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Church and State

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If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world behind China and India. Weighing in at a whopping 500 million users, the social media giant has just surpassed Google in U.S. market share, according to data from Hitwise. To me, the rapid ascent of Facebook begs the question: Do businesses even need to set up brand Web sites anymore?

You'd likely be wrong if you answered "no." Social media has grown into an irreplaceable marketing strategy, but it must complement and work in concert with with your corporate Web site.

Brands should be taking a "church and state" approach to marketing on the Web. You want your Web site to be simple and to articulate what the brand is all about, so including corporate positioning and traditional Web site strategies is recommended. But manipulating social media is a completely different ballgame. The game's motto? Stop selling and start engaging.

Many marketers are starting to think of their brand's Facebook and Twitter pages as "social CRMs," which is a step in the right direction to shifting from a one-way channel of communication -- marketing directly to consumers -- to a back-and-forth, conversational relationship with customers, fans, friends and followers.

The crucial, often ignored part is that social networks are not socially enabled customer-relationship management platforms; they are audience-relationship management platforms. This distinction is a crucial part of navigating social media in an effective way.

When it comes to your brand's Facebook page or Twitter account, the key is engagement. You want your social media pages to be content-centric first and foremost. The content that powers your social media should be engaging on a level that appeals to your core audience. The split between "product stories," i.e., "show me/sell me" via a corporate Web site, and "people stories," or "help me/entertain me" via social media and branded content, represents the divide between church and state.

These two coexisting worlds reveal that the corporate Web site can't die in the face of the social media revolution. Social media is a great catalyst for bridging the divide. In order to do this, you have to define your brand's social identity.

Building a social identity means representing your brand in an engaging way, regardless of what you sell. To leverage social media as an effective bridge to your product, you must think outside the typical consumer profile and find a unique way to engage your core audience. You must think like a publisher.

Let's look at an example. Your company sells fertilizer. Your brand's corporate Web site is pretty straightforward: it includes details about the product, the unique benefits of buying your product, how to use the product and other company-centric details. These details fit perfectly on your Web site, but they do nothing to engage your core audience. Let's be honest: no one wants to friend or follow a bag of fertilizer.

Your brand should use social media to demonstrate what you offer to the world in terms of value and value exchange. Staying in theme with your product, use your Facebook page to offer tips on general lawn care in order to help the consumer. Or, maybe, you upload the best user-submitted pictures of their gardens in order to entertain the consumer.

In the end, creating and sharing compelling content for social media channels forces us to think of brands as publishers. You have to grab the attention of your consumers before you can try to sell to them. Creating a
social identity and associating it with your brand bridges the separation of church and state. Now that you have the audience's attention, feel free to sell.

Avi Savar is CEO of Big Fuel. He can be reached at avis@bigfuel.com.