One of the most striking benefits of such media for an organization is the portal it provides to communicate its brand. The opportunity to engage with customers, both existing and prospective, is massive. This is not in isolation from other potential gains. Other benefits of having a social presence may include competitor and market insight, in addition to customer relationship management, and direct sales. But any online social activities will affect on brand identity, so all activities must be considered in this context.

Before understanding how online communities and their associated platforms can affect brand awareness, it is essential to understand the social media services that are at your disposal. There are hundreds, if not thousands of firms that offer assistance and tools to help you tackle this reliably new area of ​​marketing, and these can be summarized in three categories: evaluation, management and training.

Evaluating a company's social presence will mean analyzing the conversations and trends that are relevant to your sector and brand, as well as providing valuable insight and knowledge associated with your product or service. Online media platforms provide a very public stage for all business activities, including that of your competitors, so competitor analysis also adds to the knowledge gained. This process of evaluation allows a business to understand the impact that social media has on its operations and image, and the gained insight therefore contributes to the marketing strategy, which will absolutely influence consumer sentiment and behavior.

The management of a company's social networking could include creating and updating accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and channels such as YouTube, and posting relevant, up to date content in the form of status updates, tweets, or audio-visual content. Responding to comments and queries in a timely manner with relevant answers is also essential in order to ensure that your online presence is an active and engaged one. Services may also include following and liking relevant posts and topics, creating and maintaining a company blog, guest blogging on other sites, and chat room or forum moderation. The practice of updating content and managing visitor interactions creates conversation platforms, builds communities, and can lead to referrals and recommendations - all necessary for engaging with the consumer and communicating that brand identity.

Training and consultancy play a key role in the services that are on offer, so rather than relying on an external source to manage all your community activities, there is a combined approach. From bespoke, individual training to more generic courses and learning events, business owners can be educated as to how best utilize the available online communities, as well as help create strategies and install confidence and knowledge so staff can implement them directly.

But how exactly can these social media services affect your brand? Pinpointing the elements that give a brand its identification and that determine its success, helps us to understand the role that social marketing will play in its perception. There are five key aspects to a successful brand that need to be considered.

1) Vision. A brand's vision should be accessible and understood by everyone. The only way to achieve this is through original and relevant communications and content. Online communities provide the stage on which this message can be delivered, and providing the platforms are respectively, that will enable consistent and clear communication of the vision.

2) Values. The values ​​of a brand define the people and culture surrounding the organization behind it, and will have a direct impact on the consumer decision making process, whether it be through increased sales, strengthening a fan base, or sharing and recommendation. A brand's values ​​may not always be obvious, but since social media allows for interaction and engagement between a brand and the consumer, these values ​​can be shared and expressed directly.

3) Target market. It's essential that a brand knows its target market, in order that the audience can refer to its vision and values, and therefore be confident enough to buy into the product or service, creating demand. Through effective evaluation of a brand's online presence, it is then possible to concentrate on, get to know, and then focus marketing efforts on the target audience. Users of online social networks share a wealth of information about their likes and dislikes as well as important demographic points, offering the organization a well targeted audience.

4) Prominence. SEO and link building is all about standing out from the crowd, but original, creative and desirable content shared on social networks and online communities will also cause your brand to stand out and in turn increase recognition.

5) Permanentence. A brand needs to have longevity in order to be successful, and customer loyalty is central to this. Relevant and continued engagement with prospects, fans and customers will cement the relationship between a consumer and the brand. Brand durability leads to repeat custom, protecting profit margins as a result.

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