I’ve been thinking a lot about how the reign of social media means that a brand’s image is often at the mercy of its community. Before all of this internet stuff, a business would develop their advertising or communication and send it out to represent its brand. Most non-branded mass communication was done via the press and was limited to a certain number of sources in print, radio, and television.
And then came the ability for anyone to publish online instantly.
You were given terrible service? Tweet about it. Your product arrived broken? Instagram a photo of it.
On the other hand…
You thought that new commercial was hilarious? Share it on your Facebook page. You just bought an awesome new gadget? Create a Vine (or Instagram Video – to be fair) of you using it.
Spokespeople are no longer just celebrities. They are the public, the customers, and the critics.
To give a quick and, in my opinion, hilarious example, I should really explain the title of this blog post.
Taking control of Vermont’s brand
Apparently, Vermont’s coat of arms has a rather fascinating history in branding and design. Originally sketched on a beer mug, the pastoral scene includes some mountains, sheaves of wheat, and a cow. Over time, the people of Vermont took it upon themselves to interpret the design in whatever way suited them. I’m sure you can imagine that the governing bodies weren’t too fond of this.
After some consideration, in 1862, a clear set of guidelines was presented in order to keep all renditions of the coat of arms consistent. No one seemed to care about these rules and kept going, changing colours, adjusting mountain ranges, and adding whatever they thought represented Vermont to them.
Currently, the Vermont government is a little stricter about enforcing these rules and denies businesses permission to use the coat of arms on products or logos. So, did they succeed in controlling Vermont’s branding?
Recently, some inmates were in charge of producing new coat of arms decals for police cars (I couldn’t make this stuff up) and decided to hide the image of a pig in the cow’s spots.
Needless to say, the authorities weren’t impressed by their creativity.
There’s no controlling the public’s portrayal of your brand
But you can respond.
It’s terrifying to think that an unsatisfied customer could be running wild on the internet, tarnishing your brand’s name and putting pigs into your cow’s spots, but there are ways to use this kind of exposure to your advantage.
What can you do to gain some control?
Nothing good can come from pretending that your brand isn’t being represented without your control. Setting up your Google Alerts, constantly searching for your brand’s mentions on social media, and keeping track of who is writing about you is absolutely essential.
Respond to the good, the bad, and the ugly. In a perfect world, no tweet would be left without a reply, but at the very least, a brand needs to show that they listen to their customers, appreciate their fans, and work towards a resolution with their critic
One of the greatest gifts social media gave brands was the ability to connect with their customers in a human way. Take a quick peek at Seth Fiegerman’s article in Mashable, “Why Businesses Should ‘Act Human’ on Facebook”, for a great look at the impact of this connection.