May 12, 2011

Eight steps to building a connected brand

Ally Bank's friendly Facebook presence curates useful content focusing on personal finance.

Many brands are flocking to social channels, dipping into the streams of conversations, interactions and information that swirl around brands, industries and products, reflecting marketplace pain and desire.  But developing the truly connected brand – one that is in synch with its marketplace, involved productively in conversations with customers and generating meaningful business results more of an organization than the establishment of a page on Facebook.  Creating a truly valuable presence in social networks requires brands to recalibrate decision cycles, re-tool approval processes, hone listening on an enterprise-wide scale and essentially operationalize information creation and re-engineer the corporate comfort zone.

Ally Bank's Twitter presence is proactive and service-focused.

Vinoo Vijay of Ally Financial described the changes he and his peers faced as they managed the re-branding of GMAC and used social networks to support the new brand, which launched with Ally Bank.  Looking back at the process, he outlines eight key steps an organization needs to take to establish a successful social presence:

  1. Let go (in terms of your organizations’ approval processes) – gradually, but not entirely. Vijay suggests that creating an ecosystem to convey a unified voice across numerous channels is important.  It’s at this point that approval processes and trust in the communications teams will be most challenged.   Putting processes into place to determine what sort of comments can be made publicly without approval, for example, and gaining agreement on what types of content require different levels of oversight and approval will help the organization communicate more quickly, and comfortably.
  2. Understand that consumers are part of the process. Content and dialogue needs to be about what the consumers are interested in, and consumer interaction should be expected.  Monitoring social networks and listening carefully to what consumers are talking about, and keeping an eye out for response or questions from online audiences are new behaviors for many brands.
  3. Community management is crucial.  You have to be active on an ongoing otherwise you disappear.  Responding in real time is particularly important – if you don’t respond instantaneously, you don’t get heard.  Developing the framework and approval process to respond quickly (and efficiently) is a must for brands hoping to develop effective social presences.
  4. Develop relationships with influencers in your space.  They have credibility that can trigger significant attention from your consumers, and media.   An interview given to a blogger in the financial services space for Ally Bank resulted in an article in Time Magazine, which then sparked an avalanche of Tweets and significant visibility for Ally online.
  5. Weigh in on topics that are broadly relevant to your expertise. Publishing relevant and useful information your audience values is the cornerstone of building a connected brand.  In addition to building credibility for your organization, the content itself can be a powerful magnet for customers and prospects.
  6. The new world order has to meet old fashioned organizational change.  Your organization will need to learn to deal with an environment that requires the brand to be much more participatory.  One excellent tip from Vijay – look for the worst case scenario in the situation at hand. If it’s not there, let it be.
  7. Drive your agencies to collaborate. Common keywords and vernacular, creating content that can be repurposed and republished, and measuring results across the board are vital to a brand’s success.
  8. Remember you are never done.

Vijay’s tale of Ally’s rebranding from GMAC and supporting the brand’s new approach to the banking business by building a social presence that is truly connected with the marketplace is inspiring – Ally Bank was able to drive measurable results.  They changed the tone of online conversations, increased natural search results, and, ultimately, increased consideration for the new brand and got people to open new bank accounts with Ally Bank. But as Vijay stressed, learning how to play messaging out in actual dialogue with customers in social networks requires a new framework for brand communications.

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