As we enter the fourth week in our Social Media Marketing 101 series, we’ve already outlined a lot of the basic details necessary for developing an effective social media marketing strategy. Now that you know who you are, what you do and the right keywords to use to describe your brand/company/product, as well as the appropriate goals you hope to achieve with and for your customers, it’s time to figure out a way to manage it all.

My Brand, Your Brand, Our Brand

When we talk about brand management, we’re talking about managing the tangible and intangible characteristics of your brand. By now, you've developed a brand identity, which your goals help to support and sustain. However, once your product/service/company enters the marketplace, it’s noticeably harder to control how that brand is perceived by others.

But losing control shouldn’t be viewed as a detriment, but rather an asset. If you’re truly dedicated to providing a quality customer experience, you need to trust them with your brand. Brand management is less about holding your brand’s hand out in the world, and more about listening and learning from your customers’ experience to guide your brand appropriately away from dangerous situations.

If you uphold a culture of transparency, that is, your product/service/company does what it says it does, your brand will thrive. If it doesn’t, repairing the trust of your customers will take more than clever marketing.

Customer Intelligence, Analysis

First, even though this series is about social media, we’ve yet to talk about specific social media platforms. This is on purpose. Too often, companies dive into a platform without a plan because they think they have to be there. The right platform is determined more by who your customers are, how they share information and where they feel comfortable. To effectively choose the right platform, there is a lot of work organizations need to do to figure out who they are, what they do and what purpose they serve. 

Secondly, brand management facilitates your search for the right marketing platform by allowing you to perform a little reconnaissance. When you Google your brand, what do you see? Where are people talking about you or your industry? What are they saying about you? Better yet, what aren’t they saying about you? By taking the time to discover and listen, you can help distinguish pain points among your perceived or prospective audience.

Though Google is a good start, it goes only so far. What can you use to set up effective monitoring and management of your brand? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Google Alerts: It’s a simple task. You can set up alerts about your company/product/service/brand so that you’re emailed whenever they appear online. You can also set up alerts of keywords or industry terminology.
  • Social Mention: While there are individual tools that you can set up for specific forums, like BackType for comments or Technorati for blogs, Social Mention does a pretty good job in capturing your brand across most, if not all mediums. It’s also effective in isolated relevant keywords and measuring your brand’s impact online.
  • Twitter Search: Tweeters don’t necessarily use hashtags or handles when they talk about your or your brand. Submitting Twitter searches by your product/service/company name may prove more fruitful than relying on mention notifications and will allow you to keep better informed and in-tune to your users’ conversations and experiences.

Invest in the Rights Tools, Right People

These are great tools for starting out, but for larger companies with a more diverse audience, it’s more likely you’re going to invest in larger, more comprehensive tools (read: not free). Social media, while free to use, isn’t without investment of time, money and resources. The time you invest in listening, monitoring and managing will be a reflection of how much your organization values its customers. Most companies have integrated various components into their employee’s roles and responsibilities. But like everything your company does, it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of just one or two people. In many ways, brand management is a lot like knowledge management.

Just as national intelligence analysts don’t keep what they find to themselves, your organization needs to share what it discovers online. More organizations are slowly shifting from a need to know culture to a need to share environment.

Everyone should be plugged into the customer experience. It is a critical part of a culture’s workflow. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Instead of reveling in ignorance, revel in knowledge. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to create, develop and market products and services that add value to your customers’ lives. Not only does share help to innovate product development, it fosters a culture of transparency and responsibility. When your employees are a part of the process, they will feel more connected to the brand.

Which brings us to the most important part of brand management. Be sure you are also monitoring and managing what your employees think, feel and say about your brand. They are often the first touch point a user has with your brand -- if they’re not excited about it, chances are your customers won’t be either. Listening to your employees can also provide you with great intelligence and help create an open and collaborative environment. It isn’t just enough to listen -- you must also take action when needed. Ignoring critical issues about products or services can be negligent and irresponsible, and can even result in legal issues.

Develop a strategy for how questions, comments, complaints and concerns can be safely and publicly addressed. Whether it’s a company intranet or a weekly meeting or having an open-door policy, make it widely known and used. Be flexible and tweak as needed to allow every member of your staff, from the night shift to off-site staff to introverted developers and loud-mouth marketers, to feel empowered to contribute.

Finally, your brand management should not be a finite process, but rather an ongoing, ever-evolving strategy that can incorporate the next big online platform and forum. Embrace it and you and your brand can go far. 

Next week: Sharing, Collaborating & Connecting 

Editor's note: Check Marisa's entire series devoted to Social Media Marketing.