6 Ingredients for the Secret Sauce: Social Media Best Practices for Big Brands

This is an expanded version of a guest post that originally appeared on the commpro.biz Thought Leaders blog.

Sushi rolls #socialmediametaphor (image credit: trickypink on Flickr)

Three years ago, few people would have considered Facebook and YouTube the place to be for big brands wanting to connect with customers. With the decline in traditional media consumption and the explosive growth of social media, any company not already participating in direct conversations with fans and followers are scrambling to get up to speed. Whether you’re dipping your toe into the waters, or revisiting your current approach to social, here are six points to guide your efforts.

Lead with strategy

Your fans and followers want to know the benefit of subscribing to your updates. Whether you’re driving sales, extending customer service or reinforcing the brand lifestyle, social media activities should reinforce your business objectives. Establish your goals up front. Develop content to support your goals. Identify performance indicators that you can use to track what’s working and what isn’t.

Who is doing it well? – American Red Cross exists to provide aid to disaster victimes. Social media has the power to spread messages far and fast, and the Red Cross leverages video, photo, status updates and other social communications to mobilize the public to get involved and inform people about how donations and voluteers are making a difference.

Provide employees with social media guidelines and training

Managing social media for a big brand is dramatically different than maintaing a personal account. Not only are the objectives different, but the functionality within a single social site can differ significantly. Facebook is the most obvious example of this, as Pages and profiles each possess unique attributes. Make sure the team on the front lines has the knowledge they need to manage your brand presence. Then, ensure the rest of your employees possess a basic knowledge of how social media works, what your company policy is and how it affects personal and professional usage.

Who is doing it well? – Kodak is well known for their proactive engagement in social media. Early adopters, they remain passionate about social media done right and publicly share their social media tips and policy (PDF).

Listen, listen, and listen some more

Social media pros will tell you that step number one is listening. The intelligence you gain during a pre-implemention phase will guide your strategy, but the listening doesn’t stop once you’ve launched Facebook, YouTube and a blog. The makeup of your community will change as you grow. The platforms you are using will change. The engagement dynmaics will evolve, presenting new challenges and new opportunities. Listen carefully to what is being said. Separate the feedback gold from the noise. Adjust accordingly, and keep listening.

Let your community have a voice

Social media is social. A YouTube account or blog that has commenting disabled becomes just another one-way marketing broadcast channel. ExactTarget’s Subscribers, Fans and Followers: The Social Break-Up report showed that receiving too many marketing messages is a leading reason people stop following a brand’s social media updates. Leave commenting on, ask your subscribers for their input and respond when they share an opinion. Each comment is a latent touch point, allowing you to build stronger relationships with existing and potential customers.

Who is doing it well? – Starbucks launched My Starbucks Idea, a community site where customers can share, discuss and vote on ideas they’d like to see Starbucks adopt. When Starbucks acts on one of these ideas, the community is the first to know.

Have a plan for responding to negative word of mouth

Every company experiences negative word of mouth, some more than others. This is not a time to run and hide. Show your customers that you are listening. Address the issue at hand and work toward a resolution. Whenever possible, respond publicly and on the site where the complaint first occurred. If online dialogue becomes unproductive or personal information is required, take it offline.

Learn from the successes and failures of others

There are several brands doing social media well. Ford Motor Company, Southwest Airlines (Facebook/Twitter), and Red Bull* have each taken a unique approach to social media, but they’re leaders in their industry and in social media. On the other side of aisle, several brands have experienced failures. Some recover, some don’t. Either way, there are valuable lessons you can apply to your own business.


Success in social media requires a clear focus on your goals and a genuine interest in engaging with customers. Plan, implement, experiment, listen and respond. Whether it’s a greater share of market or improved brand health, you’ll find social media can move help you move the needle on your business objectives.


*Red Bull is a Terralever client.


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