Don’t Kill Your Brand for Social Media

Published on Author Eli Fennell


Your business brand is an intangible asset, which must be nurtured and protected like your own child. Established brands carry power through recognition: a mere glance at a soda bottle with a distinctive red label may be enough to identify it as Coca Cola, a logo of an apple with a bite taken out of it on a phone, tablet, or PC is immediately recognized as an Apple device, and two golden arches are right away associated with images of Happy Meals and Big Macs. Love these brands or hate them, even a fragmentary glimpse at a logo or distinctive branding element brings them to mind.

For less established brands, the power of their brand may be less obvious. If you’re a small car dealership, e.g. Jeff’s Ford of Kokomo (“It’s Where You Wanna Go… For Savings!”), quite likely the only brand in that name that matters to most people is Ford. On the other hand, let your name be associated with a negative connotation, e.g. “Jeff’s Ford of Kokomo is a ripoff! They turn back odometers, sell you lemons, cheat you on trade-in value!” Let that negative connotation spread far enough, and you will see the power of your brand in a visceral way.

Indeed, one of the worst practices in the business world is the practice of tarnishing competing brands with misinformation, slander, and other tactics. Done effectively, an attack on your competitor can damage their brand in ways they may never recover from. A whole cottage industry exists for this purpose, such as the “Negative SEO” tactics of certain Black Hats. Another cottage industry exists selling services to prevent or combat these attacks on your business and brand.

So I have to wonder, then, why so many business are willingly killing their own brand name on social media. Is it really not obvious, as it should be, that both preserving and promoting your brand through social networks is as important as it is anywhere else?

Here are some ways you’re killing your brand for social media:

Half Baked Profile Images

As a business owner, you probably care about things like your business logo and other elements of your brand image. From the sign outside the business, to the business cards, to business letterheads, print marketing, TV advertising, etc…, all of these should cohesively represent the brand. You wouldn’t use one logo on your store sign and another on your business cards and a third in your email blasts, would you? So why, then, do I see so many brands, even brands with established branding elements and marketing teams, simply hack together imagery for their social profiles?

Most at least get the logo right, but when it comes to header images, banner images, and more I see stuff being hacked together. “Facebook needs it to be this size… let me take this pic and crop it down. Oh, Google+ needs it a different size, let me take a different pic and squeeze that in… oh, Twitter just updated their look, let me find something that fits in that space.” Pretty soon you’ve got two, three, four social accounts with sometimes radically different looks to them, with at best a consistent logo (assuming that, say, Google+’s rounded profile image doesn’t distort it). Which, frankly, is still better than being lazy and not optimizing your profiles with images. The number of Twitter accounts lacking a header image, for example, is downright unseemly.

If someone is getting paid to handle images and graphics for your business, whether in-house or third-party, whether paid on an ongoing basis or only as needed, use them to develop your social media imagery, optimized to represent your brand and to create a sense of consistency for people whether they find you on Facebook or Twitter, YouTube or your website. No one should ever fail to recognize your branding elements from even the slightest glance at any of your online properties.

That Goofy Meme

Picture a hypothetical scenario: you wake up and go to your mailbox to find a post card from your dentist. You open the postcard, and inside all you find is a picture of a man yawning at his desk at work and the words, “Reply to this postcard if you hate Mondays!” What would you think about that? Quite likely, you’d think he’d lost his mind, or sent out the wrong thing (maybe he meant to send this to a friend and accidentally sent it to his customers?). At the least, you would have no idea what to make of why he sent it, since it obviously won’t generate any business for him, and has wasted your time and his for what may or may not get a chuckle from a few people.

Yet right now, today, somewhere on the interwebs, a dentist (or someone managing their social media presence) is doing just this (or will be, come next Monday, and the Monday after that, and on and on ad infinitum, ad nauseum). Why is he doing it? Possibly because, like it or not, they’ve discovered that more people Like/Favorite/Share/Comment on a funny image than on an advertisement for your goods or services, and this helps your posts to reach a wider audience. This is especially true if your business doesn’t generate a lot of good content of its own.

So far, this sounds reasonable. After all, social media marketing isn’t like other forms of marketing, you’re are trying to reach an audience in places online which they frequent for reasons having nothing to do with buying stuff. Direct sell and hard sell tactics generally won’t work on social media sites, or won’t work well at any rate, and are very likely to turn your audience off and possibly make some of them unfollow you. Social networks are not your website, or commerce sites like Amazon or eBay, or a classified listing service like Craigslist. Social networks attract an audience looking to be social, whether with friends and family, colleagues, influencers, communities based around common interests and passions, etc… Social media is less about conversions than conversations. Things that amuse, intrigue, or otherwise grab the attention of the audience in that context therefore makes a lot of sense.

