What is your online identity and how can you manage it?

These days a website alone is not enough to promote your brand digitally. With over 1.28bn Facebook monthly active users, 255 million active monthly users on Twitter and 187 million active monthly users on LinkedIn it is difficult for your marketing messages to be heard. Companies need to use a combination of social tools, websites and possibly even mobile apps to create an online identity. But it is often hard to portray your brand across all these channels. How do you give a voice and personality to your brand and how do you ensure that this voice is consistent across all channels?

Customers interact with brands on social media as if they are a real person. But social media is just another marketing channel and must be treated as such. Social media may give your brand a voice but is it saying what you want it to? Is it ‘on brand’ and communicating your marketing messages? It is easy to want to grab people’s attention, particularly on subjects that are trending, and be seen as relevant and personable. But this can sometimes be to the detriment of your brand. As we examined in a previous blog on social media and the World Cup, when you get it right your brand gets a large uplift, but for those that get it wrong it can be highly embarrassing. KLM discovered this with their insensitive post about Mexico during the World Cup. They subsequently removed the post but ended up having to apologise. Definitely not the ‘on brand’ message they were trying to convey.

Social media allows the humanisation of your brand, but you must also ensure that the identity or personality developed is that of the brand, and not just an individual. A decision should be made whether or not a brand’s identity takes on part of the personality of the social media Manager or remains anonymous. That is not to say that things shouldn’t be personalised, especially with regards to customer care. People like to know they are talking to a person, not just a brand. In fact this is key, people don’t have conversations with brands, they have conversations with people. That said, if you have a company-wide social media policy then it can be everyone’s responsibility to be involved. The policy will give employees guidelines that fit within brand guidelines and allow more than one voice to be heard, whilst also consolidating your digital identity. In our business everyone is encouraged to write blogs, share and comment. They are not only helping to build our digital identity but they are working as a team and learning in the process.

Image of a tweet from the CIAOne example of a strong online identity is the CIA, who joined Facebook and Twitter earlier this year. Their first Tweet clearly indicated their online personality, based on people’s perception of the CIA. They used a phrase that has become synonymous with the CIA and this has already been retweeted over 300,000 times. They have carefully cultivated the identity people expect from the CIA, whilst also engaging and personalising it. They have managed to connect to people, building their brand and overcoming people’s negative perceptions. They have also shown their personal and approachable side through the use of humour.

Another example of a strong identity is Burberry, a brand that has embraced digital. It can be hard for a lot of brands, who want to be seen as exclusive, to use social media networks. However, Burberry have viewed these platforms as just another channel in their marketing mix. Therefore they have a strong identity across old and new media, and have managed to maintain the exclusivity so integral to their brand.

It must be remembered that it is important to maintain your online identity, no matter how many channels you use. It is consistency across channels which creates the automatic and immediate associations that people have to your brand. If you aren’t doing this then you are relying on search engines and people’s own ability to interpret what they see. Out of date pages, blogs and posts without any new content say to potential customers that there is a lack of care and attention. Word of mouth is still one of the strongest forms of marketing and social media networks make this more important. Do you know what is being said about your brand and what people think about it? Sometimes it is as simple as doing a Google search and analysing the results. One thing social media does offer is candid and immediate feedback. Sainsbury’s saw this with their new Christmas advert, with people immediately suggesting they were exploiting the memory of the war.

At Siteset we are often asked to evaluate a brand’s overall web presence, including how it is perceived online. Sometimes this is across multiple channels and sometimes it is just examining whether a company’s employees’ LinkedIn profiles apply brand guidelines and portray the brand in the right way.

A brand’s digital identity is now an integral part of any business and it is essential for it to be carefully cultivated. If you want to ensure a strong, consistent, ‘on brand’ identity in the digital age it is key to have brand guardians. These may be in-house people, an outsourced agency or a company-wide comprehensive strategy. This strategy is similar to a set of brand guidelines but will also set out the goals you aim to achieve, through all online channels that you or your customers are in. It should set out who is responsible for setting up, maintaining and monitoring these channels to safe guard your brand. As brand guardians for a leading financial FTSE100 company, we know that this policy needs to cover every website, profile and social media post that your company and employees create. It may be a lot of work, but it is better that you build and control your brand’s identity rather than leaving it to anyone and everyone on the internet to do it for you.

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