In the pursuit of a social networking strategy for the brand I'm working on, I've been digging around to see what other brands are doing and trawling for information, learnings, advice, etc… And I thought I'd share the five key things I learnt.

While you're thinking about it, also look at what Umbro have done, because it's superb and we all like a good case study for reference.

Just in case you're expecting something else, I was working on defining what a brand should do in the world of social networks, including the likes of Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, Blogging, etc…

My six main learnings were this:

  1. Be consistently present - don't 'dip in' and then forget to update

    If you don't continue to build your presence, you quickly find that you've got a lot of online properties that look untended - it's the social media equivalent of a derelict shop with some old products in the window. Or a silent guest at a dinner party.

  2. Have personality - probably through a person

    One of the major failings of brands who go onto social networks is that they do so on 'transmit.' They send out missives like PR releases and expect people to lap them up. In reality, if you talk like a stiff, formal brand and don't listen in return, you'll be treated like a bore at a party.

    A tip I got was to focus on who does the socialising more than what they're going to say (although that does come later!).

  3. Be generous - but only on occasion

    About a third of people claim to follow brands because of the free stuff they get, which is pretty fair really. Who doesn't like free stuff? But, if all you do is hand out vouchers and competition prizes, you'll end up stale still. Make sure that you give away things that are uniquely available through this channel and do it with spontaneity. Make it a treat. Don't let your social networking sites become your discount outlets.

  4. Fit in, rather than trying to force-fit

    Seems obvious really, but there are two huge traps here.

    The first is to try desperately to get people to come to your newly created social networking site, rather than building yours on Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, etc… Why? Facebook has 350 million people. You have none. Build it where people are, not where you are.

    The second mistake is to go into an environment and treat it by your rules rather than the rules of your host. Don't. Just because you put your feet on the seats at home, doesn't make it OK in a cab. So I'm told, anyway

  5. Offer different stuff for different people

    Not everyone wants to take part in a competition, write a poem, create music, design a new football boot, spot differences; or vote on other people, and other peoples' creations. But lots of people do like all of these things.

    So, find lots of different levels of involvement and lots of different things for people to get involved with. And don't put everything in one place. Spread the joy.

  6. Start something, but let other people build on it

    The best brands and people are opening up and letting others build on what they started. It doesn't have to be 'user-generated', but let people add to what you've got and make it better or change it a tad. It's part of this 'letting go of control' thing that's going on.

    You could start by adding to this…