Where the sort of tactic I’m describing becomes problematic is when it utterly ignores your brand. There is nothing wrong with sharing content that doesn’t even try to lead to a sale for your business, which just entertains, but it still needs to make some sense in relation to what you want your brand to be known for. If you’re a dentist, then even your funny memes should have some clear relationship to dentistry. Like it or not, your part of the conversation is to discuss matters related to your brand identity, and nothing else!

If you were following Home Depot on Facebook, and one day their account started posting food porn, you would undoubtedly be very confused at their sudden interest in pretty pictures of food, instead of their usual pictures of paint swatches, drywall, quick tips for home improvement, and whatever else they usually post. Every brand needs to have that same consistency in all of their marketing efforts, including social media.

That Stupid Quote

Yes, we all love a good quote, and a relevant quote, particularly dressed up with a bit of flair like a nice image or graphic, can help engender positive feelings about your brand. Your mindless quotes that have nothing to do with anything but sort of sound nice, however, need to go away and die in a ditch somewhere.

If your quote looks something like, “Swim upstream like a tiny dancer. Whose responsibility is it to synergize with the whales? It is amazing to discover the kernel lies inside of us,” you’re doing it wrong! Even if the quote isn’t quite that incoherent, even if it makes perfect sense, but has no relevance to your brand then don’t share it, I don’t care if Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs, or Oscar the Grouch said it, you don’t need to share it. Is your pizza place really trying to be known for inspirational wisdom, or great pizza? Your quote better be somehow relevant to pizza, then.

Some social media management services even go so far as to buffer the same the stupid quote to go out at the same time from dozens of businesses in the same market. So not only do you look vapid, but now you look like your vapidness isn’t even original.

Mixing Business with Personal

This is a problem I’ve seen primarily with Twitter. Perhaps because of the clear differentiation between a Facebook or Google+ business page and a personal profile, people tend to do a good job of separating the two types of account activity. On Twitter, however, where personal and business accounts are the same type, I see a surprising number of accounts alternate between sharing business and sharing personal. In many cases it appears that the account goes from business to personal as soon as the work day is over, yet their profiles emphasize the business aspect.

A Twitter account that emphasizes the private practice and expertise of an attorney, for example, should be expected to post stuff relevant to their profession, especially when every major aspect of their profile including their handle emphasizes this. They should not Tweet professionally relevant stuff until they come home at night, and then Retweet live updates from a basketball game or off-color jokes from a professional comedian. Have a business account and a personal account if you must, but remember, none of your audience views a business-focused account as something with set hours like a job. They expect it to be business-focused at all times.

Sharing for the Sake of Sharing

Social media is about being social, so of course wherever possible you want to make the audience a part of it. One way to do this is to share from another account to your own account. In and of itself there is nothing wrong and everything right with this approach. The problem is, again, when the shared content is irrelevant to your brand. I’m not sure if some brands do this out of a misguided sense of engaging with the audience, or sheer laziness, but it shouldn’t be done. If you’re a day care, don’t share those Harley Davidson pics one of your followers posted. I don’t care how cool they look, they have nothing remotely whatsoever to do with day care service.

Hello? Hello? Hello? Is There Anybody in There?

Which brings us to the single worst thing you can do on social media to hurt your brand: not responding to engagement, be it in the form of Likes/Favorites, Shares/Retweets, Comments, Mentions, etc… It probably should not surprise anyone to learn that being ignored by a brand on their social media accounts, especially when it’s important that they respond, really ticks people off and makes them think worse of your brand.

Social media has long had the potential to solve the oldest problem of business: finding out what your customer really thinks about you, or wants from you, or needs from you, or would like to have from you. Unfortunately, so few brands have actually made a habit of responding to this engagement, that as yet most people are still not programmed to view social networks as places for connecting with brands and businesses. Phone calls and emails remain far more likely to be answered. (Or leaving a bad Yelp review.)

Social Media is Not a “What The Heck?” Proposition

In the final analysis of this issue, the question being begged is, “Why? Why do people screw up their brand on social media, often in ways they would never screw it up on any other media?”

I believe the answer is that, despite all indications that social media marketing is no longer optional, most business owners still don’t really care about it. They do it because everyone they know is using one or more social networks, and because they hear through the grapevine that it’s a thing to do. The worst part of this attitude is the sense that “It Can’t Hurt”.

I’m here to tell you that, yes, in fact it can hurt. It can hurt the image of your brand, and even hurt your business directly. In the same way poor print marketing copy can actually hurt your brand (or at least waste time and money), poor social media “copy” can also hurt you. And in the same way poor customer service in person, on the phone, by email, or through your website can hurt you, poor social media customer service can also hurt you, a lot.

If you aren’t going to approach social media as another branding channel, you might well be better off not doing social media at all. Lack of a Facebook Page is forgivable, but having one and not using it the right way may not be.