Social Media, Corporate Branding, and the Spreading of New Ideas

wolfman rob almeida
Rob Almeida, sailing across the Arabian Sea in 2006. (2 months after leaving active duty)

10 years ago I remember someone saying that we’re all connected to one another by no more than 7 degrees of separation, but with the advent of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and all the other social media and networking websites out there, I think that number has dwindled to 4 or 5 since then.

High speed internet has enabled us to build new online communities, friendships, and unite individuals who may never had had an opportunity to talk with one another.  Companies and individuals now have an opportunity to reach out and express themselves to the masses via their own uniquely-designed websites, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, Blogs, Twitter accounts, and others.  It’s an amazing situation that we’ve found ourselves in, and one that deserves it’s fair dose of consideration.

When social media first came on scene, many companies were terribly afraid of this new means of communicating.  It was so raw, unfiltered, and at some times, anonymous.  These companies enjoyed their perfect little sphere that they carefully created around them, and the relationships they have cultivated with their trusted news providers.   Their “brand’ was of the utmost importance and everything that ever left the company walls had been filtered through the proper corporate communications channels so that it was as vanilla as possible.   In many cases, these same companies put up firewalls on their company network to block sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, or even gCaptain in some cases.

How dare our employees waste company time with such nonsense, senior executives grumbled.

Facebook was an unstoppable force and finally these executives caved in and gave access to this unfiltered communications platform.  Scary times indeed for these executives, heaven forbid what their employees might spout off about online…

Other companies have not been so cautious and have embraced the fact that business generally happens between people, not companies.  Getting to know people, interacting with them, establishing a repore are all critical factors in successful business.  Online chat, blogging, networking, “Facebooking”, are all part of that.

Sure, having a 3 martini lunch may be another option to get to know someone, but those days are long gone.

Among other things, communicating online allows companies and individuals to “brand” themselves in ways that we’ve never even considered in the past.  It’s a bit like earning a reputation, but different in that it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s more that you’re associated with a particular expertise or genre.  Websites like Klout.com have algorithms that actually measure this branding and online influence in case you’re ever interested in seeing how you measure up.

One of the biggest challenges for companies is online brand building.   As an individual, it’s generally pretty easy because you’re free to say whatever you want online, which essentially forms the basis of your personal brand.  For a company however, posting online about things of interest do nothing for your company brand, nor does it really contribute to your sales objectives.  Press releases go largely unread, and Facebook posts from companies are generally uncreative and most are dismissed quickly.

But why?

Simple reason… people just don’t care that much about the fact your company won some new contract, opened a new office, or hired a new CEO.

Unless…

Someone else tells the story and explains WHY it’s cool.  Social buy-in is a critical factor

If you are trying to communicate something great about what’s going on in your company, having someone else communicate that story and spin it for you is far more powerful that trying to do it on your own.  Individuals and companies who tell everyone how great they are generally lack friends and allies, so just let the news companies do their job and report about it. Successful news companies are successful because they have the proven ability to turn the uninteresting, into something working finding out more about.  That’s their whole reason for being!

Another option is to use the professional news media as a tool to talk about topics as a subject matter expert.  Your employees come from diverse backgrounds, and are experts in their field.  Why not encourage them talk about industry-relevant topics, or write their own blog post?  This greatly supports the brand development of the individual and employer alike.

Industry is also truly ineffective at taking advantage of the communications opportunities it experiences on a daily basis.  Historically, the only medium for sharing and discussing ideas on a broad scale and conversing has been via professional conferences.   They are certainly perfect places to get business done and to get face-time in, but seriously, of all the amazing lectures and presentations that have occurred, how many have been filmed, or shared via social media?  A more important question might be, “What is the potential, for the sharing of these ideas via these mediums?”  Visit www.TED.com if you want an answer to that question.

How about we get ourselves out of the dark ages and realize that the spreading of ideas digitally is THE way to go, not just a way to go.

Look at ExxonMobil for example.  They are excellent communicators, and have a strong brand.  But why?

They communicate in a way that doesn’t sell to their audience.  They teach their audience and help them understand what they do in a way they can relate to.  They do this via paid TV commercials on mainstream television.  Sure, they could buy their own satellite and TV station and promote their message all day long, but infomercials and self promoting gets old quick.

Do individuals “like” companies on Facebook, or visit corporate websites on a regular basis so that they can keep up to date on the latest press releases?  Those who have some sort of vested interest in keeping close tabs on them, such as investors, will for sure, but most don’t.  The news media does though, being in the know about stuff is how we succeed.

So why are companies investing so much effort into this by meticulously tracking Google Adword campaigns, getting crazy with SEO, creating LinkedIn groups, and the such?  Do they really think that the masses care that much and that they can communicate effectively on their own, without the support of the media?

I suppose it’s a good exercise, but seriously, the news media exists to tell your story so that people will want to hear it.  Support them in this effort, it’s good for you, and it’s good for your industry.