We talk regularly to brands about where to begin with social media. As we shared in our last blog post, eMarketer recently published a survey touting the many benefits of social media presence for brands: [checklist] Influence brand reputation Increase brand awareness Improve search engine rankings (SEO) Increased Website Traffic Lead Generation Improved Internal Communication Increase Online Sales [/checklist] Well, the inverse also is true. Especially for brands that have no effective or coordinated social media presence. All too often, we see the situation where a negative blog or discussion thread is ranking higher than a brand’s corporate website – or at least in the top 10 results in Google. We see negative user comments, ratings and reviews on social sites like Facebook, YouTube, Glassdoor or business listing sites like CitySearch or Yellow pages. Again, with no response from the brand involved. Most marketers remember the scramble in the late 90’s to register a domain name and get a web presence in the Web 1.0 brochure-ware days. By early 2000, marketers started to realize that they needed search engines (specifically Google) to help online audiences find them. The craft of SEO was born. Next, there was an emphasis on brand protection. Everyone started to compete for search real-estate by using paid ads (Adwords) to better position their brand, their company, and their products or services. New practices evolved like registering variations of domain names, including misspellings, so that competitors couldn’t hijack a brand. These same concepts apply to social media, but with a twist. By it’s very nature social media is a two-way conversation. Simply setting up a Facebook page or parking a Twitter account with no monitoring or moderation only amplifies your issues. A business that doesn’t invest here risks dilution of their brand, hijacking of new and existing customers by competitors, and a truly negative perception by consumers that expect their favorite brand or product to accessible and enabled via the social web – in their media. Whether you’re a small or big brand, B2C or B2B, you can’t afford to delay developing a social media strategy for business. Just like the last two iterations of the web (web 1.0 and 2.0), you can’t do everything at once, but you also can’t afford to sit still. The bottom line here is that Social Media is now an important part of the mix. Investing the time and effort to create a proper social media strategy helps avoid poorly executed social campaigns with little or no positive impact. Set the right objectives, create the strategies to support delivering on them, and then prioritize your efforts to reach that overall outcome. There is a craft here. A well-planned approach to social media integrates your other marketing efforts, amplifying the overall effect. That’s how you gain ground on your competitors with the social web.