well, viral?

The answer is simple: you need to be trusted.

Relationships And Conversations

In order to be trusted, you need to build influence on your audiences’ terms and be truly authentic in sharing and informing.  I’ve discussed being authentic before so I won’t get into the detail again, but recently I’ve found that there are some low level engagement that are both ineffective and deceiving.

In a recent article “Who cares about your news”, Valeria Maltoni clearly illustrated the problem with inadequate engagement and I encourage you to read her post.  In fact, I too received similar email from Gary Vaynerchuk’s publicist on July 9:

Hey, this is xxx from xxx. I’m working with Gary Vaynerchuk to help promote his new book: Crush It: Why Now Is the Time To Cash In on Your Passion.  Because the book deals heavily with social media strategy and branding, which is obviously something this blog talks about as well, we thought it might be something you’d be interested in checking out…

Ironically on the same day I received another email from a personal branding expert which I will not disclose here asking me to boost his rating on Amazon:

…my book, xxx, is being sabotaged on Amazon.com. Basically, 5 people are giving it bad ratings, just to be negative and then at the end of each review where it says “Was this review helpful to you?”, they (and their friends) are selecting “yes,” which pushes up those negative ratings to the top and hurts the brand of the book.

As a favor to me, could you please go to Amazon link here and press “no” under the bad reviews and “yes” under the good reviews…

Honestly, I wasn’t offended but rather disappointed with the meaningless connection attempts by both media “celebrities.” Not only do they have a large following, they’re also role models to many. It’s obvious that both emails wanted me to do something but why would I care about someone that doesn’t care about me?  Have they read my blog or know what their readers are about? Is it all about selling books?

You simply have to apply those questions to your audience to start thinking about the meaning in your engagement.  Often time it will lead to questioning the value of your product and the impact of your offering.

People can be impressed easily but that doesn’t mean they’ll act on it to buy your product or do what you’ve asked.  You’re audience can be your best word-of-mouth marketing campaign but that comes from within the quality of the engagement.

As a marketer myself I understand the “selling” tactics but it only works best if you bring value to the connection and develop a consistent long-term relationship with your audience.

Why waste the time to reach out if you aren’t ready to have a meaningful conversation?

Owning The Social Distribution Network

Social media is about having a presence then connecting and sharing meaningful information with your audience for the long haul.  I’ve covered the pillar strategies in “7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand” as a high-level overview, so now let’s look the desired outcome of branding in social media.

social_marketing_network

Conceptually, you are the center of the network universe and social media is the tool that enables you to build a community around a product or service in forging your brand’s marketing distribution channel. Once you’ve earn the trust, it spreads like WOM marketing expanding to all directions reaching your potential prospects.

Whether you have a brilliant product or the perfect message, developing your channel takes time and precision while owning it takes relentless focus on your audience’s ongoing needs.

The downside to the network is that it can work against you destroying your reputation just as fast. This means knowing your brand strategy in social marketing will be extremely important to maintain the sphere of trust.

Here are 3 keys to improve your brand while marketing in social media:

1) Move the “free” line
If you want to be part of the decision making process, you need to be considered as a key opinion leader or resource. Supply your audience with free resources such as reports, statistics and guides that can help elevate your perceived expertise.  With the amount of information on the internet today, your audience can find almost anything but if you can quantify the information that leads to a path of knowledge enrichment, you will certainly earn a few brownie points to be considered as the prime candidate. Google does this very well with their how-to videos extending their brand with social learning.

Your customer will compare before they a purchase anyway so why not give them a reason to start liking you because you’ve willing to share the wealth. If the free information you provide is valuable, you’re already a step ahead of your competition not to mention that you’re turning them into your “A” customers by providing all the necessary training and education.

2) Crowdsource for improvements
While the success of your brand’s often comes down to the effectiveness of your message, it pays to ask questions.  Companies like Starbucks, Best Buy and Pizza Hut are all using customer feedback to improve product innovation and service experience. Starbucks even let’s their customers suggest on new product ideas. Social marketing shouldn’t just be about the outbound messages; it’s an ongoing dialogue to better serve your audience.

The customers that give you feedback are often your most loyal customers so why not reward them by fulfilling a few of their suggestions.  Keep in mind that providing what they want should not be the main source of innovation, rather it’s a good starting point.

