Sunday, November 28, 2010

Monitor Your Brand

In the Introduction chapter to the book, Brands and Branding, Rita Clifton (editor) recounts a story involving investor Warren Buffett as he tells a group of German investors that brand is the most important factor in deciding where to invest.  According to Ms. Clifton, “even in hard times, brand is the key to protection and growth.”

If it is true that brand is of paramount importance – and I believe, like Mr. Buffett, that it is, then organizations need to do everything within their power to protect the brand they have created.  Brands in the general sense include logos, slogans, colors, sounds, shapes and other physical or visual characteristics.  However, when dealing with social media, brands are mostly identified through their brand name – though the other aspects, as will be described below, may play a role as well.

Regardless of an organization’s decision to become active in social media, some firms – particularly those with strong brands - will be subjected to some form of social media risk.  The most common risk comes from internal sources – employees.  Whether or not an organization implements a social media strategy and related policy, there still exists the risk that might be created by employees through their personal social media activities.  Other risks originate externally.  In both cases, the fact that the organization does not maintain a social media strategy is irrelevant.  The social media risks still exist and as such, the need for a social media policy that addresses these risks is required.

An example of an externally-generated social media crisis occurred to the brand of the hit television show Mad Men.  Tiphereth Gloria tells in a Digital Tip blog posting (Brand Hijacking, Brand Advocacy and Social Media Identities) the story of how fans of the show hijacked the Mad Men brand through the creation of Twitter accounts in the names of the Mad Men characters.  The Twitter accounts generated a tremendous following.  The problem was that fans of the show assumed that the Twitter accounts in the names of the show’s fictional characters where created and maintained by someone associated with the production of the show.  The fact was that this part of the Mad Men brand was being controlled by a third party unassociated with the show.   While in this case the brand was hijacked by friendly fans seeking to expand the fictional characters into reality, the fans could have been criminals or others seeking to take advantage of or damage the brand.

Another example of social media activities that can harm the brand is plain old-fashioned disgruntled customers.  If you Google “Microsoft sucks” you’ll get tons of responses.  If you Google “Apple sucks” you’ll get the same.  If you Google “Google sucks,” ditto.  And on and on.  As such, it is clear that no matter what a company does to keep its customers happy, sucks happens!

A third example is the internally-generated social media crisis in which two employees of a North Carolina Domino’s store recorded a video and posted it on YouTube.  The video turned viral and was viewed over one million times before it was taken down.  The result was a hit to Domino’s national brand as well as the brand of the North Carolina store. 

These examples illustrate how social media risks can manifest without the knowledge or involvement of the organization and regardless of an organization’s social media strategy.  Whether or not Domino’s or the producers of Mad Men had implemented a social media strategy, these outcomes would have still resulted due to the fact that they were driven by independent forces – rogue employees and frenzied fans.  In the case of Domino’s, the video came to the attention of management rather quickly as the video went viral.  According to reports, the Mad Men crisis appears to have been a different situation in the sense that those involved with the show did not become immediately aware of the brand hijacking.

In each case, the best way to identify, deter and defeat rogue employees, dangerous brand hijacking attempts or disgruntled customers is to monitor what is being said on social media.  While monitoring is a “detection” technique – as opposed to a prevention technique – it can be quite effective at identifying issues before they turn into crises.

According to Taariq Lewis and the Terametric Blog, there are over 145 social media brand monitoring and brand reporting tools on the market (“2 Reasons Why 145+ Social Media Brand Monitoring and Brand Reporting Tools Are Still Not Enough”).  Some of these tools are free and quite effective, others are not.  Based upon the complexity of each brand and the organization’s social media strategy, it is entirely possible to monitor the brand with free tools such as Google Alerts (, Twitter Feeds ( and SocialMention (  In other cases, however, a more robust solution may be preferred. 

