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Social Media Brand ImageOne of the most well known brand reinventors is The Coca-Cola Company, most notably after their release of New Coke in 1985 – commonly referred to as the New Coke debacle. There is speculation that Coke released this not-so-tasty new formula to re-inspire love of the original, especially considering that Coke generated significant sales gains upon the reintroduction of Coke Classic.

In the late 1990s, Sergio Zyman, the marketer behind the failed launch of New Coke, summed up the experience thus:

Yes, it infuriated the public, cost a ton of money and lasted only 77 days before we reintroduced Coca-Cola Classic. Still, New Coke was a success because it revitalized the brand and reattached the public to Coke.

Regardless of whether it was intended, one has to wonder if this would have had the same result during this age of social media. The backlash experienced from Coke’s new product release was unprecedented. Public protests, boycotts, and bottles being emptied into the streets of Southern cities…can you imagine the backlash they would have experienced if these comments were public and went viral via social media?

Brand impressions and resulting loyalty have soared to new heights upon the advent of social media. Thanks to platforms like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, every mention a brand receives or brand position a company takes has the potential to be seen by millions and is forever archived in the digital realm. Today, New Coke is merely a distant memory of an aging generation who were easily appeased with the reintroduction of the classic formula. However, this may not have been the case had New Coke been released today and received comparable backlash.

Which begs the question, once a brand reputation is established online, can it be transformed or reinvented? Not easily. Here are a few ways social media can prevent brand reinvention:

  • Google+ Reviews are Permanent: While Facebook allows brands to hide negative comments and reviews, Google+ is not so forgiving. Once you activate the reviews section of your Google+ brand page, any user feedback published is permanently displayed and very difficult to remove by anyone other than the reviewer. In some cases Google will consider removal if the review is in violation of their policies. However they do make it clear that, “we don’t get involved when merchants and individuals disagree about facts, since we can’t confirm user experiences at any location.” And while the reviews can definitely work in your favor, if your customer service is lacking, you may consider waiting to turn on the reviews page feature until you are confident you have more happy customers than disgruntled ones.
  • Screenshots are Too Easy: Most devices have a feature to easily capture a screen shot of anything, anytime, anywhere. As a result, those social media posting faux pas, even if deleted immediately after posting, have the potential to haunt your brand forever. Therefore, it’s important to hire a professional and experienced community manager who will think before he or she types and who understands social media etiquette. As brands like Spaghetti O’s and Epicurious can attest, when it doubt, it is better to post nothing at all than to try and maximize impressions at the expense of a tragedy or another person.
  • Social Media Followers Are Hard to Come By: It can take years to build an audience that is truly engaged with your brand. If you ever need to reinvent your brand due to negative press, a major product fail, or customer service issues, it’s very difficult to transfer those followers to a new page or profile. As a result, you’re starting from scratch when it comes to your digital marketing which can be very costly. A better approach might be to be publicly apologetic for your brand faults, and engage your audience in the process of making it better. Crowdsource your brand improvement process, and you’ll be surprised how loyal even the most disgruntled customers become.
  • Social Media Speaks Volumes: If your brand has achieved the ultimate in social media success – engaged followers who share your brand with their friends – it can make reinvention even more difficult. Social media is a grass roots approach to marketing and when successful, gets communities talking about their experiences with each other, thereby increasing brand impressions and brand recognition. It is very difficult to change the trajectory of a message once it’s out there. Digital marketing messages come across consistently loud and clear to all audiences, making it difficult to blame any “fails” on the rumor mill or to conceal negative press. Be sure that everything you post or that gets posted about your company is true to your brand message, and if it’s not, that you respond immediately with correction. If not monitored closely, any divergence from the core message has the potential to result in brand destruction.

While social media has the potential to prevent brand reinvention, it may also prevent the NEED for brand reinvention altogether – with the right strategy in place. By establishing and monitoring online profiles closely, it is easier to know what your customer wants, to identify and address problems in real time, and to perform broad-scale damage control. With your brand audience at your digital fingertips, everything you need to know about your market is only a click away.

**This article can also be found on my LinkedIn profile

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