3) Embrace brand transparency
People appreciate honesty and integrity so all you have to do is stay consistent and admit when you’re wrong.  If you try to twist the truth, you’ll not last long and people won’t forget manipulations and deceptions.

This can be seen by how Major League Baseball players are forgiven about steroid use if they admit their wrongdoing rather than lie about it. The players that got caught were all given a chance to show their remorse, the ones that lied never get to play the game again because they simply can not be trusted.

In addition, when you show progress or improvement as a brand, your customer will empathize with you for the openness and sincerity. Similar to the examples I gave above on the two media celebrities, if they actually took time to get to know me, I may very well assist them with their requests, but now it’s back to square one again.

How are you improving your brand in social media?  What kind of success did you have with your social marketing efforts?  I’d like to know your thoughts.

How Social Media is Transforming Business

by Eric Tsai

Lately I’ve been researching on how brands are using social media to improve their business.

While doing a bit of thinking on social branding, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend that just launched a web2.0 startup business.

The one advice I gave was to launch it as soon as possible without worrying too much on branding.

The idea is to deploy your initial idea and allow your users to tell you how to evolve the product.

That’s how majority of the new web startups utilize crowdsourcing with an emphasis on the power users then really listen to what they have to say.

The brand development aspect of a startup isn’t as important as the initial user experience.

It got me thinking about business models and how more and more companies are finding it necessary to transform their business model due to the economic crisis.

In addition, the shift in consumer behavior will cause brands to adjust to a fundamentally altered playing field.

In most cases brands will find it hard to transform themselves unless they’ve already got a flexible, dynamic long-term strategy that embraces change.

This means dismantling silo culture within the organization while fostering cross-functional collaboration to spark fresh thinking.

Brands that have this fluid approach are more likely to adapt to change through uncertainty.

Brand Fluidity Creates Advantage

In my previous article “The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model,” I pointed out that hypercompetition is no longer allowing businesses to have a sustained competitive advantage, so the idea approach for brands is to have an agile business model.

This happens consistently in the tech industry where every 3-5 years technology evolves and often improves (1.0 to 2.0) leading to a need for adoption.

The key is to stay flexible and scalable because products, services, and business models will evolve over time as knowledge becomes ubiquitous which leads to the path of commoditization altogether.

Just look at the costs of electronics, web hosting, printing, or even internet bandwidth have dropped in price in the past 10 years. In fact, not only are they cheaper, you get more for less even with inflation.

By having an nimble business model, it’s possible to build brand momentum that has relevance in addressing consumer needs.

And relevance is a good predictor of short and long-term success.

However, more focus should be put on proven short-term tactics that aligns with long-term goals.

Short-Termism Is Not Sustainable

The eruption of social media has forced brands to incorporate this new tactical tool as part of the overall brand strategy playbook.

This is indicative of the validity from companies like Intel, IBM, eBay and Wall Street Journal that have moved quickly to publish social media guidelines for their employees.

In a structured brand ecosystem, social media is an unproven short-term scheme because it will continue to evolve as an ongoing, living tool that facilitates real time dynamic conversations.

I’m not denying the success that some brands are having in social media but in general most brands are still trying to figure out the arc of its trajectory in pursing the adequate usage of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even blogs.

Brands that quickly jump on the bandwagon without defining the desire outcome are focusing on short-term solutions that are simply band-aids not cures.

Coupled with a lack of attention to the overall strategy, fundamentals, and conventional approaches to long-term value, it’s simply not a sustainable model.

What’s important is to create an unambiguous structure for brand fluidity while maintaining energy and involvement throughout the organization.

The transformation extends well beyond tactics. Brands must become more engaging by being more social, this means building meaningful relationships that resonates with their audience.

Social Media Accelerates Upstream Reciprocity

Every relationship has a purpose especially on the increasing social web. What social media demands is trust and authenticity.

I see it as doing what you promise and be consistent especially in transactional business. In a recent article “Altruism Repays the Best-Connected Individuals” from Technology Review published by MIT, stated that:

Unselfish behavior spreads through society in a way that most benefits the “hubs” in the network.

The article basically illustrated how being unselfish will benefit you at the end because those who have been helped will likely to go on to help others, then spreads through a group creating the upstream reciprocity phenomenon.

There is actually an entire study done with formulas to support the phenomenon and you can go read the “Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude” analysis from U.S. National Library of Medicine if you like.

reciprocity_stream
I found the information fascinating because it mimics the structure of a social network.

