Congratulations! Your brand is now the toast of the digital marketing world.
That kooky user-generated video contest garnered several thousand entries with 50 million views total and across the span of a month, empowered a whole new breed of consumer advocates preaching the greatness of your latest hit product on the market. The champagne is flowing as your ad agency, who spawned that brilliant idea, is receiving top honors in their industry awards.
Who says social media has no discernible use? Not you, anymore.
Every day there are new blogs popping up touting your brand and its products. Reviews, videos, podcasts, forums, the whole nine yards. Your brand’s new army of customers-as-evangelists are blazing ahead at lightning-fast speeds.
Every time you turn your head for a second, new content is being churned out by consumer advocates to spread your message even further and wider than you ever would have believed. It takes the full resources of your public relations department just to organize all the fresh earned media flooding the world wide web. You sit there in awe of what you’ve accomplished over a short span of time. But what to do now?
I know! Complete destroy all the goodwill by imposing draconian measures to bottle it up!
You truly can never become a brand on the top of the social media landscape without a massive #fail. How else would these digital agencies and consultants write every day, pose case studies, speak at conferences and cajole with eachother in their fishbowl unless you take a winning formula and flush it down the toilet?
Your brand has distinct procedures, processes and silos of operation that you must adhere to in order to function properly. From marketing to public relations to advertising to customer service, your company was built upon a strategic approach to streamlining operations between departments in a clearly defined workflow that benefits your efficiency and of course, bottom line.
How dare these customers, bloggers and evangelists embark in activities that don’t fit easily into your own initiatives!
It’s time to show them who’s boss. Of course. It’s your brand. You should have control over it. Not anyone else. God forbid, especially not customers!
1. Lay down official rules of ambassadorship.
Now that you have a boat-load of customer evangelists, it’s important to wrangle them together into a structured community under your banner. Sure, they’re unpaid and unofficial ambassadors. Sure, they have their own blogs, their own fans, their own followers – but if they’re going to speak to the public about your brand in any way, you had better be sure they’re adhering to your company’s 58 rules of conduct.
Go ahead and send each of them a message to invite them into your official “evangelism” program. For good measure, attach a non-disclosure agreement for them to print, sign, notarize and send back via carrier pigeon. Make sure you highlight the benefits they get for being an unofficial ambassador – like that awesome graphical badge they must display on their site with a backlink to your new product’s sales page. Anything else you include on top of that is gravy for them!
2. Never acknowledge anyone. (unless you need something)
One of your brand ambassadors created an awesome how-to video on YouTube about your product? A podcaster wrote a kick-ass fictitious jingle about your company? Several other bloggers wrote pillar in-depth articles reviewing your latest offerings?
While you love the all the help in exposure and reaching new audiences with your brand, your company obviously can’t take time away from the busy schedule of meetings in order to thank those who are doing this on your accord. Get one of the interns to correspond with them in the most scalable way possible, though. Of course, nothing says personal appreciation more than a form e-mail. They should be over-the-moon to even get any words from you in the first place, right?
3. Direct all inquiries to a useless community manager.
Speaking of interns… bring one in to handle all of your brand’s community management. Make sure you let all your customer evangelists know that he/she will be the go-to person for anything outwardly related to the company. Nevermind the fact he/she is lower on the totem pole than the mail room clerk and is completely in-the-dark concerning brand initiatives and information. Those employees who are in-the-know have far more important things to do with their time than appear as human beings to their customers.
As a bonus, bog your brand’s community manager down with filing reams of reports at least 5 hours each day. No need to respond to questions or inquiries, just have them catalog everything. Your customers will still have the same problems, but this market research data will serve wonders to your product development team. Oh, and make it a point to have them never to return e-mails from your most devoted ambassadors. They’re not from the TV, newspapers or industry rags, so why waste your time with their concerns?
4. Issue ultimatums towards editorial content.
The cornerstone of brand evangelism is that these select “influencers” are seriously ga-ga over your products. But what happens if they say something less than stellar about your brand or remotely criticizes your business in any way whatsoever?
You obviously can’t have any of that. The whole purpose of having fans is for them to seriously inflate the positive reviews of your products as much as physically possible. One tiny little blog post that undermines your brilliance could mean the downfall of your brand. You have to put these people in their place.
Threaten to pull your support of their blog (which is really only a meaningless link buried somewhere on the 9th layer of your website). Berate them for not consulting your PR department prior to publishing such an unfairly negative piece. Whatever you can do to alter public opinion without conceding there was a valid issue on your part to begin with – that’s the best approach to take.
5. Compete for search engine rankings.
Just after your big fancy gala celebration over your recent social media success, your IT department inevitably informed you that your brand’s official website has now been overtaken in the search results by a slew of lowly fan bloggers and customer YouTube videos. Apparently, the letters “SEO” were not in your alphabet when your company’s top class all-flash online presence was developed.
Instead of blaming your own lack of understanding in this realm, direct your vitriol towards these radical customer “hackers” who have obviously hijacked your spotlight using nefarious black-hat tactics. Send out an all-points bulletin to these renegade advocates making it a requirement to link back all company press releases, images and any mention of the brand itself back to your official website.
