“It's not who you say you are, it's who they (or we) say you are!”
You've heard it before but suddenly it's a real part of your life. Whether you are a small shop owner, a service provider, an online innovator, or just about anyone out there who cares about your brand, you'll soon discover the real power of the internet and social networks. Your brand isn't a message and a logo that you can control. In the old days, your brand identity was defined in a three-ring binder that told everyone exactly how to use your logo, how to manage the tag line, and which colors they could print your content on. That's all gone.
Today, a person with a thousand followers on Twitter or Facebook can write about you (and point to longer blog articles and podcasts that aren't limited to just over 100 characters) and your logo and color management won't be an issue for them. They won't even know your tag line. But they don't care. They'll re-define your brand message in no time flat. And you'll wake up one day like Dominos did a while back and discover that the top internet responses for their keywords (including the name they've spend tons of money to develop positive brand equity) were a viral video of two employees making a gross sandwich and doing it in an unclean environment that would have all of us running for the hills.
So what can you do when it's clear you've lost control over your message. Here are three simple things that may be obvious but are worth remembering.
1. Monitor your Brand Regularly
It doesn't matter if you are a single individual or a company – Google your name and check out what's coming up. Better yet, take a look at online tools like ViralHeat and Brand's Eye that can help you see in real time what's going on across social networks and search engines.
2. Don't Get Defensive
I know, it's so simple to say and much tougher to do. But when Southwest and Kevin Smith had their Twitter battle over his getting kicked off a plane, Southwest looked silly as they apologized while throwing him under the bus. Over the next several days they each spent tons of energy responding and replying – most of it defensive, and all that everyone came away with was that Southwest has poorly implemented policies and Smith is heavy. Wow! Not a win for either.
3. Leverage Social Media to slowly develop Relationships
Look, you know this already. You don't become best friends with someone without investing. So don't expect to develop a reputation by posting a single blog article or a new facebook icon on your site. Instead, monitor who is commenting on your blog, review who is posting on your wall, and start dialogues with these influencers. These relationships, over time, will allow you to reinforce your brand message, more than that – your brand experience – with key parts of your community so that they can stand up for you when that random person gets out of line.