Apply this concept to social media and you’ll realize that you’re the red dot A and everyone else is dots B and C. Imagine altruism can be any form of your direct or indirect influence in social media.

It could be the content on your blog, tweets you’ve answered, or even products and services you’ve sold (ebooks, videos, webinars, web design, copywriting, consulting, etc).

The takeaway is social media accelerates both upstream and downstream reciprocity especially for reputable individuals.

In business, the act of unselfishness is another form of the Freemium business model. And this immediately hit home with me on how social media is transforming the way companies are doing business.

You can no longer neglect your reputation online because that’s where the conversation about you is taking place.

Social Transformation

Social media has evolved to be the hub for instant and viral reciprocation for any organization’s internal structure and external engagement.

The power of its reach and the openness of its platform commands the kind of transparency that challenges your core value proposition.

It really doesn’t depend on the wisdom of gurus or experts for its dynamism.

That’s the primary reason it will almost certainly withstand the “it’s a fed” challenge.

Social media is transforming businesses and it matters.

From Twitter to Facebook and every web2.0 tool in between, consumers are more and more concerned with the integrity and intent of the brands they interact with, while employees are less afraid to expose how companies work internally.

The challenge for marketers is not to merely appear engaged, but to actually be engaged – to live up to the promise and deliver.

I hope this is helpful in uncovering the implications of social media in business, it’s important to identify the fundamentals and rethink the overall picture.

I know I haven’t analyze any of the specific social media tools in detail, but you can simply conduct a Twitter or LinkedIn search to find every possible tactic and how-to’s out there by the so-called “experts.”

The Evolution of Media Content Distribution: Circulation 1.0 to 2.0

by Eric Tsai

I often get asked on the benefits of Social Media:  “How should we leverage social media for advertising and marketing?” or “What do we need to consider when incorporating social media into our existing strategy?

There are still a lot of questions surrounding social media.

The simple way to get a grasp on it is to first understand how information flows through social media.

Visualizing The Circulation Evolution

I like to visualize information so I’ve created the following graphics to describe how content travels through the traditional media channels.

circulation1_0

As you can see in the traditional model, content gets created (by few sources) then aggregated into the circulation 1.0 channel of print, radio, television, and the web.

These “read-only” materials get pushed out on a one-to-many process requiring users to retrieve them.

Take newspaper as an example: it all starts with the editor creating the content, then it goes through a review process before it gets printed on paper, and finally delivers to you so you can start reading the content.

This is a top-down approach for content distribution with maximum control

Now let’s looks at how social media elevates the content circulation in the 2.0 model.

circulation2_0

In this model, everyone is a content producer enabling user-generated content to scale efficiently.

When you have millions of people contributing content, it creates a many-to-many race to publish and distribute information.

As a result, the content now comes to you, pulling you to consume.

In addition, the nature of web 2.0 allows content to be syndicated and shared almost instantaneously.

Finally let’s incorporate circulation 2.0 as part of the circulation 1.0 and you get the “hybrid” model:

circulation1_5

I call this circulation 1.5  because it retains the traditional media’s channel of distribution while adding web 2.0 into the mix.

The concept is to leverage the best of both worlds from 1.0 and 2.0 to gain maximum impact for brand exposure and brand awareness.

Beyond Circulation 2.0

Most brands are still on circulation 1.0 networks and many are on the path to circulation 2.0 by adding social media to their traditional media channels.

The great thing about circulation 2.0 is that everyone is pulling your content creating a natural word-of-mouth marketing that’s pervasive.

However, as the speed of these dynamic conversation becomes even more instantaneous, in the case of Twitter, the content producer have less control.

Content can get interpreted out of context and then passed along down the line just like that telephone game we all played in kindergarten.

This is why many companies are using social media primary as a service function for reputation management and customer support.

That’s exactly what Zappos, PizzaHut, Intuit, and Dell have done by leveraging Twitter for those purposes.

This creates transparency and adds authenticity to the brand which is where social media has taken us to so far. Moving forward brands must rethink the intend of their products and services and manage expectations carefully through positioning and messaging.

After the financial meltdown last year there is a lack of trust for brands and a definitive shift on perceived value.

That’s why there is such an acceleration in social media because people demand to know the truth and in many ways social media allows us to get closer to what really is happening.

