Take Social Networking a Step Further

  |  December 20, 2007   |  Comments

The five Ws of using social media to increase branding.

Social media is everywhere these days. It isn't just MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube anymore. It now extends to virtually all online demographic groups.

Innovative marketers are starting to take advantage of these large, often well-targeted audiences to cost-effectively improve their branding. Today, the five Ws of using social media to increase branding: what, why, who, where, and when.


At its core, social media enables individuals to connect with other individuals. In this context, consumers can engage and form relationships with brands, which can generate great influence for brand attitudes.

From a marketer's perspective, branding must evolve so marketers can listen to and respect consumers. Building relationships by providing different ways to engage with brands requires being authentic with consumers, a notion not usually associated with advertising.

Given the nature of social media sites and how they facilitate communications, the power of using these sites as part of your branding campaign means there's an additional impact from word of mouth. Research from Marketing Evolution tracks the "momentum effect" of advertising on social media due to the peer-to-peer impact of the environment and engagement.

As an example, MySpace's Heidi Browning pointed to EA's "Burnout Bandslam 2," for which 890,000 brand community visits based on advertising resulted in 22 million incremental brand views based on passalong, an almost 24-fold increase.


Social media is important to branding. It enables marketers to understand the context in which consumers view their brands, and allows them tap into the emotional association consumers have with their products.

Due to its nature, social media enables marketers to build a relationship with prospects and customers through their engagement and dialogue. As a result, marketers and consumers become partners in their understanding of the brand.

This means thinking differently about how your brand can tap into social media to extend its branding efforts. As an example of this, John Bell of 360 Degree Digital Influence points to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listening to the hypercritical conversation related to pandemic flu.


According to eMarketer, 2006's 60 million U.S. online social media users, comprising children, teens, and adults, are projected to grow to 105 million by 2011, with $2.7 billion of social media advertising spend.

Examined more granularly, November 2007 comScore data reveals that social media consumption isn't only for the so-called social networking generation, the 12 to 24 year olds. While 75 percent of people 12 to 24 years old visited U.S. social networking sites and spent almost 10 minutes a day per person on average, 68 percent of people 25 to 49 years old visited U.S. social networking sites and spent almost 7 minutes per day per visitor on average, and 58 percent of people age 50 and older visited U.S. social networking sites and spent about 5 minutes per day per visitor on average.

These numbers make social media attractive for finding prospects in an environment where they're open to learning more about products.


Social media offers marketers a broad range of options. Among them:

  • Major social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. This includes profiles, widgets, advertising, and other brand-related assets.

  • Social bookmarking and news sites, such as del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Digg.

  • Blogs, including microblogging sites like Twitter.

  • Wikis, such as Wikipedia, and other group forums and message boards.

  • User-generated content sites, such as YouTube and Flickr.

  • Product-rating sites, such as Epinions and BizRate.

  • Other sites that contain extensive product ratings and customer input, like Amazon.com and TripAdvisor.


Unlike traditional marketing campaigns that run in discrete timeframes, the use of social media is an ongoing process that happens over an extended period. Social media marketing aims to build long-term relationships rather than drive discrete purchase decisions.

Social Media Branding Metrics

Important metrics to assess social media's impact on your brand include:

  • Engagement. This is the most important indicator of social media branding success. Engagement can be calculated across a variety of metrics, depending on the customer-involvement level. They include:

    • Time spent on the brand's related sites, as well as on third-party sites.

    • Number of unique users to help gauge the campaign's reach.

    • Number of interactions measured in terms of customer use of touch points or contacts with the company.

    • Types of actions for a more granular means of evaluating involvement. Among the actions that can be counted are forward to a friend, social bookmarking or tagging, blog posts, and product reviews.

  • Branding. Measures including brand favorability and purchase intent are assessed using traditional methods, such as surveys.

  • Exposure. If you want to provide advertising-equivalent metrics for your social media campaigns, measure page views and the volume of downloaded widgets or other brand-related assets.

  • Purchase. Depending on your product and use of social media, you may be able to attribute specific sales, or sales leads, to these efforts.

Social media marketing provides a broad range of offerings enabling marketers to create ambitious, integrated campaigns, as well as low-budget grassroots engagement to achieve branding goals. The choice is yours.

The key to using social media to extend your branding: determine how to leverage social media's strengths to meet your business objectives. For marketers, this means using or testing a diverse set of offerings to enter a dialogue with your customers.

Best wishes for the holiday season.

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Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

Her blog, HeidiCohen.com, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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