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How to use social media to create and enhance your brand’s narrative

5 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This post is by Cathy Brooks, founder of Story Navigation. She will be speaking at SOBCon 2011, which will be held in Chicago from April 29 to May 1.

Many great blogs and books herald processes and strategies for taking advantage of the social Web for business. Solid reference guides such as Brian Solis’ “Engage” and general industry resource tomes such as Charlene Li’s “Groundswell” leave us with no shortage of handy resources for figuring out the tactical bits of using the social Web.

Having all this material is great, but no amount of books and blogs will be able to help you if you fail to do one simple thing first.

Here’s the key: Step away from the computer.

Yes, you read me correctly. Step away from the computer. Most digital denizens scampering about the social Web on behalf of businesses gulp heartily from the information fire hose every morning before even taking the first swig of coffee.

Bad move.

This immediately starts you on the wrong foot when it comes to using social media to establish and expose your brand’s narrative. Before you can thoughtfully consider your intended narrative, you must be clear on where that story starts.

Business narratives are colored by the voice of whomever is telling it. Before crafting and building that narrative, it’s critical the teller be clear on his or her motivation.

That may seem like heresy to those whose lives exist heavily online, but indulge me for a moment. If you are like me (or at least how I used to be), upon waking in the morning you reach for the nearest bit of technology —  smartphone, iPad, laptop — and plug in immediately to the social stream. Right?

Would you get out of bed in the morning without first putting your feet on the floor? No. You wouldn’t. Doing so would be ridiculous, not to mention potentially injury-inducing. By throwing yourself into the digital stream before first taking a breath, that’s what you are doing. I’m not suggesting everyone take an hour to meditate and get grounded before opening e-mail (though that isn’t a bad idea). All I’m talking about is 30 seconds. Take 60 seconds if you’re really bad-ass. When that alarm goes off in the morning, pause before you engage with that digital device and breathe. Yes, breathe.

Sound silly? Forget about the morning pause, and think about how many people neglect to breathe during the day. Think about the near Neanderthal posture we all strike after hours hunched over the keyboard. Besides the obvious insult to good posture, this quite literally cuts you off from the key thing you need to think — oxygen. Shoulders rounded, back curved — try sitting like that right now. Now try to take a super deep breath while in that state. Yeah, good luck with that.

Let’s assume you started your day properly by taking a pause before digital engagement. Let’s also assume you are being mindful throughout the day to ensure you’re breathing well and staying connected. Now what?

I’ll leave you with a few basic paths as you’re charting your business narrative’s course through the forest of the social Web.

  1. Connect before connecting. Before plowing into your story, be sure you are connected to the story you are telling. Are you spouting off messaging points, or do the bullets have connection to each other? Is there a greater sense of purpose or motivation behind that narrative? If not, take another step back and try again.
  2. Search engines don’t know from silos. Your business likely has a presence across multiple places on the social web. Your team probably does as well. Anywhere your company story (which includes the leadership team) appears — Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and beyond –- is part of the narrative. Look at all those places and make sure when those threads are woven together, the tapestry is an accurate portrayal of your company tale.
  3. You must be present to win. It’s not just about making the land grab and staking the claim to your business’ vanity URL or account name on a given social platform. Once you’re there, you must be prepared to participate. This means realizing these platforms are at their core truly conversational and you should be engaging in dialogue with your customers.
  4. It’s OK to opt out. Just because everyone’s talking about the social Web doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Sometimes the proper response to “which social media platform should I use” is “none.” If you’re not prepared to fully engage, don’t bother, and just because another company is using something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. Find the platform that works with your voice and use it.
  5. The more things change, the more they change. Once you’ve found the right platform, be prepared to change. Not all platforms are useful for all things, and something that works one day may very well not work the next. Don’t try to do the same thing over and over. Be flexible, and don’t fall too in love with any idea or platform, because chances are likely you’ll need to swap it out soon enough.

Image credit: swilmor, via iStockphoto