When Twitter was first launched in July 2006 (happy 3 year birthday!) it was intended to be a quick update for your groups of friends.

Today it has evolved to a social networking tool to report, react, and discuss anything from news to random thoughts.

It will probably continue to evolve because of the fluidness of the platform has allow users to take the service in completely unexpected directions.

Now that’s good for innovation, they just need to figure out a business model for monetization.

The fact is traditional media still reaches far more audience than social media as I write this post. I’m sure I’ll circle back in the future as things may change in unexpected ways too.

Let me know what you think.

The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model

by Eric Tsai

A day after my last post on how traditional media is deteriorating, Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer speaking at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, argued that traditional media will not bounce back, all content consumed will be digital, we can debate if that may be in one, two, five or ten years.

In some respect the context of Ballmer’s statement is indicative of the fact that advertising revenues continue to shift to where the interaction is taking place – online.

There is definitely a shift in consumer behavior as the online experience, through social media, becomes more acceptable, accessible and affordable.

Keep in mind that social media in nature has low barrier to entry with the lack of gatekeeping process.

This is a double edge sword providing that content can be generated rapidly but the quality is dramatically reduced.

The message of social media is totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized while the content of social media focuses on the concept of crowdsourcing defined via Wikipedia as “the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.”

That’s what’s carrying out the new social media revolution because it’s basically an extension of our sense of voice with instant speed for community-based design.

During Jeff Pulver’s 140 Characters Conference, Chris Weingarten of Rolling Stone made a great point: Crowdsourcing kills art because crowds have terrible taste! If you let people decide then nothing truly adventurous ever gets out.

I couldn’t put it better myself.

People stop asking why information gets delivered and the quality of them.

Typically authorities have a quality assurance process in sequence and in concatenation to produce high quality, relevant content.

What we must do on the receiving side is to continue to question the legitimacy and integrity of the source.

Social media allows us to connect horizontally across each other with relative ease, but just as Jeremiah Owyang recently pointed out that human don’t scale which questions the authenticity of top social media bloggers and news blogs.

This is very true in a sense that because we don’t scale, we’re only able to consume limited amount of information combine with short attention span, it’s a race to absorb as much as possible in a short period of time.

This propelled the publishers to publish rapidly; furthermore the increasing competition has put a sense of urgency pressure to compete for the same audience.

Ultimately the brand that can scale and remains relatively authentic perception-wise will be the ones to profit the most.

Hypercomptition To Hybrid Marketing

Hybrid Marketing

There is no sustained competitive advantage anymore according to Richard D’Aveni, professor of business strategy at the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College. He argues that advantage is continually created, eroded, destroyed and recreated through strategic maneuvering.

I found this particularly interesting because that’s what’s going on with the traditional media landscape.

Traditional media rules and orders can’t be applied perfectly under the new regime of communication (social media) and thus formations of authorities are under attack from these new forms of expression.

Simply put, it’s not a technological argument but the outcome from social and cultural conditions.

Think how content is produced, reproduced, distributed and consumed – more people are adjusting to the “new way of doing things” abandoning the old ones which leads to the permanent shift in behavior.

However, marketer should not disregard traditional media altogether, but combine traditional media with social media to form an integrated strategy or the “hybrid marketing” model.

In the hybrid marketing model, it’s about drawing a business model that works within the ecosystem of your brand.

The key is to have a fluid approach in creating a meaningful dialog with your market. Instead of focusing on what marketing tactics to use strategize on aligning your brand strategy with your business goals and view social media as one of the arsenal to choose from.

I believe this is a more practical approach and allows for integrated efforts for companies with branding 1.0 infrastructure to transition into branding 1.5 strategies because there is no point in applying branding 2.0 strategies if the infrastructure is not ready for it.

The idea is that the marketing strategy will streamline with the resources creating the desire outcomes that are measurable. Brands must consider the costs associate with deployment, control, and management to sustain such strategy.

There is a place for the shrinking traditional media. It will continue to evolve based on how we act and react to technology.

However, it won’t be technology that drives the outcome of the new media, but the cultural value of intellectual property and how it gets produced and consumed.

What’s your marketing strategy?

Perhaps you’re already utilizing hybrid marketing in your business model, share your thoughts here.

Why You Should Always Be True to Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

Recently I’ve had great conversations with other brand strategists about the changing landscape in brand building.  There is no doubt that social media is having a profound impact on brands in all fronts of marketing, advertising, PR, and networking.

