Social media

‘Social media‘ is the term to describe websites and online tools which allow people to interact with each other – by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests. Social media involves the building of communities or networks, encouraging participation and engagement.

Think of regular media as a one-way street where you can read a newspaper or listen to a report on television, but you have very limited ability to give your thoughts on the matter. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-way street that gives you the ability to communicate too.

There are many benefits to using social media. Alongside other communications it can help you to communicate with people in the places they already are; to consult and engage; and be more transparent and accountable.

The use of social media is not simply a numbers game; the quality of the interaction you want and the audience you want to reach should also influence your choice of social media channels. Know who is using different channels and what for, and you will know how best to engage with your target audience. Sticking to the channels that most of your audience use will save you time, resource and money. But you should also keep abreast of newly emerging channels and use them if you are specifically pointed at them or they contain useful information for key groups.

PiF and The Information Standard held a joint event in November 2012 which included a presentation by Peter Mills from The Team and Scott McLean of sister agency, Speed Communications. The topic was protecting and enhancing your brand using social media and the following summarises the recommendations made.

What is your brand?

Brands live in other people’s heads. As much as we may dislike this notion it is true. The role of not just the brand manager or owner, but everyone in an organisation, is to influence people’s understanding. But we have to remember that others can influence it, too, for both good and bad, and no more so than now thanks to the power of social media.

Just to be clear, a brand is not a logo. A logo is a mark of guarantee, a hallmark even. It offers assurance that a product or service won’t let you down. Branding is little more than putting logos on things. That doesn’t devalue its importance, and having a distinctive mark is vital.

Brands are the sum of your experiences, including contextual, visual, aural, environmental, tactile, olfactory, even. Positive responses to these experiences build brand equity, or goodwill, and negative responses detract from value. Positive means that you are more likely to promote an organisation, while negative means that you are more likely to discredit it. The ambition is to build trust and people develop trust by having a clear understanding of who you are, what you do and by you keeping your promises.

The starting point for any organisation, however, can’t be what you think you would like to be, but what you should be to achieve your business objectives. Clear sight of what you want to achieve and having a vision of the future is the heart of organisational brand planning. With this in place, and with people knowing what this is, and subscribing to it, allows you to develop a brand which is credible, believable and achievable.

Brand models vary widely but the ‘4Ps model’ is simple enough to remember and use. The most effective way of developing your model is using a co-creative process, bringing influences and insight from across and from outside your organisation.


Why you get up every day to do the thing you do and what you strive to achieve. A blend of what will appear in your business planning thinking as vision and mission. Ideally, this should be unique and how you would describe yourself to others, whoever they may be, including customers, recruits, employees and suppliers, professional advisers, your bank, your donors. Ideally, it should be pithy and use words that all your audiences understand.


This is your universal commitment, your guarantee, your all-pervading pledge. Sometimes, an internal mantra, although often an external one, too. It needs to be heartfelt and preferably measurable.

Principles, or values

Guides to behaviour. Brand principles need to give people permission to do things. Often, words such as innovation are used, however the culture of the organisation, or even people’s job descriptions, don’t encourage innovation or original thinking, and as such compromise the other values.


This is imagining what you would want to overhear if someone was describing you. Ideally aspiring, they are the key determinants in how your organisation expresses itself through its tone of voice, language, brand identity and environment.

This brand model allows you to define business behaviours, patient and customer journeys, a brand identity and a communication strategy, including social media. So, how do brands use social media?

How brands use social media


One of the key points of conversing on social channels is to spark debate and have a conversation

Despite the fact that the essence of social media is engagement and interaction, the vast majority of brands today only use social media to broadcast their views at their target audience.

There is nothing wrong with this approach and for some brands it can work very well, a couple of obvious examples being media outlets, sports clubs and other brands with a massive fan base who want to keep their fans informed. However, one of the key points of conversing on social channels is to spark debate and have a conversation. Having a conversation involves both listening and talking with not at the other person. Yet, brands are either reluctant or unable to move away from using social media to simply broadcast messages at their audience.

Customer service

If you have customers or are a public-facing organisation, then the moment you engage in social media you are creating another customer service channel whether that is your intention or not. Get it wrong and you will get a kicking. Get it right and you might get advocates.

Opinion monitoring

Social media also means that your customers are talking about you or certainly have the ability to do so, even if you are not talking with them. The conversation over the dinner table or down the pub is now being massively amplified to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Many brands have reacted in fear. However, the astute ones have recognised it as a great way of gaining audience insight and/or directly addressing negative sentiment.

Audience gathering

It goes without saying that if as a brand you engage in social media, you will want an audience. Some will find you themselves (especially brand fans), others need to be found and that involves creating great content and a dedication to search. It also involves thinking about integrated communications where all outbound marketing and communication support the goal of building an audience.

Short-term engagement

Be careful when you count the amount of ‘likes’ on your Facebook page because are they actually ‘liked’? What evidence do you have that it wasn’t just passing interest? Brands are beginning to understand that the vast majority of social media campaigns to date have been too momentary and lacked audience stickiness. As such, brands are beginning to explore new ways of creating sustained engagement and that is going to dominate social media strategy moving forward and is a far bigger challenge for a whole variety of reasons.


