Pros, cons of social networking, branding

Branding your business via social media is a risky business, the instant connection that technology brings between you and your clientele creating an opportunity for success as well as failure. Such was the sentiment during a discussion between top social media experts from the wedding industry speaking at this year’s Engage!10 luxury wedding summit held at The Ritz-Carlton. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull was in attendance and reports.
Liene Stevens, CEO of Splendid Communications; Christy Weber, co-founder of Junebug Weddings; Tatiana Byron, president of The Wedding Salon; and Harmony Walton, founder and president of The Bridal Bar, comprised a panel of dynamic women, all at the top of their game, speaking at the Engage!10  wedding summit on the subject of branding your business.
Social media and branding
Liene Stevens first discussed the pros and cons of blogging, saying: “It’s a great way to get your own personal message out. It will stay with you forever and it will help you with search engine optimisation, but it takes up a huge amount of time and is incredibly labour-intensive.”
Stevens said that blogging is not for everyone because she believed it was actually worse for a company’s brand if it was not done well.
“Businesses look at your blog and if it is not updated regularly they may wonder if that is a reflection of your business methods,” she said. “Subconsciously they are learning whether you will be sticking around or not.”
In reference to the wedding industry, Stevens said that the cost of a wedding generally is a huge emotional investment by the parents of the bride, who may have been saving for this since their daughter was born, so providing a consistently reliable image was crucial to secure their trust.
Twitter, Stevens says, is great for businesses to find out more about each other but as the tweets can be personal it is important to set boundaries so that viewers do not get a negative impression of the tweeter.
“You cannot mix personal and business life in this way,” she stated. “You cannot be casual and happy-go-lucky and you want to watch the content. Do you want to share information about your kids in this way? You need to know who is following you.”
Facebook for business, according to Stevens, is more of a distraction and not a true platform for driving business and not the best usage of time.
Youtube is an effective medium, Stevens said, but only if you have the personality for TV. “For certain persons it can be great medium,” she confirmed.
“Planners can customise their own channels and as it’s owned by Google it is extremely powerful and can act like a commercial. But there is a heavy flip side and you have to do it well.”
Harmony Walton said that social media accentuates what you already are. “If your customer service is off and your brand is not together then social media will make or break you,” she commented.

“If Oprah called you today and says she wanted you on her show to promote your business – could you handle it?” Walton pondered. “Social media is not a magic bullet and you need to have the foundation of the business there first.”
Stevens added: “That said, you should not hesitate in starting to use social media because you are not perfect in what you do. It is a little scary at first.”
Be true to your brand
Christy Weber, whose wedding planning resource that offers a hot-list of only the most talented and passionate wedding professionals, decided that her mission was to be stylish and encourage brides to become inspired by their wedding lists.
“Whatever your mission statement is, think about it in your blogs,” she advised.
“Blogs are so powerful because they are 100 per cent yours. You can go in a thousand different directions and it’s the expert knowledge that validates content. You need to think about whether the content is valuable to readers and whether it helps to support the goal as to why your business exists.”
Weber advised the audience to define its target market, think about your niche and blog about what your target audience wants to read about.
“You need to ensure that no one else out there provides the service that you do,” she added. “Step back sometimes with fresh eyes and look at what you offer that is totally unique and fresh.”
Think of the customer
When tagging pictures for a website, Weber suggested naming the photos so that a bride could easily relate to them, such as “purple and green weddings” or “Santa Barbara weddings”.
“In that way you are relating to your target audience,” she confirmed.
Walton said that branding should always involve the business person looking toward their end game and to assess whether the branding that they are employing will take them down the correct path.
“Remind yourself of your mission,” she cautioned and added that businesses should look to local resources as a means of shoring up a business.
Stevens advised it is also important to know who exactly is reading your websites and blogs. “Are they your potential customers, the ones writing the cheques?” she wondered.
Stevens said that Google Analytics provided a useful service in providing the ability to trace exactly who was using a site, giving a certain level of transparency to social media.
“If your business model is based on customer ignorance you are in trouble,” she warned. “If you are pretending you have high traffic when in reality you don’t you will be found out.”
Tatiana Byron said that for all the technological strides recently made in business communications the human side of business was not going away. Although the website is representative of a company and a blog makes it easier for the client to keep in touch, “face to face will not disappear,” she said.
Weber said a website is often the first impression that someone derives of a business. “You just have a few seconds to make an impression,” she stated. “And then just a few seconds more to get them to stay.”
Byron urged the use of a proof reader to ensure that spelling and grammar were all perfect on any form of branding to ensure one unique and cohesive message – including press releases, blogs, brochures, newsletters, business cards etc.
She also suggested that ‘text speak’ i.e. the abbreviated language used in text messaging should be relegated to just that, and not included in other means of communication such as email or websites.