At the same time, spend the next month combing your own web presence to eliminate all outbound links to unofficial sources in order to turn off the “link juice” faucet. (although no one at your company actually knows much about proper SEO to begin with)
6. Do not showcase or share any community-generated content.
Now that your brand ambassadors are evangelizing others, customers are jumping on the bandwagon to create their own content related to their love of your brand. Much of it is amateur. Some is actually quite professionally done. It’s all unofficial, though. Of course, that means there’s no way you can possibly share it with others on your own social media platforms. You can’t possibly allow the public to perceive that you actually endorse any of this content or the sites producing it.
Continue to pump out your brand’s press releases and official announcements on your social media accounts. Leave up the same tired old news from 6 months ago on your website. What your customer community is doing is not as important to the masses compared to that award your brand received from a 3rd rate magazine or that short boring video your CEO did on the development floor. The public wants to hear from you, not your customers. You’re official. They’re not. Why would anyone care about them?
7. Block useful resources on your official support forum.
I bet that some of your brand’s most devoted evangelists actually have more experience with your products than your development team. It’s easy to see this looking at your official support forum as these advocates are helping new customers left and right in getting to grips with a recently released offering. Well, it would be easy to see this if this customer service channel wasn’t tucked away in the shadows of your website which requires registration even to simply view it altogether.
Customers posting their own experiences, creating their own FAQs, support documentation and stickied threads which highlight links to the most common user problems – it all sounds very useful to the masses, but customer service is a sinkhole to you. The only way you can justify it’s upkeep is by continually mining demographic data to improve your marketing campaigns. How else could you do that without making it a requirement to submit 14 pieces of personal information in order for a customer to enter this area?
While you’re at it, disable anyone’s ability to post links or use signatures on your official support forum platform. Having these visitors leave your website would be a disaster, since you haven’t even had the chance yet to upsell them. Plus, of course, the SEO implications and the public perception of endorsement of outside resources. Remember, it’s your platform, not the customers’.
8. Sick your legal department on content creators.
Your brand’s biggest asset is its trademark. When the public sees these monolithic images, it instills trust, credibility and a certain emotional response that puts customers at ease. Allowing your consumer advocates to parade the brand’s klout as if it’s their own, that completely dilutes your company’s power in people’s minds. You can’t let that happen.
The words “cease” and “desist” should be at the top of your vocabulary list when corresponding with bloggers, fans and content creators. If these unofficial sources should even scribble the trademarked name of one of your products or quote a word of copyrighted text, your legal team should be right on top of the matter.
Nevermind the fact that these ambassadors, with their passion to produce resources far more in-depth than you can ever accomplish, are your best unpaid marketing force to spread your brand’s message to the world. They need to get with the program. Your owned media content is sacred. It should never be displayed or deconstructed by anyone without specific guidelines and legal briefs being filed.
If your customer evangelists still don’t understand this, issue a DMCA takedown notice and have their website shut down. (which will totally help out your SEO – at least that’s what the company’s dinosaur IT guy tells you.)
9. Outlaw monetization efforts.
Ambassadorship is about the love of your brand – customers sharing their passion with each other by creating shrines to your existence. Having these evangelists earning an income for their time and work goes against the essence of the community’s purpose. Plus it’s complete exploitation of their position. Your brand makes the product, how dare they even consider making a buck off of your brilliance. They wouldn’t have a website, blog or forum without you anyways. It’s your right to profit, not theirs.
Make it clear to your consumer evangelists that 3rd party advertising is frowned upon, as you can’t possibly allow your brand to be seen next to endorsements you can’t approve of. This is doubly true if it’s positive exposure for a competitor. Threaten legal action against anyone considering charging for how-to advice in regards to services or unofficial packaged content related to your brand’s offerings. Of course, affiliate marketing should be banned outright unless it’s specifically for your product through your own commission program.
Offer no sponsorship of their blog. Don’t even mail them free product to review. (They should love you so much to buy it themselves anyways, right?) Sending your advocates a complimentary keychain or refrigerator magnet is okay though – it’s definitely adequate compensation for the hours of work they put in each week to pad your bottom line. And they should be happy in even getting that!
10. Place your brand on a self-annointed pedestal.
Now that you’ve achieved the holy grail of earned media success utilizing customers-as-evangelists, it’s time to take all the credit. Tout your own community-centric awesomeness loudly and hog the entire spotlight at any chance you get. It was obviously your pure genius that catapulted you to this level, not the countless unpaid, unofficial brand evangelists working hard on your behalf day-in and day-out.
Don’t point any of them out. Don’t name names. If any of these ambassadors happen to steal the limelight, overshadow them as much as possible. You wouldn’t want to entice prospects going to them first for the latest and greatest information on your products. That defeats the whole purpose of blatantly using and abusing these evangelists for your own selfish marketing needs. They’re disposable. You’re not.
After utilizing this 10 step blueprint, your brand should be well on it’s way on becoming one of those elite #fails that social media gurus speak about for years on end. Motrin, Nestle, you!
Congratulations! Your brand is now the bane of the digital marketing world.
And more importantly, the bane of your best and most devoted customers as well!
(Now go ahead and find a scapegoat for this massive downfall. It obviously wasn’t your fault.)
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