What digital communications enables us to do is to have a sustained conversation with the target audience. If brands can find the right thing to discuss then they can influence the audience to participate in a conversation with the brand. This lies at the heart of achieving sustained engagement.

Social advertising

For most campaigns, an advertising presence on Facebook is beneficial. It’s cost effective, targeted to niche audiences and is often a sensible way to kick off activity and encourage new fans/followers. It’s not just the sponsored ads either which you are probably familiar with. Promoted Posts which are targeted turbo-charged posts can be combined with Pay Per Click to deliver results. Similarly, Twitter is now running sponsored tweets and, more controversially, sponsored trends.

With this insight to hand, now is the time to ask whether ‘going social’ is right for brand. The starting point, as with so many things, is to ask what are you trying to achieve? What’s the goal?

Here are some of the questions you should be asking:

  • Who is my audience? Does it need segmenting? Where are they? What do I know about them and their consumption of media? Can I address all their interests through one conversation or should I consider multiple conversations? Will different audiences inhabit different social environments?
  • What am I trying to get my audience to do?
  • Who already influences my audiences within social media and do I need to influence them?
  • Have I thought through the risks? Will I need a detractor engagement plan (see below)?
  • Is this going to impact customer services and how will we co-ordinate?
  • What is my tone of voice and how does this align with my brand?
  • What is my content strategy and who do I need to involve?
  • What is the call to action which gives audiences a reason to engage with my brand?
  • What are the next step actions? Have I supported this from a content and destination point of view?
  • How does this align with the rest of my marketing and communication strategy?
  • How am I going to resource this?

There is more to this than meets the eye. But planning is vital. Don’t forget the creation of a detractor engagement plan. All organisations will have their detractors. Being prepared for them means that you are on the ball, and can benefit from the positive feedback from supporters.

Here are 10 ideas you should not forget when writing your detractor engagement plan:

  1. Keep your detractors close. Try and understand where they are coming from. Don’t ‘go off on one’ or get defensive. Respond positively. Invite a face-to-face. Get it offline as quickly as you can
  2. Don’t blog, tweet, in fact, do anything, when you are blissfully happy, tipsy, dead on your feet, angry, down in the dumps, really, really hungry. You’ll just say something you’ll regret
  3. Social media isn’t an excuse for laziness. Abbreviations, acronyms, slang, bad English, all reflect badly on your brand, because they then suggest that is how you will do business with them. No one wants a service with shortcuts
  4. When tweeting or posting from a brand say who you are. Say: “Hi, it’s Peter here from The Team”
  5. Don’t pretend to be someone else
  6. Don’t talk about stuff that doesn’t concern you. It’s a waste of time and will confuse your story
  7. The law of unintended consequences is amplified on social media
  8. Bad news isn’t bad news. It’s advice. Someone commenting negatively is really telling you that you’ve got something wrong. It could be the message, or the service. Manage. People will admire your honesty and intention to change things
  9. The moment you set up a social media account as a brand, you are setting up a new customer services channel. Work out how you’ll respond to enquiries
  10. 10. Only ever do anything social if it answers your objectives. Know these inside out and return to them at every stage so you keep on track and stay focused.

Top Tips

With all this in mind, here are The Team and Speed’s top 10 tips for to help your brand be enhanced, and protected, online.

  1. Thumbs-upDon’t use social media because everyone else is. Its use must be linked to wider communications objectives.
  2. Be where your audiences are, not where you would like them to be. And consider whether an ‘owned media’ platform could be a more effective means of engaging or act as a digital destination for wider digital engagement.
  3. When it comes to social media, content is king. This is regardless of whether you plan to broadcast information or creating engaging content that encourages interaction.
  4. Social media is about sharing ideas, it is not just a way to pat one another on the back, or give them a good kicking. People are interested in ideas (and content) and the brand is a facilitator of that content. This facilitation enhances the brand.
  5. Don’t get your metrics in a twist. So-called vanity metrics – like page views and Pinterest visitors – are no good if they bounce and never come back. Measure what’s sticky. Did they download something, say they ‘liked’ or Plus1’d it, did they register for content behind a wall, or for a newsletter?
  6. Social media exploits traditional PR techniques. Get people to talk about you. Journalists, bloggers, opinion formers. Engage them in the same way as you would journalists
  7. Social media is not a standalone communication channel. Your audience does not simply reside on Twitter/Facebook. They also read newspapers, watch TV, walk down the street and generally consume information from an incredibly wide range of media. Therefore, be integrated.
  8. Be absolutely clear about how different channels work. Twitter is there to say to the world that you are connected, informed, interested, relevant. Facebook is there to build communities and get people to talk about you and your business, or facilitate conversations or information swapping that wouldn’t ordinarily happen in the non-digital world. LinkedIn in not just about finding jobs. It’s a research tool to find and connect with like-minded people who can be your collaborators, advocates and storytellers. Blogs are about expressing a point and offering something free: content, processes, insights, research, anecdotes.
  9. Don’t rush onto new social media platforms just because you can. Maintaining any channel is resource intensive and should be driven by where your audience goes.
  10. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is all very well for the big boys, and you shouldn’t ignore it, but what you really need is connected content. Offer guest blogs, films and animations, images, infographics. Find complementary partners, people who will sit well with your brand.
Acknowledgement: Peter Mills, theTeam
Page last updated: 08/02/13