Your brand is impacted by three forces: what you say about it, what your customers say about it, and what your competitors say about their brands (and effectively, against your brand). In the days before social media, brand managers had the loudest and strongest voice. Armed with a strong brand strategy, a good product, and marketing spend, marketers were firmly in control.

But enter social media and the equation has changed. The consumer voice is louder and stronger than ever before. Brand managers are no longer the only originators and communicators of brand messaging. And marketers no longer have control over the mediums through which these messages are shared.

Interestingly, this doesn’t represent a change in consumer behavior; only a change in the effectiveness of that behavior. Customers have always talked about brands, and as marketers, we encouraged that (if they were saying what we wanted) – that has not changed. But social media amplifies and accelerates customer word of mouth, giving it greater power and wider impact than ever before. That’s great when it aligns with our brand strategy; not so good when it doesn’t.

The old rule of thumb – a customer will tell 10 people about a negative experience and just a couple about a positive experience – is now magnified by hundreds, thousands, or even millions. A customer gripe that may have reached a hundred people 10 years ago may reach a hundred thousand today – and in mere minutes!

Brand management in the era of social media calls for diligence.

Marketers must continually monitor their brand health, looking for deviations from the intended strategy and messaging. Be prepared in advance with action plans to quickly address emerging issues. What that means for brand management is simple:

  • First, have a clear understanding of your brand strategy; know what your brand is, for whom, and what it is not.
  • Deliver a clear and consistent brand message across multiple channels: your goal is to surround your target audience with 360 degrees of consistent messaging for your brand.
  • Create and reinforce a compelling brand experience by executing flawlessly.
  • ABM: Always Be Measuring. Measure consumer perceptions of your brand “where your customers live.” In addition to survey research, use social media monitoring as well as analytics.

While the balance of forces affecting a brand have changed, the basic “laws of branding” and the essence of effective brand management remain the same. Yes, there is certainly greater risk associated with a misstep in communication or execution. But, there is also an exciting new channel creating new opportunity. A strong brand strategy and a strong brand measurement program will continue to guide brand managers – in the era of social media, and beyond.