Social Media and Online Branding Campaigns

In our previous post, How to Brand Your Company Online, we continued our series with a discussion on how to brand your enterprise online, and we looked at some of the key components of branding online. In this post, we take a look at how to run online campaigns to enhance your brand.

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Online Branding Campaigns

Let’s consider: What is branding? There are lots of definitions, but one that we like was formulated by Chris Levkulich on the BrandingBrand blog:[1]

Branding, in essence, is developing a plan of action that will make your product or company the ONLY solution to its targeted problems. Instead of making you stand out among the crowd of other products and having your product being chosen over the competitors as the best product, branding wants to promote the product as the only product. Like Kleenex.

This cheeky definition goes further than many others, but we like that it defines the ultimate goal of branding: To become inextricably identified with the problem you are solving as its only solution. Marvelous!

Then Levkulich goes on to declare that social media is the future of branding. While we won’t go quite that far, certainly the ability for the real owners of the brand — the people — to affect the perception and the definition of the brand changes the game completely. No longer is the Coke or Wal-Mart or IBM brand strictly what their branding experts say it is through their brand-building, traditional media tactics. Many aspects of a brand are now entirely in the hands of the people who use it, and who discuss it on social media.

When talking about brand, however, often people really are talking about brand recognition — how many people have heard of you? Obviously, social media has a strong role to play in brand recognition.

Every organization with any kind of presence in the larger world has a brand. It’s more than just your name or reputation, it’s what you’re known for, and it’s your promise — to solve a customer problem, to meet a customer need. If you’re not already thinking about what your brand means to your community, it’s time to start, because online, the opportunity for your brand to be known far and wide is great. And you don’t want to fumble this opportunity.

Here are some characteristics you should take into account to build your brand online:

  • Inspire Trust
    One of the best assets of a brand is trust. Let’s face it. If your community doesn’t trust your brand, you’re out of luck. Everything you do online should build trust. This means doing what you promise to do, and refrain from negative activities, such as criticizing competitive brands or individuals.
  • Maintain Integrity
    Integrity goes hand-in-hand with trust. Wal-Mart compromised its brand integrity with its fake-blogger campaigns (discussed in the Social Media Approach section in our book).
  • Build Brand Confidence
    Brand confidence is the result of positive brand trust and integrity. Your community is confident that you will deliver what you say you will. You become the go-to brand for your solution.
  • Deliver on the Promise of Your Brand
    When you look at how brands originally came to be and how they evolved, you can see that the modern brand is a promise. Derived from the Old Norse brandr, meaning “to burn,” branding began with livestock as a way to declare ownership. The first consumer brand was registered by Pears soap in the 19thcentury, but attempts to use branding to distinguish the quality of the product from others were common by the last days of Pompeii. It was the industrial revolution, and the extension of a maker’s potential market beyond the local community that produced many of the modern components of brand — the promise of integrity and the beginnings of consumers’ relationships to brand. More recently, a brand became a proxy for the unique selling proposition — the superior qualities of the product — and that aspect of brand is very important in social media today.So what is your promise? Can everyone associated with your organization put this promise into words? Understand your promise, deliver on the promise online, and ensure that your online efforts never betray it.
  • Personality/Personalness
    In social media, we obviously think it is important to Be a Person. Thus your online brand should have a personality, embodied in the people who engage your community. There are, of course, risks in involving your staff in your branding efforts, but there’s really no other choice. It can blow up as in our Nestlé example — a community manager who was insufficiently trained causing a ruckus — but it can just as easily have extremely positive effects, as in our Ektron example — a community manager who engaged with a negative poster and produced, in the end, an endorsement. No matter what you think about employee engagement online, your brand must represent your people, and not a faceless, monolithic enterprise.

Based on these qualities of the modern brand, your online branding campaigns should exhibit high integrity and emphasize the people involved in your business.

The ASUS entry in our Social Media Hall of Shame is an example of a brand campaign that failed due to integrity problems.

Computer-maker ASUS created a blogging competition at by picking six people and asking them to blog about products they’d been given for review. Readers were then to rate the blogs and the winner would be able to keep the reviewed products.

Things did not go the way ASUS managers hoped, however, since the readers picked an honest, but not perfectly positive, review by Gavyn Britton. Faced with endorsing and publicizing a review that revealed some faults in their product, ASUS changed the rules of the competition — several times. Instead of the ASUS community voting on the winners, the six bloggers themselves voted to decide the prize, resulting in Emma Hill winning.

It’s incredible to think that an online community would be hoodwinked by this duplicity. When challenged by its community, ASUS said they had upgraded the prizes the bloggers got, but did not apologize for fixing the race.

ASUS is a little known brand in the US that doesn’t spend as much as its big PC-maker com­petitors on building its brand. Chances are good they chose an online brand-building event due to its relatively low cost. Instead of positively building their brand, however, it can be argued they did damage.

What could ASUS have done differently?

    • Acknowledge that their product is not perfect, perhaps while pointing out its advantages over their competition
    • Commit to take the feedback from the winning blogger and make the product better
    • Promise to update the community on how they fix product deficiencies
    • Make a big splash when announcing an improved product, emphasizing the community’s contributions

On the positive brand-building side, here’s a case study from our Enterprise Social Media Framework[2] about a company that appears to get online brand building, and who took a big risk in a branding campaign: Burger King.

In this case BK leveraged a social media phenomenon — Facebook — to connect with its cus­tomers online in an offbeat and inside-baseball way. The company created a Facebook app cal­led Whopper Sacrifice.[3] To participate in the campaign, community members agreed to unfriend (break contact with) 10 friends in order to get a free Whopper. Ordinarily, people aren’t notified when someone unfriends them. But in the Burger King campaign, the removed friends got a notification that they had been sacrificed so one of their friends could get a free Whopper. This made the unfriended curious about the campaign, and this helped spread the BK Facebook app, and, Burger King hopes, builds loyalty to their sandwich.

This campaign is extremely sophisticated. It addresses the downside of a positive social media phenomenon: the fact that you may have, somewhere along the way, friended someone you wish you hadn’t or that you may feel overwhelmed by the number of friends you have.

This is a pretty subtle perception on the part of Burger King. It shows a deep understanding of the social media space. And it struck a nerve. Before Facebook took down the BK app for privacy concerns, Burger King spent an estimated $50,000 on the campaign, received an estimated $400,000 in press/media value, and got 32 million impressions for its brand. Incidentally, it’s likely Facebook pulled the app because it doesn’t believe friends should be notified when they are unfriended.

The major difference between these two branding campaigns has to do with respect for, and understanding of, the community. ASUS thought they were in control, but when they exerted that control, they found out that, as is almost always the case, the community was in control. Burger King took the time to understand their online community and to design an edgy — and potentially dangerous if not handled well — campaign that appealed to community sensibilities.

ASUS forgot to act with integrity. Facebook forgot to let their users be in control. Burger King pulled off a risky approach and reaped the benefits.

Keep these lessons in mind as you create your own online branding campaigns.

Social Media and Online Branding Campaigns is the 72nd in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 222. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

Get our new book, The Infinite Pipeline: How to Master Social Media for Business-to-Business Sales Success online here.

Next up: Creating Online Evangelists

[1] BrandingBrand blog:

[2] Social Media Performance Group’s Enterprise Social Media Framework info:

[3] Whopper Sacrifice:

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