The core value of social branding is about fostering the “trusted” relationship from experiences associated with a service, a person or an entity.  This is largely built on the effectiveness of the brand’s ability to communicate and influence people’s perception.

Today social media aims to bridge the gap between brands and people by providing a platform that embraces the concept of a community. It’s a new stage for brands to engage and interact with their audience.  But one thing remains the same, there is always a challenge involve when it comes to creating and delivering value.  Therefore, it is vital that brands demonstrate the indisputable benefits to their audience.

Strategies Vs Tactics

Described by the Chinese General, Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Simply put, tactics present a small picture perspective. They’re tools to fulfill your big picture strategy. Branding is not about using tactics such as scarcity, sense of urgency, risk reversal and value-for-price positioning.  How about email campaigns, search engine optimization, product placements, celebrity endorsements, promotional events, telemarketing, or direct response advertising?  Think again. They’re the vehicles that carry out the messages and to generate and funnel leads.

If you know what I’m talking about, you know those are techniques often used by marketers.  In fact, I help clients implement those tactics regularly as part of the overall plan to achieve the stated goals.  They can often be confused as strategies because within tactics there is also an element of strategy.

brand-strategyI see tactics as marketing triggers to gain attention, the “Hey! Look at me, I’ve got something important to say!”  And when you gain people’s attention you must provide relevant and tangible value that’s meaningful to fulfill their expectations.  And believe me, people have expectations when they give you a chance to deliver.

Brand Authenticity

Once you get that opportunity, it all boils down to the execution (tactic) and the authenticity of your brand (strategy).  Execution focuses on conversion tactics while brand authenticity focuses on value-extraction strategies.  An authentic brand fulfills the implied promise that people have come to expect.   And by doing so, the brand becomes more believable and trustworthy creating the foundation to build a relationship.  As a result, you need to exposed the true intention behind your tactics.

Let’s take a look at brand slogans as examples.  Walmart’s slogan of “Save Money, Live Better” says nothing about the quality of products it sells nor does Taco Bell’s “Think Outside The Bun” implies to what’s inside the bun.  However, Porsche’s “There Is No Substitute” or Rolex’s “The Crown Of Achievement” both allude to a sense of novelty and dominance.  These brands stay true to their slogans without suggesting artificial statements about their products.  Of course there is always a gap between what consumers expect versus what brands imply, the trick is to narrow the gap by being authentic.

By simply being authentic, brands that focus on fostering a healthy relationship with their customers will increase the chance of stimulating an action to buy.  This is the outcome brands desire, turning prospects into lifetime customers. For personal brands, it’s turning speculators to fans.

Create Your Brand Value Proposition

It doesn’t matter if you’re building your business brand or personal brand, you should create a brand value proposition.  These values act as the blueprint to create your brand strategy so you can stay consistent, cohesive and most importantly unique. By having a solid brand value proposition you will be efficient in implementing your marketing tactics. Even if you’re selling a product with lots of competition, knowing your value will allow you to be creative in finding new ways to execute those tactics.

Hers are 3 simple ways to help you identity your brand value proposition:

1. Know your audience and identify their pain points – This may sound easy but I often see companies sell too broad because they want to sell to as many customers as possible .  This is a false perception because you can not be all things to everybody, follow the 80/20 rules and focus on the 20% of customers that generates 80% of your revenue.  The key is to understand the decision maker’s psychology.  Things that matters to a manager may mean nothing to a CEO that makes the final decision. This is typical in the technology industry where companies often sell features to department managers instead of outcome to owners or executives.  Great attributes mean little when the audience is looking for the bottom line impact. Identify all the scenarios to describe the situation where you come in and solve the problem, alleviate the pain.  Keep in mind that you want the “ideal customer” that already has a need for what you provide.

2. Describe what you do and what you don’t do – Write down your competencies that represent what you offer.  Focus on key words or phrase to capture what makes your brand special.  Make it simple and use verbs that express an action or a relation between two things.  Be plain and straight forward, if your company sells software start with “we sell software” not something like “we increase sale for businesses with an innovative software application.”

3. Create your brand message and test them – Once you have some core messages to work with from the two above steps it is time to test them.  Get inputs from internal and external stake holders, what you think and care about may not be what others see or remember.  That’s okay. You just need to learn to drive home a few key points that will stick in their minds and inspire them to learn more. It’s more effective in an initial interaction to pare down what you talk about to weed out the non-essential information. The idea is to have different talking points tailored to different audiences. It’s important to constantly update and improve your value proposition so it stays fresh and relevant.

