Social networking in business and branding

Savvy brands are beginning to realise that social networks have the potential to support almost every aspect of a business – especially marketing and branding.

Obviously, this is because the use of blogs and social networking sites by consumers are notoriously difficult to police and comments made can easily damage brand value. However, the use of places like YouTube for viral marketing can soon start a bandwagon of support around the globe.

"If you don't recognise social media as a marketing channel, you'll miss out on opportunities to reach new customers and build stronger relationships with people already using your products and services," says Mitchinson.

Find a business case for Facebook

Developing applications for social networks like Facebook is one way of building a brand online. Adidas, for example, has just launched a campaign with music site Last.fm for its Bounce shoes. "On Last.fm we've created a community around Bounce where users can find out about the trainers, where they can buy them, and also experience the music that Bounce is associated with, creating a rich, one-to-one communication with the user," says Christian Ward of Last.fm.

The page features an embeddable radio widget with music from Stones Throw and other UK and US hip hop classics, as well as 3 free downloads from a premier label. Ward says it is also the first time Last.fm has offered users free downloads sponsored by a brand.

Laker's team at Sapient helped Coke Burn extend the energy drink into the online realm by creating the Coke Burn Alter Ego Facebook application, which has had more than 150,000 installs since its launch in March.

"As long as online campaigns are authentic, provide an open dialogue and are targeted at the correct audience, they are incredibly influential in building brands," says Seth.

"While some campaigns have been very innovative, the problem is that many people are likely to become bored of simply befriending brand pages that are little more than glorified banners or of using widgets that end-up becoming simple e-commerce modules," adds Motte.

Keeping it legal

Transparency and legal issues provide the main pitfalls when building brands with social networks, according to Steven Waddington, managing director of public relations firm Rainier PR.

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"The web is littered with examples of businesses that have failed to be open in their communication and have quickly been found out," he says. "And legal-wise businesses need to realise that publishing in a social media environment whether on a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter is no different legally to making a public statement. The law of defamation very much applies."

However, when used appropriately, Waddington believes social networks have the potential to support almost every aspect of a business. "Digital media has wrongly been perceived as the domain of brands seeking to engage with consumer audiences," he adds. "But there is massive potential for savvy enterprise organisations to use these techniques to engage with audiences too."

Motte thinks that giving online power to brand evangelists is the next step with consumers soon being able to repackage a brand in their own words.

"As both brands and users mature in their use of social networks, the future belongs to brands that will not only engage with their consumers but also empower them to create their own discussions on communities that they themselves manage," he says.

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