Now I am no advocate of simply transferring traditional marketing to social but I would expect that branding is part in parcel of any marketing exercise. No?
Well, yes. Duh?!
We all know how important branding is. So why have so many forgotten basic branding in what are essentially branded social spaces?
I would call branded social spaces any social media space in which the brand has power to administrate or exerts the most control over information flows. This delineation is important given that consumers can administrate and post their own uncontrollable content about brands.
The most popular branded social spaces in my project being: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. Here I am concentrating on Facebook and Twitter.
The good thing about official branded social spaces is that the brand message remains intact. Where consumer space co-creates brand messages which may be positive or negative, true or untrue which can affect brand equity. So for brands it is important that their space and messages are easily identifiable and interlinked to the actual brand.
Common sense?! It would appear not.
Within the adventure tourism market (Yes, adventure tourism, it exists and thrives) my 'social travel' project clearly demonstrates that branding consistency is not prevalent.
Taking the key adventure tourism providers, I conducted a social media competitor analysis. The findings here are pretty basic but provide a good overview of their respective branded social spaces.
The competitors, Audley Travel, Cox and Kings, Dragoman, Exodus, Explore, GAP, Imaginative Traveller,
Intrepid, Ramblers, Adventure Company have both Facebook and Twitter social spaces.
The final competitor KE only has a Facebook social space.
I have not included the brands' respective fan and follower numbers. I feel the figures are pretty arbitrary and brands like Ramblers are very niche and specialist compared to the big hitters like Exodus and Intrepid.
Apart from KE all brands were represented with official branded spaces in both Facebook and Twitter.
So, back to branding. This is where it gets interesting...
I took the long way round to finding the branded social space, I went to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr and searched. Some were easy to find: Exodus and Intrepid. Others a bit harder: GAP and Audley Travel; and others damn right confusing: Imaginative Traveller.
I then checked links between the branded social spaces and the official brand website, and from the brand website back to each of the branded social spaces.
So what's the problem with branding?
A lack of consistency and integration. What happened to integrated marketing?
Take Imaginative Traveller. When you search in Twitter, no Imaginative Traveller appears in the people search results. In Facebook there are no links to the Twitter account but can be easily found. However you can reach the branded social spaces from the website. And now the branding gets messy...
One consistent message? I think not.
I have to say that the other brands are not as bad. I also hold my own hands up to say that while I use my name, Jillian Ney, in my online activities, I have to use @jillney in my Twitter. Some nice lady apparently called Jouana Delima has used my name Jillian Ney as her Twitter handle. I have ensured that there are clear links between my branded social spaces which is not achieved by all the brands here.
Having conducted interviews as part of this project, the most common reasons for entering into social media were:
1. To keep up with competitors
2. Before we get charged by the social media providers
3. Because we think our customers are there
The issues with branding and consistency could be explained by the lack of real strategic thought on social media practices. The rush to 'keep up with the Jones's' and reach a wealth of potential consumers has presented inconsistencies in brand messages. The one thing that brands were trying to overcome from the growing quantity of uncontrolable consumer generated content.
Yes, the tourism brands studied are on social media but they are at times difficult to find and communicate varying messages.
Moral of the story:
1. Plan your social media objectives
2. Think about how social media interlinks with current activities
3. Ensure consistent branding and messages
4. Ensure your spaces are easily searchable
Let's look at the content next time...
It isn't great!