Now go create your brand value proposition and use them as the foundation of your bio or company description on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg accounts or post them on your Blog .

Do you have a brand value proposition?  Are they authentic?  Share it right here and get some feedback!

7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

In the past few weeks I’ve experienced a decent amount of spam from social networking sites ranging from people marketing their books, selling “make money online” information, to promoting their personal brand.

It’s indicative of the fact that individuals and businesses are viewing the space seriously as it takes on the mainstream spotlight.

There are many ways to utilize social media to boost your brand.  The key is to have a strategy around building your social proof.

Let The Truth Be Told

People naturally look for social proof in any given situation.

Social proof is a weapon of influence by which we replicate what we see others do.  We tend to make assumptions in our head when we’re unable to determine the appropriate action to take.
So we turn to surrounding authorities that we assume possess more knowledge about the situation than us.

For example, if you see a bunch of people lining up outside of a restaurant you tend to think the food is good or better yet, it MUSTbe good.

Social proof is especially powerful in social media because of the available information from Twitter followers to LinkedIn connections.  People get influenced real-time on their PCs or their mobile devices.

This creates little barrier to entry for people to be perceived as preeminent experts.  Combine that with the limitless reach of social network; people will often evaluate others based on how “connected” they are.

The truth is – social media is a platform for engagement and building communities.

It has evolved to be part of a marketer’s arsenal and it’s on the path to be the next coming of email spam.

If you don’t want to be perceived as a spammer or someone just looking to gain free social proof, you need a solid strategy for your brand.

Aligning Your Brand And Business Strategy

There are lots of high profile people and companies using social media today but not all of them are getting the result they want.

Many brands are doing a fairly good job utilizing the right social media strategy while others clearly have no clue.

Here are 7 keys to create your social media strategy:

1. Define your outcome

This is perhaps the most important aspect of your social media strategy.

What are you trying to achieve?

What is your ideal outcome? Sales?

Lead generation? Promotions? Branding? Buzz?

Corporate brands generally use social media as part of their larger strategic initiatives for reputation management, product launches, and customer engagement tools.

Those methods apply to personal branding as well because social media is a cost-effective marketing and PR vehicle in comparison to the traditional media marketing.

2. Focus on your audience’s needs

If you want to sell a product such as a book across social media, you must focus on your audience’s pain point, solve their problems, and add value to them little by little.

Provide free advice that’s of high value, NOT something anyone can just copy and paste from a source like a blog.

For example, instead of relaying mainstream news, focus on syndicating news gear towards a specific niche area so you become the go-to source for it.

Better yet, compile the content and provide your own insight so you act as a filter for your audience.

3. Implement measurable ROI

This is actually difficult to do because social media is still a relatively new medium and remains largely unproven.

The best solution is to gauge the time spent versus the result you are able to measure such as inbound traffic, clickthroughs, impressions, comments, fans, followers, subscribers, and ask how prospects find you.

Track your data and chart them over time to find relevant cause and effects.

You may be surprise to find what people are saying about your brand or how effective your marketing triggers are after reviewing your statistics.

4. Actively participate in discussion groups

If you have something valuable to offer, people should know.

Join discussions and participate in forums will bring you opportunities to brand yourself and create awareness in the form of constructive promotion.

Further more by providing your audience with insights, educational content, or value support systems will help you gain social proof.

Knowledge transfer in social media is very powerful especially given as freebies.  As a result it creates reciprocation from the recipient who will want to return the favor in the form of purchasing your product or endorsing your brand.

5. Get in front of the right people

High profile people are great leverage to give you that boost of traffic especially key opinion leaders in your niche area.

Get in touch with them and do something for them first.

Contribute to their cause and the reciprocation factor will work on them as well.  Instead of asking for endorsements, participate in their discussion groups, leave comments on their blog, send them useful information, and interact with their channel are all ways to gain visibility.

Build the right relationship will also drive The Long-Tail affect in which your brand impression will be distributed amongst high profile people’s fans in significant numbers.

6. Blend online and offline social networking

This is one of the overlooked areas for social networking.

Offline networking can add more fuel to the fire especially when people aren’t able to hide behind their user name, emails or avatars.

