TechPost: Nine Tips for Building a Brand Online

Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.


In a world of blogs, social networks, feeds, interactive media and so much more, how can a company build and nurture its Web presence?

I asked three local well-known Web strategy firms -- r2i.ntegrated, iStrategy Labs and Viget Labs -- for their advice for companies that are trying to build their brand online. Here's a sampling of what they said, with an example to illustrate each.

Viget Labs, Falls Church

* Welcome criticism. The first step is supporting interactive conversation, where site visitors can communicate with you. That's easy. Establishing a reputation where people feel comfortable being openly (and constructively) critical of your company either on your site or elsewhere online is the next step. Responding to reasonable criticism with a reasonable response will establish trust and credibility.

CustomInk, for example, has for years had "uncensored" customer reviews right on their home page.

* Think like a startup. When you're a startup, you run lean, make fast decisions, focus only on the most important stuff and build brand through relationships. Why should a big company think any different? Your Web presence should evolve daily, and that means being quick and nimble.

* Define metrics, measure them, and act. Use tools like Google Alerts, Twitter search, and FiltrBox to monitor external discussions, and packages such as Google Analytics and Crazy Egg to monitor how your site is performing.

Example - Audio and video clip service Odeo.com

We redesigned and relaunched Odeo from the ground up and worked with their team to migrate data from the old system to the new. During that process, the Odeo guys were active on Twitter and monitored references to their brand -- both positive and negative. It gave them a great customer service edge, because they could quickly engage with their users to address concerns in a way that other users could see.

r2i, Falls Church and Baltimore

* Spend your efforts creating a solid buying experience; don't worry about selling your product. The rest will follow. The best way to do that is to find out what buyers do and then "get in their way." For example, if you think buyers do a lot of feature comparisons before they make a choice, give them the tools to do that effectively.

* Though both terms get thrown around, social networking and social media are different. Social media is the entire body of online sites that offer social features, such as bookmarking and feed-sharing. Social networking is the act of connecting with others online. So, thinking that social networking is "what everyone is doing" does not mean you should run out and create a social networking site. However, creating relevant content and then providing the social tools that enable people to share, preferably throughout targeted groups within social networking sites, makes more sense.

* Harness your audience to do the work for you. In an age where everyone is concerned with controlling the message, this seems antithetical, but it's actually more powerful and more cost-effective. In fact, on sites such as Amazon.com and Ebay.com, the negative comments add an air of credibility to the positive ones and actually help drive sales. Products that offer comments that have the whiff of being "sanitized" don't sell as well. Let people talk about you; it only gets others to do so, too, increasing the chances of positioning and exposing your brand.

Example: Software IT firm Stacksafe

We worked with Stacksafe to launch a new product by taking their valuable content and housing it in a "knowledge center." The knowledge centers were repositories that allowed the client to both distribute and aggregate relevant information through social features. A launch that had been struggling gained real traction.

iStrategy Labs, the District

* You are what you publish. Whether you're building a corporate brand or personal one, you need to generate content that your audience will find valuable. That value can be entertainment driven or cerebral.

* Digital brand building should be thought of as a one-to-one engagement. You're not marketing to the masses - these are people who buy your stuff and will pimp your brand to their friends if you engage them in a dialog. The more personal attention you give, the more you'll be praised and the more you'll sell.

* In order to develop your brand online you need to live, eat and breathe interactive strategy everyday. If you do your homework, campaign creation with your marketing partners will become a collaborative process, producing better results every time. I suggest studying all areas of the interactive universe in detail by reading blogs, white papers and attending conferences and/or meet-ups on a daily basis. http://www.istrategylabs.com/interactive-universe-map/

Example -- GEICO

For GEICO's iHeartCavemen.com campaign we chose the entertainment route. Our philosophy was that by deeply engaging digital influencers in a physical iheartcavmen.com launch party, letting them shoot any content they like, and have them distribute those photos and videos throughout the social web. This combination of digital and experiential marketing allowed us to reach a much broader audience for less money than through any other means.

--Thanks to Brian Williams of Viget, Peter Corbett of iStrategy and Brooke Warner of r2i.ntegrated for helping with this project.

By Zachary Goldfarb  |  August 22, 2008; 10:30 AM ET  | Category:  TechPost
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Comments

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Zach:

Great post aggregating social media best practices from some of the top people in the area.

I can't tell you how much of my work as a social media consultant involves explaining that social media is not just another toolset to "get our message out." The idea, as the folks above point out, is to participate authentically in communities to build crediblity for your brand in this developing space.

The idealist in me is excited about how these social tools can actually transform not just how companies communicate, but what they do. An obligation to authentic, transparent behavior online should (ultimately must) find its way into the company's core values and operations. It's hard to imagine this leading to a bad outcome.

Posted by: Craig Stoltz | August 25, 2008 12:20 PM

Great idea for a post, Zach. Solid advice for building a web presence - and interesting points about the difference between social networking and social media. I think it's also important to have some sort of presence on the larger social networks and social sites, With the massive audiences they boast and time-spent on their sites (Facebook, MySpace, Digg, etc), there's sure to be a demographic of users grouped together somewhere with common-interests that will correspond to your product. The key is to find a meaningful way to participate and engage them -- goes back to what Brooke Warner was saying with getting 'in their way'.

Posted by: Kim McKee, Searchles.com | August 25, 2008 12:39 PM

Hi,
Here are some ideas in addition to the excellent ones listed.

1. Don't be afraid to experiment - have a strategy, implement, evaluate & revise

2. Think creatively about what niches could use your brand. Listen & find where they're interacting online. Participate, contribute to the conversation & introduce your brand by sponsoring contests & events.

3. Add a community manager (or recruit someone from within)
- They will give your brand a human voice. - They will represent the customers within the company & represent the brand amongst the customers.

Connie @ Network Solutions

Posted by: Connie Bensen | August 27, 2008 11:00 AM

The article was titled towards building a brand online and all the content seemed geared towards social networking and social media examples... Interesting times indeed... And this comes from a founder of www.mysbx.com (a site in a similar space)

Posted by: Jeff White | August 27, 2008 5:04 PM

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