The research I did for my Master’s degree focused exclusively on digital communication. Specifically, I studied how a company’s social media activity influenced brand perception. At that time, reviews and how information spread was all new and exciting. I did a comprehensive reviews of dozens of brands’ MySpace profiles (it was the social media platform de rigueur), and presented the research at the American Academy of Advertising annual conference.
I can tell you a thing or two about the brand-created side of social media.
Your brand is no longer your own
But more interesting — and something that is still being studied to this day — is how online reviews and word-of-mouth influence brand perception. This is essentially “user generated content,” and can take the form of ratings, reviews, photos, videos, social posts and Q&A participation. This content, over which you have little to no control, forms the basis of your online reputation, and it’s more valuable than any messages you push out into the world.
Research confirms: Traditional advertising and brand-generated social messages do a really good job at building brand awareness, but consumer generated content is more effective for customer acquisition and increasing sales.
Let’s be very clear: the content floating around about you over which you have no control is more influential in determining how well you attract new customers and make more sales.
It’s all very simple really. You can believe anything you want about yourself, about your brand. Your customers don’t care. Their perceptions of you are what matters, and what your brand actually is. If you tell people you always strive to “exceed expectations” and your Facebook page is full of disappointed customers who had less than exceptional experiences, your voice bears no weight.
It’s no longer enough to tell people who you are. You have to show them, in every decision you make about your brand.
This is where core values come in. How you approach your service to your customers or clients. Your delivery methods, your prioritization of work, your pricing and packages, every single touchpoint your clients or customers have will tell your story and affirm or deny your brand ideals.
If you’re not living your word, what good is it?
How do you regain some control?
- Determine who you want to be. Solidify your core values, and the brand attributes you want people to remember about your organization.
- Learn what people think about you. Do some surveys. Ask people who will be honest. Find out what your customers and clients truly think about you. Does it match what you think about yourselves?
- Find ways to change #2. Work with your operations and customer service teams to make sure they understand and embody your core values. Change your processes and approach. Change the language on your website and social media. Change every touchpoint as necessary to make sure it matches #1.
- Reassess. Constantly monitor what’s being said about you in reviews, comments, blogs and articles. Make sure your walk matches your talk.
You have to be serious about owning your customer’s experience, from top to bottom. Don’t dismiss or ignore negative comments or feedback; look at each criticism as an opportunity to improve, and get better.