Watch the sparks fly and the tempers flare as @wmmarc and @jessicagottlieb take on our panel of experts in this video from TechZulu: Video Link: SMCLA panel on “Brand Building via Social Media” .

The event took place at the wonderful Sheraton Universal on March 31st.  Big thanks to TechZulu for grabbing this video from the event.

Babbette Pepaj of Bakespace.com, Anne Plese of Cisco, Geoff Brown of SMCLA and Rob Frankel at SMCLA: Brand Building via Social Media
Photo Credit:  Marc Salsberry @wmmarc All rights reserved.

I reached out to our panelists to provide written answers to the questions we intended to cover at the event (there were 10, we got through about 4 or 5) and they were quite prolific in their responses.   Here’s what they had to offer in writing:

Panelists
Babette Pepaj – Founder, BakeSpace.com (@bakespace)
Rob Frankel – Frankelbiz (@brandingexpert)
Anne PleseCisco SystemsCisco Systems Data Center Networks Blog <–answers pending (therefore not represented in print below)

Moderated By
Geoff Brown , SMCLA (@geoffabrown)

What is a brand?  How do you define it?

Frankel – You’ll hear a lot of different definitions, which is why I wrote The Revenge of Brand X. In there, I make the case that “Branding is getting your prospects to perceive you as the only solution to their problem.” And it seems to work.   Too many people confuse branding with awareness and identity, which are executional elements of brand implementation. Brands begin with a brand strategy.

Pepaj – This is a loaded and very broad question – A brand is a promise of quality and a set of expectations that inspire an emotional response.

YouTube accounts for 10% of all internet traffic. 5 of the top 10 websites are social. There are about 20 new blog posts written every second. How important is social media as a platform for brands?

Frankel – Social media itself is a very important platform. But its power is second only to its susceptibility of misapplication. At its best, social media allows masses of individuals to take a personal ownership in a brand. At its worst, social media fosters a sense of entitlement to its participants. It’s the brand’s task to know which tactics are – and are not – appropriate and effective for its brand. It’s vital that a brand not lose control of its brand via social media.

Pepaj – We work with brands all the time that have not been involved previously with social media. Their goal is to listen to consumers, join the conversation and reach new customers. With so much noise on the Web, it’s important to understand that not all social media sites give brands an equal opportunity to achieve their goals. A doctor might do very well on Yelp, YouTube and Twitter, but may waste time and energy building a Facebook Fan Page. Why? Because the message needs to be useful and provide real value to the community.

Social media allows a brand to participate in conversations that would otherwise occur on a peer-to-peer level between trusted friends. This means that your brand message should be appropriate for conversation among peers, as well as easy to share. Otherwise, your social media campaign will have little impact.

What about employees using the social web? How much does each individual’s personal brand effect the brand as a whole?

Frankel – As we saw last night, you’re going to hear differing views on that. From my point of view, I believe that allowing employees to represent a brand on the web runs the same risks as whistleblowers publishing tell-all books. Not a healthy risk that any brand should take.

As for an individual’s personal brand, it gets subordinated to the corporate brand, unless the corporate brand is the personal brand. Lee Iacocca personified Chrysler and the brand rebounded. Bob Nardelli can’t fill those shoes, and Chrylser is about to become a ghost.

Pepaj – If your employees participate in social media, it’s inevitable that people will connect them with your organization. That’s why it’s important to bring everyone on the team up-to-speed about what they should and should not share online. An employee might innocently share personal thoughts that in turn expose proprietary information. In addition, you want everyone involved with the organization to communicate a consistent, accurate message… so you have to keep them informed. Your employees represent your organization, so everyone should be on the same page.

How can companies use social tools to build their brand?

Frankel – I strongly support the idea of Branded Community® and have been running one profitably since 1994. If managed properly, social media can pay out in real, trackable ROI – which is just what CEO’s and CMO’s are starving for. Social media like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are not the answer. The first two are placeholders until better solutions emerge. Twitter is a different animal, and applied properly, can do a lot – for now. Soon, I hope, Branded Community® solutions like http://www.i-legions.com will be accepted as the social medium that strengthens brands with real, tangible ROI. I devote a whole chapter to this in my book.

