Socialising Your Brand’s Visual Essence

You’ve selected your social platforms, set up a social team, devised a killer social editorial calendar and slapped your logo (at the recommended dimensions, of course) where it needs to be, to mark your territory.  You’re all set for social media success…

…kind of …not really…

Yes, all of the above things are important, but let’s face it – in a medium as diverse and ever evolving as social media, following the basic formula is only going to get you started.  To achieve success, you need to step up your game.

There are a number of ways to do this – employee and customer advocacy, influencers, social intelligence platforms – but I’ll stick with something a bit more down my alley.  Evolving and expanding how your brand is (quite literally) viewed through social media.

Sounds fancy huh?  Well, as with most things, it’s easy to do once you have an understanding.

There are thousands of articles out there regarding the best practices in applying your visual identity to your social channels.  I’ll leave you to google them if you need a refresher, and add this advice – either choose to be consistent across ALL platforms, or be consistent with your variations and personality expression across ALL platforms.  You don’t present your base branding in wildly different manners in different magazines, newspapers or TV channels – so why would it make sense to do it for social channels.  You want personality?  Great!  Just be consistent with it – show different aspects of the same branding.

With that out of the way, I want you to stop thinking about what you can do for your brand’s identity on social, and start asking what others can do for it.  That’s right – I’m talking about giving up a little bit of control, and letting your precious advocates show you, and the world, how they perceive your brand.

It sounds scary (well, it does to me anyway), but the truth is harnessing others’ visual interpretations of your brand can open up a multitude of possibilities for engagement, community building, and brand evolution.  All of this leading to improved brand perception, greater brand following and loyalty, and in the end, more sales and an improved bottom line.

How do you go about this?  Well, it all comes down to your fans.  And by fans, I don’t mean your social media followers in general – I’m talking about your true fans.  Some people will follow you out of interest; others will do it because they ‘believe’.  These are your true fans and the ones that will help you to reflect the most authentic and empowering brand visuals possible.

“But we’ve spent X amount of money and other resources on our brand visuals – why would we ever want to turn them over to a group of people, fans or not, that have no idea of the process we went through to get where we are now?”

Good question.

Simple answer:

You want to do it because these are the people who truly believe in your brand.  These are the people that will do more, buy more, and spread the word more.  They’re the type of people you want to attract.  So, what better way to do that than using the visuals you know speak directly to them.

Think of it this way.  You’re not giving up your branding and putting it in their hands; you’re just asking them to give you a helping hand.

How can they help?  Here are a couple of avenues you can take.

Social Focus Groups

Are you developing new brand imagery for your social channels (or any medium for that matter)?  Not sure on which media formats will work best?  Do you have the right shapes / colours to get your messaging through effectively? Ask your fans – they’re a focus group just waiting to happen, and they’d love to help shape your brand.

You can share concepts, get feedback on ‘finalised’ designs, or even keep things as simple as shapes and colours – take a look at any highly successful Kickstarter campaign, and this is almost always evident.  Or try an ‘unofficial’ focus group, by sharing content, seemingly unrelated to your brand and branding, and asking for informal feedback (or just monitor engagement for each post).

Whatever you need to know, your social focus group can give you valuable feedback.

And, if you keep your focus group open to all, you have the opportunity to compare what resonates with your true fans alongside visuals that only connect with casual supporters.  I don’t think I need to tell you which of the two you should take action on.

Brand Evangelism

Whether they’re part of your social following or reside inside your company, advocating and enabling your fans to share how they visualise your brand is a golden opportunity.

By now, you already know content shared by an influencer (or any actual person) is trusted to a much higher degree than anything a ‘faceless’ brand puts out there.  Couple this with the fact that your fans are all mini influencers in their own circles, and you can see where I’m going with this.

But let’s take it one step further – if content shared by an influencer is more impactful, then logic speaks to the fact that if it is (at least considered to be) created by that influencer, rather than the brand, it will hold even more weight.

So give them the tools, the guidance – and the encouragement, to share with the world why they believe in your brand, and how it looks through their eyes.  In essence, they’re creating Brand ‘Fan Art’ – and fan art is the driving force behind many engaged communities.

Make your approved brand identity materials easy to access, provide some basic rules for their use (without being too bossy, of course), and above all else, give thanks and recognition to those fans who deserve it – the ones who go the extra mile, or manage to present your brand in a unique yet authentic way.  A simple ‘Like’, thank you message, or re-share will go a long way, and will even encourage others to get involved and show you their vision as well.

As you monitor all of this wonderful evangelistic content for your brand, you will also start to build an in-depth picture of how your true fans view your brand, compared to your own vision of it.

Use it – let your followers help lead your brand in the direction they feel it should go, and in turn, their followers will come to the party too.  Just check out any of LEGO’s social channels and you’ll see a brand that has been doing this (and doing it well) for a long time.

A word of warning though: while not ‘visual’ itself, the recent #BoatyMcBoatface incident suffered by the Natural Environment Research Council (what else would you call a £200m ship?), demonstrates the dangers of giving over too much creative power, or casting your net too wide in the search for engagement and co-creation.  Then again – it has given them a lot of publicity (I guess that’s good…)

So, let go just a little.  Feed your fans with positive energy and new ways to get involved.  Soak in their impressions, emotions and visualisations.  And take advantage of the true ‘art’ of social media branding.

This article originally appeared in the Social Media Special Edition of Brand Quarterly,
produced in association with Sysomos – click HERE to read the full issue