Since brand monitoring solutions are constantly evolving, it is always a good idea to search the Internet for information on “brand monitoring” and “social media.”  This will provide access to the latest and greatest brand monitoring tools – both free and premium-based.  Based on the large number of effective and affordable brand monitoring tools, there is no excuse for not monitoring an organization’s brand.  Use of these tools provides organizations with an early warning system that will assist organizations in preventing small issues from escalating to brand-damaging events.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Social Media Policies Are Not An Option

According to Wikipedia, a policy is “typically described as a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s). The term is not normally used to denote what is actually done, this is normally referred to as either procedure or protocol. Whereas a policy will contain the 'what' and the 'why', procedures or protocols contain the 'what', the 'how', the 'where', and the 'when'. Policies are generally adopted by the Board of or senior governance body within an organization where as procedures or protocols would be developed and adopted by senior executive officers.”

Organizations, regardless of their involvement in social media activities, should implement a social media policy to protect against the internal and external risks posed by social media.  Regardless of the strong case for social media policies, there are a lot of opinions against their use in the workplace. Try Google-ing “social media policy” and you will get around 32,900,000 opinions! If you read what is being said you will find good arguments on both sides. But the bottom line is this: any organization interested in protecting its brand and reputation must ensure that it has in place some form of social media policy to protect against the many risks that are posed by social media. Social media risks originate both internally and externally and exist regardless of an organization’s decision to participate in social media activities.

Critics of social media policies say “you can’t control what is uncontrollable!” Agreed. And that’s exactly why a social media policy is necessary. Contrary to critics’ beliefs, a social media policy is not intended to “control” anything. Its purpose is to give employees guidance, keep them from making severe errors in judgment and allow the organization to identify potential issues before they elevate to the status of a crisis. No policy, regardless how well written, can “control” the risks. The best a policy can do is mitigate the risks. Policies work for organizations that understand that risk happens.

In a perfect world organizations hire individuals that are smart, capable and masters of common sense. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. In our world, smart, capable and generally common sensical employees make dumb decisions from time-to-time. Further, for many companies, the youngest employees, while smart and capable, many times lack the experience and maturity needed to make all the right decisions all the time. And unfortunately it is these employees that are likely the most experienced and active users of social media. In these situations, formal written social media policies provide employees with the guidance to navigate difficult or unknown situations.

In a perfect world, every organization provides world class products, services and gives each customer the attention they demand to keep them happy. In the real world, no matter how hard organizations try, mistakes are made, customers are disgruntled and dissatisfaction is voiced. Historically such dissent was limited to irate phone calls and letters and possibly the loss of business of the unhappy customer. Today with the use of social media, customers have the ability to reach and influence current and potential customers on a scale that can invoke real pain and suffering.

Businesses are not only in the business of making or servicing widgets. Businesses are also in the business of making and servicing the organization’s brand. The stronger the brand, the greater the revenues. Organizations can enhance their brand and competitive advantage and potentially generate greater revenues and profits with a well crafted social media strategy. However, before unleashing a social media strategy, organizations should craft a social media policy that provides the necessary guidance to ensure that social media risks are properly mitigated. The social media policy is the key to ensuring that social media risks area kept under control and to acceptable levels.

Lack of attention to social media risks can have the opposite effect. Companies that take a laissez faire approach to social media risks stand a greater likelihood of experiencing major embarrassments, reputational harm and the need for a major incident response. As such, it is in every company’s best interest to establish guidelines for social media usage through the implementation of a social media policy.

Social media poorly managed has the potential to adversely affect the organization, its brand, reputation and revenues. The upside to participating in social media is an enhanced brand and increased revenues and profitability. While social media does pose risks, if well managed, social media provides benefits that far outweigh the costs. The key to managing the risks is a well-crafted formal written social media policy and training program that is understood and adhered to by employees. A social media policy will not eliminate all of the risk but it goes a long way in allowing everyone to sleep at night. Ultimately, whether an organization undertakes a social media strategy will depend on its appetite for risk. Since many social media risks exist regardless of an organization’s decision to participate in social media, it is in the best interest of organizations to implement some form of social media policy.