Is this Captain BRAND, saviour of the universe? Via flickr by Gaetan LeeBrand managers are paid handsome salaries largely to optimise and protect their brands. This means raising the key brand metrics (reach, awareness, favourability, etc) and avoiding brand damage.

In today’s multichannel environment I argue that brands need to be monitored, represented and protected online. I wrote an article last week that generated some interesting discussion around whether or not companies should be climbing onboard the Twitter train. Some argue that there’s no point (‘it isn’t big enough’ / ‘how would you use it?’) and others think that it is ripe for engagement. 

My own argument can be boiled down to this: even if you don’t actively use these sites today, you might as well make sure that you’re in a position to use them tomorrow.

This means owning the brand names…

Influence counts

Brand and marketing folk tend to follow crowds, but they also understand the power of influence. If you want a product to be perceived as cool, then you need to know who the cool cats are. Influence and the network effect can pay serious dividends.

I’ve seen this in action. One company had a few samples to giveaway, and a young male demographic in mind. They took the product to London’s South Bank, a haven for skateboarders, and asked the kids to point out the best skaters. She then handed over the free schwag to the dudes with the best tricks, who all the other skaters looked up to. Smart stuff…

The T Word 

In the internet industry we know that Twitter is all about influence, largely because it has achieved a high level of penetration among internet professionals. Relatively speaking, we are early adopters, and there’s a lot of activity on there.

Right now Twitter won’t work for all brands, but that’s not to say that all brands shouldn’t be taking part. A contradiction? Nope. What I mean by this is simple: you don’t have to devote large resources to social media sites, but you do have to protect your trademarks

This should be hardwired into your marketing strategy, since there are serious brand and SEO considerations. On top of that, Twitter will become influential in other sectors too. It is an echo chamber, and it is just a matter of time.

Last week I wondered why Coca Cola, the world’s number one brand, ignores Twitter. A common argument against my question is another question:why should they?. And it’s a fair point, since not all brands are going to find a use for Twitter, though in my view Coca Cola isn’t one of them. It could be using it as a feedback channel, for competitions, for exclusive content, or even for ad creative.

I do think that all brands should at the very least own their own trademarks. Yet the Twitter accounts for Coke and Diet Coke have already been claimed by others. It seems bizarre, given that these accounts can be set up for free (perhaps Twitter can make money by introducing a variant of the domain name resolution system?).

Another argument is that ‘it’s just bandwagon jumping’, and I agree that there’s too much slack thought going on in some social media strategies. But even if Twitter doesn’t become a massively popular website, there’s enough reason to register a brand like ‘Coke’, isn’t there? 

All I see is upside

For starters, if you do this then nobody else will bag your brand name, so there won’t be any brand abuse on such a guessable location. This is important, unless you have a thing for headaches. All I did on Twitter to see if Coke had an account was visit www.twitter.com/coke. If everybody else does that then there’s going to be a potential problem for Coke’s brand managers, if the owner of that account doesn’t happen to like Coke. 

Secondly, there’s always the chance that the social media site ‘does a Facebook’ and becomes huge. In that case the above problem would be exacerbated, or alternatively, if you owned your brand names, you would start receiving plenty of attention.

Thirdly, and something seriously worth factoring in, is that social media sites can rank very highly in the search engines. If you believe in universal search then you’ll know how news stories, images and video can play a part in claiming more page estate on the first page of Google. Well, you should also factor in profiles on social media sites. 

I call this ‘social search optimization’ (SSO’, anyone?). An example: for the search term ‘Diet Coke’ there are links to four social media sites on the first page (Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Video and VideoJug). It proves that these sites can play a big part in capturing attention, and if you own or have influence over these pages then you should sleep more soundly at night. Twitter also ranks very highly for many brands with Twitter accounts. 

Place your bets

If you don’t buy a ticket you won’t win the lottery, right? In this case the only cost is the time it takes to sign up for an account, which is something an intern can do and as such costs next to nothing.

Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Set up some feeds to sites like Techcrunch, Mashable, even Econsultancy. Monitor new and upcoming social media sites. 
  2. Sign up! If you can sign up for an account for free, then why not sign up? Claim your social media profiles for all your key brands. Sign up for all sites. You don’t need a doctorate, 25 years experience and a six-figure salary to do this. 
  3. Sit tight. See which ones take off (not all will, but what do you have to lose by taking a punt?). Wade in and engage if appropriate.
  4. Monitor the search results on Google and see which sites rank the highest. Consider social search optimisation – can you further boost these sites in the rankings? 
  5. Make sure you have a strategy in place, and some guidelines. Coca Cola, to its credit, has a social media policy, and is figuring things out. Guidelines should be distributed to all PR, comms and marketing staff (or anybody that might use some initiative in this area). For bigger companies putting a structure in place will obviously be more challenging than for smaller ones. In this instance I recommend four gallons of gumption, three quarts of fortitude, plus a sprinkling of evangelism.

This isn’t rocket science, and it’s not about seeking board level approval to divert millions of marketing budget into fledgling social media sites.

Simply put, I think this is best practice, since it prevents brand damage on a prime domain (aka a guessable user / brand account). It will also ensure that companies are well-placed to make the most of these sites should they ‘do a Facebook’, or show promising results on Google.