There is nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation to get a nice dialogue started.

Not only can you hear the voice of the other person but the body language, eye contact, and physical interaction in the same space makes you more “real” and believable.

Although it can be time consuming, offline networking is more powerful than 140 words in a tweet or a two liner comment in Facebook.

It also encourages word-of-mouth marketing which is by far the most effective marketing tool today.

I highly recommend you to attend conferences, go to tradeshows, take a training course, or get with other social networkers locally.  Start a MeetUp group or a monthly seminar.

7. Nurture relationships, build momentum

When implanting social media strategies, you may wan to run tests to get feedback from your network.

You should stay true to yourself but also know what worked and what doesn’t.

Ideally you want to keep doing what works and find new ways to strengthen your relationship with your audience.

Start your own discussion group, do an online survey, create joint ventures, exchange opportunities, and continue to provide free information are all ways to foster your social media relationships.

Nothing will happen when nothing is provided and you must be patient before you get results.

Whether you’re already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or is blogging on a regular basis, my best advice is to just let go and keep on giving!

Has social media already helped your business?

5 Easy Steps to Build a Solid Social Media Profile

by Eric Tsai

Whether it’s your business or your personal brand, people always connect with people on a personal level.  It’s all about engaging in a dynamic relationship.

Brands are not logos or commercials, they are the perception and emotion of people built on trust and credibility.

A successful brand cultivates extensive user experience and encourages interaction that creates meaningful dialogues.

In order to foster strong relationships you must be trusted.  And to earn trust, you need to allow others to become aware of you.

This concept also applies to the art of social networking, particularly with the shift from face-to-face communication to more online communication.

There are literally thousands of social media websites on the internet with hundreds more popping up every week.

The strategy is to focus on the ones that suit your niche.

Setup a blog

I recommend setting up a blog if you don’t already have a website.

Even if you have a website such as your company or product website, incorporating a blog will enhance your online presence because blogs are typically search engine friendly, and they allow for rapid content indexing on the internet.

You can easily sign up for a free account on Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad and start blogging away on whatever topic you want. It’s not required that you have a blog but it provides another source to learn about you or your company on a personal level.

The latest phenomenon is the development of ‘micro-blogging” – a form of blogging that allows users to send brief updates either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user.

This feature is available in Facebook and LinkedIn as status updates and by far the most popular one now is Twitter.

Sign up social networking accounts

For professional and business related social profile, the ideal website to use is LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a professional community that shares your credentials in a resume format.

It has an unique format for users to browse and connect with a person’s and all of his/her contacts.

You can aggregate your blog content right on your personal profile page too so whenever you post new entries, it will update automatically.

And for connecting with family and friends, Facebook would be the choice because it focuses on displaying photos and allows for more personal dialogues and interactions.

Both LinkedIn and Facebook has a “groups” function that lets you create, join and interaction in sub-communities of your choice.

You can create a group for your company so all your employees can join, or if your hobby is photography you can join a photography group.

This feature encourages networking and brings liked-minded people with simliar interest together.

Follow the 5 steps below to learn how to build your social media profile:

1. Register your account

This requires a username, email, and password.  It’s important to use the same username and email across all social media websites so people can search for you if they’re already connected with you in another websites.

For business profile, use your company name, for personal profile go with your real name.

You can use an alias if you like but keep in mind you need consistency and recognition.

Registration process should take no more than a few minutes.

2. Input the right information

Privacy is a priority in social media so typically there will be settings to manage your privacy such as opt in to receive updates, newsletters, or allow/disallow certain information about you to be exposed in the community.  If you’re not sure, test it out and play around with the settings until your satisfaction.

3. Add your immediate friends and colleagues

Once you’ve setup an account, take a few moments to search for your family, friends and colleagues and add them to your network.

People gravitate towards popular names and like to know that you’re not the only friend they have, it’s a simple perception of social proof.

4. Search for people you like and study their profile

– After adding everyone you know that exists in the social network, it’s time to search for new connections.

This is a tricky task because just like email spam, there are lots of spammers on social network sending unsolicited messages.

If you are a fan of someone or want to get to know them, the best way is to build up your profile so they can review then decide if they want to connect with you; or you can get introduced through one of their existing connection.

Either way, you need to study their profile and have valid reasons to be part of their network.

This applies to groups as well, and most social network groups require the group administrator to approve your request to join.