Pepaj – Here’s a simple check list:

  1. Identify the right medium for your message
  2. Spend some time using the target sites to understand how they work and how their members interact. If it’s a niche site like BakeSpace, you may also be able to speak directly with the publisher to better understand how your brand can fit within the community.
  3. Add useful content specific to the community – members will take note if it’s useful and/or entertaining. For example, KitchenAid has a profile on BakeSpace that the company uses to answer questions about its products. There’s no heavy sell, but rather a genuine and transparent effort to provide useful information. The company also uploads photos from food-related events to give our members behind-the-scenes access. Another brand that’s active on BakeSpace is Reynolds, which added a chat application during its Thanksgiving promotion to answer our members’ questions about holiday cooking. ABC uses its BakeSpace profiles for Desperate Housewives and other shows to connect with fans and share sneak peak clips of each episode before it airs. Each of ABC’s TV series-branded profiles provide recipes inspired by recent episodes, which are shared with BakeSpace members on a peer-to-peer level.

The old model for online communications was about driving traffic to a destination site. Now it’s more about going to where people are and participating there. How important are metrics? What kind of metrics do you pay attention to? What do those metrics tell you about the effectiveness of brand building using social media?

Frankel – Yeah, the old model of “amassing eyeballs is a throwback to unemployed offline media reps. It’s never been effective on the web, but it has been the only sales pitch that marketers have been able to memorize and regurgitate consistently, so it continues to survive.

That’s why I hit at metrics and tangible ROI so hard: It’s the only argument that’s going to permanently dislodge “eyeball” theory, because metrics will prove it out.

Pepaj – It’s true. The old model involved building a platform and breaking it up into channels to create a circle of information and the never ending click. Then the Web moved towards niche and connecting one-on-one with the right consumer. Now, it’s about extending your reach through many networks. When we do a promotion for one of our brand partners, it takes place in a cohesive simultaneous conversation on BakeSpace, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other online communities, as well as on my personal blog and in our newsletters. By creating a cohesive campaign, you can tap into conversations happening across the Web.

What’s the key to gaining SOV on the social web?

Pepaj – Share of voice on the Web can be tricky. Here are some tips:

  1. Less is more – Say something useful in as few words as possible.
  2. Allow someone to easily share your content in many ways so the consumer can choose their method to spread the word.
  3. Listen actively and be part of the conversation.
  4. Team up with a publisher who can guide you through the process and make sure your message is presented in a way that’s consistent with your branding and the way the community shares.
  5. Have patience – Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither will the deep connections you want to make with consumers.

What’s different about brand-building on the social web vs. more traditional mediums? Is it more effective? Less effective?

Frankel – Why choose? The web has experienced decades of huge growth and is still behind television and other media in terms of usage. Every brand has its own combination of effective media. It’s wrong – and wholly unfair to a brand — to shove its fate into a cookie cutter media plan.

Pepaj – Traditional media serves as a gatekeeper between you and your audience. While you have to deal with that gatekeeper, you’re able to present your brand’s message the way you want it through press releases and PR outreach.

Publishing news and content through social media takes time. You need to first set up the accounts, create a passionate following and a thoughtful campaign that will inspire “friends” or followers to listen and share. While it might seem less expensive, it’s very time consuming. Most brand campaigns have a set timeline so social media should be looked at as a continuous process.

The best combination is to have a social media account ready so when you have timely news to distribute, you have an avenue to do so. You’ve built a fan base that will listen and help push your content across to their networks for very little cost. I think a combination of the two is the most effective way. Use social media as a tool, not a solution in itself.

Word of caution – while it might appear that social media moves your content quickly and is more effective, your brand’s message might be changed or flipped on you and could send the opposite message.

Just remember that most of your consumers are still based offline. Not everyone knows what Twitter is or has a Facebook profile. So when you’re talking to consumers through social media, think of them as connectors for reaching the people they know offline. In addition to engaging with them online, you want to encourage them to have a conversation about your brand around the dinner table.

How can you make sure that your social media efforts are integrated into the larger communications strategy?

