There was a time when companies (or non-profits, universities, etc.) controlled their brand. Today companies control their brand logo, brand colors, and message but what they no longer control is the brand experience or "emotional aftertaste" (coined by Ze Frank).

There's been a power shift and the first mistake many companies make is believing that they do and can control the brand experience. That's no longer the case. It's the people on the other end of that experience that control it. Today, customers sharing brand experiences happen every day, everywhere without being edited or seeking a company's approval. And sometimes, a brand experience (positive or negative) could be with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. That said there are some new challenges in brand management. So then, what are some basic first steps companies can take?

The first step? Listen. "Listening" to what's being said about a company on-line can unveil a lot of critical information. Listening includes, but is not limited to, reading comments, reviews or rankings. Listening is not about collecting "on-line hits." Listening can start out as simply as setting up a Google Alert for a company, brands (i.e. product names), and people (any employee who is in the public eye).  The second step? Hear. Hear what is being said and try to understand the context in which it's being said (yes, there is a difference between listening and hearing). Make no mistake, it's a lot of roll-up the sleeves work, but it's essential to overall brand management. The Internet isn't going away anytime soon so there will continue to be a lot of places to talk about a company.

Managing Fractured Conversations
Where are customers, prospects, competition, and adversaries talking and where should listening take place? With all the places to leave comments and engage in a conversation there is a potential for fractured conversations. For example, someone could potentially respond to a company news release in a variety of places and other people pick up on that conversation and take it to another place, spreading the comments about a company. What makes it fractured is that is can be disassociated from the original comment, leaving the context in a position to be misunderstood. It's a company's responsibility to follow the conversations where and no matter how many places they go, including:

  • Social networks (like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Blogs
  • Microblogging sites (like Twitter)
  • YouTube, Viddler, etc.
  • Podcasts
  • Photo hosting sites (like Flickr)
Fractured conversations present multiple challenges to companies. So, it's very important to go where the conversations are being held and respond to them in that specific place. Don't insist that people talking about a brand experience move their conversation to a place that's convenience.

The Importance of Listening & Following Conversations
Every time a conversation is being had about a company, brand or person it's an opportunity to get involved. A lot of companies fear or are not sure how to engage in on-line conversations. But by not following what's being said companies miss out on a chance to:

  • Learn what their true brand perception is in the market
  • Collect important feedback
  • Engage in meaningful conversations with customers
  • Build relationships with customers
  • Tell their side of the story (if necessary)
  • Harness the power of brand enthusiasts
Tools for Listening & Monitoring
Some of these tools are free and some are not. This is not in any way an endorsement of any of these tools, but just a list to get companies started in the right direction. If there are other tools that are available, please be sure to let everyone know.

  • Google / Yahoo Alerts
  • Google Blog Search
  • Technorati
  • Co.mments
  • Serph
  • Addictomatic
  • Disqus
  • Radian6
  • Twitter Search
  • Blogpulse
  • Lijit
  • Linqia
  • NetVibesMotive Quest
  • Nielsen BuzzMetrics
  • Cymphony
  • Trakur
  • SEER
  • Techrigy
  • CyberAlert
  • Umbria
  • ChatterGuard
  • Custom Scoop
  • Ice Rocket
Steps to managing brand experience
How can a company get started in a conversation? What steps, in what order should be taken? Take it slow. There is no need to rush into engagement. The old adage rings true in this case: Look before you leap. Here's just a brief list of steps:

  • Start monitoring your brand  
  • Collect the data
  • Process the information (where did comments come from? where are the conversations being held?)
  • Analyze the content (what are they saying & why?)
  • Determine if you should respond
  • Join the conversation
To learn more about the importance of brand management, please be sure to read David Wallace's post, "Connecting the Dots: Online (Brand) Reputation Management - SBM Unleashed." This is a great post because it was "live blogged" during Christina (CK) Kerley's Brand Management workshop at Small Business Marketing Unleashed.

December 16, 2008

Beth Harte is a marketing, communications & social media consultant, speaker and professor that started her career when companies barely had e-mail—let alone websites. Experiencing Web 1.0 first hand, she also enjoyed the mad dash towards implementing integrated marketing communications and SEO/SEM. Beth is deeply engaged with marketing, PR & social media and helps companies do the same. Being a firm believer in ‘walking the walk to talk the talk,’ Beth blogs at The Harte of Marketing where she shares tips, opinions & observations that she’s experienced firsthand or picked up from some of the best marketers, communicators and social media leaders in the world.


Beth, terrific summary of the value of keeping tabs on the brand experience. So many marketing departments are struggling to re-position overall approach and tactics as control shifts to the consumer.

Crimson Hexagon provides opinion monitoring: getting beyond the volume and mentions, and offering an automated way to focus in on the "why". Less about how many mentions are there of a popular sports drink; and more about the reason for the mentions (hangover!). Happy to demo if you're interested!

Hey there Beth,

Great post for those looking to get started. And thanks a bundle for the Radian6 shoutout.



Hi Beth,

Great post. We are also a listening and monitoring tool. We specialize in getting small and medium-sized businesses involved in relevant online conversations. We also measure online mentions of their company.


Hi Beth, these are great comments and an excellent guide for those looking to start a Social Media Monitoring program and leverage the value of this terrific resource. For those who want more advanced capabilities, I'd like to suggest they take a look at solutions like ours ( for more than just monitoring. We provide a "Business Intelligence" approach to this domain. We help users understand what is being said by leveraging automated sentiment scoring, geo-demographic analysis and concept extraction which simplifies the ability to understand the massive amount of data available and respond accordingly.
Steve Dodd

Great article! Too many people are consumed with just promoting their brand while neglecting to listen to what is working and what isn't. This will cause your company to lose a lot of time and money. As the say, word-of-mouth is the best advertisement you can get, and listening is definitly a key factor in that. Thanks for sharing the info.

Joining the other monitoring companies :)

This is a great article that offers all the steps a brand manager should follow. In addition, I would add that the information provides opportunities for influencing product development.

Thanks for including Techrigy in your list.
We have the Freemium version available at It's a great place for people to start.

HI Beth:

Nice post - pulls together lots of thoughts on SM. Quick comment about listening.

It is one thing to know how many mentions of your company there are out there, it is another to analyze the entire category conversation to understand what is going on. What are people's motivations and drivers? What is the competitive dynamic? What are the product, marketing and messaging implications of this understanding.

Case study here:

That's what we do!

MotiveQuest LLC
"fearlessly seeking the reasons why"

Thanks everyone...well, we now know which companies use their own software! :) Happy holidays to you all!

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