5.Participate, contribute and share

– After you connect with someone you can receive updates on that person via the status update feature.

This allows you to participate in their conversation, add comments, or share your updates with them.

The key is to build and maintain common ground by bringing value to the conversation.

Interacting with your friends with comments like “good job” or “I like it” is fine but not in the professional communities where preeminence and expertise are realized.

You must demonstrate your value in those professional forums to optimize your social profile.

The Unspoken Rules Of Social Media

42-17678818The following rules are self-explanatory and will take you a long way.

Do’s:

  • Do speak your mind and contribute
  • Do bring value to the network
  • Do share and learn from others
  • Do keep in touch

Don’ts:

  • Don’t just focus on yourself
  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Don’t abuse social networking relationships
  • Don’t use social media to spam

Many businesses use social media as a part of their marketing strategy while others enjoy the experience for personal reasons.

Focus on your desire outcome and try to have fun too.  There are plenty of opportunities to build your rolodex by embracing this new tool.

Have you started your social media journey?  Connect with me to discuss more.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/designdamage
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/erictsai

Social Media 101: Choosing the Right Tools

by Eric Tsai

I went over the high-level overview on social media in the article “What is Social Media and Why Should I use it,” now let’s look at some of the popular social media tools and how they work.

The approach in building a social media profile is the same for businesses and individuals.

In both cases, the desire outcome is to create new opportunities and connect with other relevant profiles to create a valuable network.

When I say opportunities, it doesn’t always have to do with making money, it can simply be finding a new people with the same interest as you or potential joint venture partnerships.

Types of Social Media

Before you dive into all the social media websites, you need to understand the different types of social media and their functions.

Once you have a basic understanding, it’ll be easier to realize its networking power.

I won’t address every social media platform but in general there are three major categories you can build your social media profile in:

Communication

Blogs and micro-blogging: This is usually web content updated regularly and can be written text, videos and graphics.

It usually provides commentary or news on a specific topic that allows people to interact with the content provider.

Example: Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, LiveJournal, TypePad, Posterous, Tumblr

Social networking: An online community focuses on connecting and exploring people who share similar interests and/or activities.

It has specific means to connect people with each other such as classmates, colleagues, interest groups, events, or find people randomly from their profile of interests.

Example: Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Hi5, Meetup

Multimedia

Photo, video and audio sharing: Multimedia sharing is made popular but Flickr and YouTube which provide a unique platform for people to distribute multimedia content across the internet.

Users can easily comment and rate on videos watched, images viewed, or music heard.

Example: YouTube, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, Ustream.tv, Justin.tv, Skype, Last.fm, Pandora, Tubemogul

Collaboration

Wikis: A wiki is a website that allows for easy creation and editing of linked content.

Similar to the concept of an encyclopedia, wikis have a wealth of specific information and are often used to create collaborative websites to provide intranet and knowledgebase systems.

Example: Wikipedia, PBwiki, wetpaint, Wikileaks

Social bookmarking / social news: These are tools for Internet users to store, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of web pages on the Internet in the form of tagging, the process by which many users add name tags in the form of keywords to shared content.

People can rate, comment, and share bookmarks easily with others with similar interest.

Think of it as a “popularity contest” for links on the internet ranking them based on how many times it has been bookmarked and its rating.

The same applies to social news, websites let users submit and vote on news stories or links to determine its ranking and popularity.

Example: Delicious, StumbleUpon, Google Reader, Digg, Reddit

Typically multimedia and collaboration tools are utilized as an enhancement to the communication tools.  People share videos, podcasts, photos and bookmarks they like to further personalize their brand to others.

The Power Of The Network

I’ve created some visuals below to better illustrate the effects of social networking.

dsgdmg-social-network-chart01

Imagine each “level” is its own community where everyone knew each other.

In this case, level-1 community has two people willing to promote your brand.

They could be your family, friends, business partners, vendors or affiliates.

Notice that not everyone in level-2 participated in sharing your information to the next level.

At level 6, that may be someone very interested in your product, services or your personal brand.

dsgdmg-social-network-chart02

As long as a community has people connected to people in another community, it’s just as easy for that level-6 person to reach you.

The possibility to connect is endless.  All the networking happens on the internet making the connection painlessly fast.

Are you convinced yet?

Ready to do some networking?

Keep reading designdamage — next we’ll get into the step by step setup and how to build your profiles.