Frankel – Once again, most people look at social media sideways. It’s new. And new, to most corporate managers, equals risk. And corporate managers hate risk. In fact, most avoid anything new because to them, risk is code for “possible failure.” Especially now, during a recession, nobody wants to risk anything – unless you can remove the risk by showing tangible ROI.

Pepaj – When you’re creating a promotion or campaign, you figure out which social media avenues fits the campaign best. Once you figure out content distribution, build into your outreach ways for consumers to share the information with their peers. And don’t forget to think outside the box…

For example, Kodak came to us to help promote a new printer because they wanted to reach our specific demographic. The challenge was finding a way to connect Kodak and its printer with our members in an organic way. We gave it some thought and helped Kodak create a “recipe in a jar” campaign that encouraged our members to print and package recipes as gifts. We also hosted a giveaway to promote the product. This approach enabled Kodak to reach its target demographic while giving our members a nifty recipe and gift-giving idea.

Name some specific tactics that you’ve employed to build your brand online.

Frankel – I like to use cases of my own branded community, FrankelBiz.com, because it exhibits the leverage that the community can exert to make real changes. In my case, Amazon.com allowed a nut case to post a clearly fallacious review of my book. The guy was a nut case, but Amazon was not convinced. I appealed to the FrankelBiz community to contact Amazon on my behalf. The result was that the nutball’s review was removed.

I am currently using FrankelBiz, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in a similar case: Apple’s iTunes has stalled approval for our iPhone application, LittleWingman. We are using social media to get people to click the link at http://www.LittleWingman.com where they can watch our one minute video and automatically send a letter to iTunes expressing their support for us. Too early to know how effective that one will be.

Pepaj – From day-one, BakeSpace has helped brands transcend banner advertising and join the conversation with our members. Each new ad campaign is designed to preserve the site’s grassroots sensibility and help members connect with one another, as well as with brands, in new and exciting ways.

Over the past two years, BakeSpace has hosted a series of uniquely engaging promotions for food-related brands such as KitchenAid, Reynolds Parchment Paper, Sara Lee and McCormick, as well as consumer product and entertainment brands such as Kodak, ABC, Universal Pictures and FOX Searchlight. Our campaigns include:

  • Custom Branded Profiles
  • Unique Recipe Feed with Sponsored Recipes
  • Branded Food Mentor Profiles to share useful tips
  • Social Market Research/Conversational Marketing
  • Branded Recipe Channel
  • Interactive Recipe Pages that can include videos, branding, slide shows, chat and photos
  • Custom Promotions and Giveaways

To read more about our Unique Recipe for Social Media Advertising: http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/BakespaceCom-937739.html

Which companies are getting it right? Who can we look to for examples? (Zappos comes to mind, who else?)

Frankel – I’m going to avoid this one, because I still think the medium needs to evolve into Branded Community or at least something like it.

Pepaj – I think Ford is doing some interesting things with a program called “iroadtrip”. The company donated a vehicle to four bloggers who are very active on Twitter. They helped make a program possible by offering the vehicle for the road trip. However, the road trip didn’t focus on their brand, but interesting content. While waiting in line at a pizza truck at SXSW, I noticed a badge that said iroadtrip and the entire team was there. My first question was about the ford truck photo that was part of a practical joke. So I associated the trip with Ford.

Whole Foods – While I was at SXSW and I saw a tweet about @WholeFoods hosting a food tech event. I put out a message and within the hour I got a thoughtful reply, but unfortunately the event list was closed. An hour later I got a private message inviting me to the event which was held at their flagship store. They had no idea who I was or if I could be of value to them, but they knew I was a foodie. The Whole Foods twitter feed isn’t about what’s on sale or store info, it’s about useful content someone who’s passionate about food will appreciate.

There are a lot of companies participating in social media and benefiting from joining the conversation. What’s nice about social media is that you don’t have to be a large corporation to make an impact.

Connect With Our Panelists!

You will find Rob Frankel online at:
http://twitter.com/brandingexpert
http://frankelbiz.com

You can connect with Babette and the Bakespace.com community  at:
http://www.bakespace.com/?babs – Check out my Recipes!
http://www.twitter.com/bakespace
http://www.facebook.com/pages/BakeSpacecom/19188237540 – Our Fan Page