Online social media have created an extraordinary capability for customers to share and amplify brand impressions. People enjoy talking – and complaining – about brands, so it's vital that you, as a business owner, are part of the conversation.

Social branding is the process of marketing your brand in an online social space. It's all about creating brand equity, building brand awareness and fostering loyal communities.

How do you do this practically?
It's not enough to create a Facebook, Twitter or WordPress account, however; you need to engage daily, meaningfully and appropriately with your social networks. Fill your social network with brand-related content that is geared towards reinforcing the business' desired brand image.
"But it doesn't make money"
Remember BPs PR disaster after the Gulf of Mexico oil spills? Or when Nestle was slammed after their farming practices endangered fragile rainforests? All those incidents were amplified online with users of social networks pointing out the organisations' actions (or lack of actions) in both cases.

Since it is not an avenue for hard selling, many companies feel that social branding is a nice (but hardly vital) added extra – after all, since it doesn't attract direct revenues, it's not a priority. But this thinking does not take into account the benefits when a brand builds loyalty and customer satisfaction, nor does it account for the harm that could happen if a large social group slanders the brand.

Social branding is entirely about communicating with customers and the public, something that has become both easier and much more complex as people embrace the internet as their primary communication channel. Six million of the wealthiest South Africans are online, and over half of them use Facebook.

Conversations, good and bad, will happen around your brand regardless of what you do. So it's vital that you participate in them and steer them in the right direction. Participating involves both acting – creating and adding content, links and information – and reacting – listening and responding to customers.

The goal is to make your company feel like a relatable, enthusiastic social actor, rather than an impersonal corporate entity. In a world of computers and technology, customers value a human and personal approach – and your business would do well to capitalise on this.

The University of Cape Town Internet Marketing course starts on 28 February 2011. For more information, contact Abby on 021 685 4775 or, or visit