Many brands like to treat social media like a big party at the cool kid's house. Everybody's invited, and having a great time. The conversation is flowing and it's the place everyone wants to be. Eventually, you realize that your brand is not there yet, and someone (usually someone with a big title) decides that your brand should be. So you put on your best party clothes, show up at the door and loudly announce your arrival. The only problem is, the party is already in full swing, people already have their drinks, and no one was waiting for you to show up in the first place.
Sound cynical? Unfortunately, for many brands that's the welcome they can expect as they finally start to turn to social media as a part of their marketing and communications strategy. Launching a blog, or a Facebook page, or Twitter account isn't hard to do--the hard part is deciding how to use these tools. Ironically, the thing that most brands have to worry about isn't negativity (as they often fear), it is indifference. The most common "backlash" against company sponsored social media initiatives are the embarrassing sounds of crickets. No one visits and no one cares.
It doesn't have to be this way. The one thing people respond to is other people. So instead of focusing on your shiny new blog or cool new Facebook app--the place to start is to figure out who will be the people behind it. Find the individuals who will be interacting on behalf of your brand in social media, and then give them the tools and support to do it well. All the companies that get credit today for doing social media well--Zappos, Dell, Comcast--have all become comfortable with letting individuals from their company become the faces for their brand. These are the voices that I often call "accidental spokespeople." Within them is the real secret to using social media to be a brand that actually matters: offering a real human connection.
Rohit Bhargava is SVP of Digital Strategy at Ogilvy PR and author of the award-winning book Personality Not Included, a guide for brands to be more authentic. He writes the popular non-obvious marketing blog Influential Marketing and speaks frequently around the world on social media, marketing and the power of personality. Follow him on Twitter at @rohitbhargava or become a fan on Facebook before July 31 to be among the first to get a free download of his new ebook on August 1.