What brands need before going social

Less than two full months into 2011 and already businesses are pushing social networking boundaries. From broadcast and cable television shows to newspapers and magazines and small businesses, the social profiles of brands and businesses are pushing farther into the conversation. How can your brand stand out?

"Social media is offering brands some of the biggest game changing opportunities we've seen in years," said Debbie DeGabrielle, CMO at Visible Technologies. She sees business insights and customer engagement as the biggest opportunities. "Social conversation is so unique because it is uncensored, coming from a wide and ever changing group of audiences. When harnessed, conversations from social channels can offer new insights, unique information about competitors and understanding into which products, services, marketing campaigns and programs are resonating with your target audience - and which aren't."

The key, of course, is engagement. Although some of the same information may be offered on the main website, on socnets consumers filter into brand or product information in a different way.

"Whether an interaction means pressing 'Like', tweeting an opinion about a video, or sharing an article with friends on Facebook, basically it's no longer the one-way marketing we used to see," said DeGabrielle. "Brands can finally bring information [to consumers] on social networks, rather than wait for their audience to visit their website. This combination of engagement and the ability to reach the right people is extremely influential when sharing information."

What can brands do to better integrate with social channels? Content, Connections and Integration.

First, think about ways to provide innovative content to interested consumers. Second, think about the connections needed - those connections are the consumers in your Most Wanted list. How can you connect with them and make them influencers? Finally, integrate, integrate, integrate. Don't think of social as an alternative channel - integrate social efforts with online and offline marketing campaigns. Include sharing features with email and display ads, encourage consumers to visit a Facebook page from a video or print ad.

"Brands that reorganize themselves to engage in social channels will be better positioned to take advantage of the insights that social media can offer," said DeGabrielle. "Social media is no longer just about monitoring a brand online - it is a valuable channel that can help companies make a host of decisions across their organization."