All companies interacting in social media are creating social identities. These identities are often clouded by the poor planning and implementation of social media efforts, leaving companies in a sort of social media no-man's-land where they are either unknown or known for the wrong things.
Lawrence I. Lerner, a global change agent and president of LLBC LLC, says an enterprise needs to manage its social identity to maintain its authenticity and stay consistent with its brand. He emphasizes that people want to understand companies and what they value. It's important for companies to share information they'd like people to know and to remember about them. Companies also have to manage how they connect socially with others in their networks of partners and through their industry relationships. Social identity is related to brand, but it's a unique component of the company's overall identity.
Brand and social identity
Brand, according to Lerner, is a component of a company's identity in the marketplace, and it provides the feeling the brand owner wants everyone to remember about the particular product or service. The brand is owned and controlled by the company. On the other hand, social identity isn't owned or controlled by brand owners; instead, it is curated by them. By definition, curation involves selecting, organizing, and looking after items in a collection.
An enterprise's social identity conveys how it fits in with the larger social sphere and with its peers and possibly even how it differs from competitors. A curated social identity involves managing how the company's social identity reflects its core values and supports its brand.
Most businesses prefer for their social identities to align with their corporate values, but that may not be the case for some businesses because social identity develops based on others' perceptions. Those perceptions can't be controlled, but companies can at least manage their own inputs to social media and that involves planning.
Planning for favorable impressions
Lerner says he's seen some pretty poor results in the realm of social media, and can outline several high profile cases where companies failed to encourage strong social identities, or failed to manage the ones they already had, leading to disastrous business outcomes. A plan means having a pretty good idea of who you want to be associated with, who your customers are, what networks to use, and the end results desired. It also entails knowing the right messaging to inspire perceptions that align with the company's values.
Without a plan, the messages become muddled, causing the company to lose the opportunities inherent in social media, and to even potentially develop a misaligned social identity. Besides not getting the preferred results, companies also risk others taking control of and poking holes in whatever social identity it has developed. Lerner offers tips for curating and managing your enterprise's social identity.
Managing your social identity
- Take an active inventory of the social identity by following the social media interactions that are already going on. Know what's being shared, how the interactions are happening, and who's participating.
- Curate the social identity by selecting, organizing, and managing outgoing messaging to align with the company's core values.
- Don't try to control social media conversations.
- Be authentic by using a consistent voice that is true to the company identity and that fits with the company's marketplace. For example, B2B businesses are highly concerned with consistency, dependability, and reliability, so those traits communicated through a company's social identity will help it fit its marketplace. Additionally, being consistent in communicating with peer groups and peer networks is very important. This includes industry groups, with the understanding that you will be associated with them regardless of whether you like it or not.
- Employ social listening by recognizing that dialogue is a two-way street. Listen to what people are saying about the company. For B2B companies those conversations used to happen sporadically and infrequently, but no more; now, conversations about companies and brands are ongoing and happening quickly. Careful listening can supply insights and feedback that can improve services or products and ultimately boost sales. But, the conversations can also go the other way, where problems and scandals can become the overriding discussion. This is where not trying to take control but rather simply joining the conversation in an honest and constructive way can make all the difference in the long-term effect on the company's social identity.
Much like brand, social identity is fast becoming a reflection of a company. But social identity lives in a dynamic environment that companies have little to no control over. In this case, the best defense may be a healthily curated offense.
Duane Craig reports and writes on technology, construction, finance, food, and agriculture. He's been published in trade print magazines, the Washington Post, and widely on the web.