Posted by Tom Snyder

Don't look now, but you've lost control of your brand.

Yeah, we could make all sorts of other movie title jokes about it. Like "Dude, Where's My Message," "Silence of the Brands" and "Raiders of the Lost Trademark."

But it's not a joking matter. Brand managers are scared. They should be. The simple fact is that Web2.0 takes control of your brand out of your hands and places it right in the hands of a vocal, viral and painfully honest public.

Back in the good old days of Web 1.0, companies still were able to maintain a great degree of control of their brand. The Web was just another platform that allowed them to control the message, the appearance, the terms of engagement and the public perception of their name, their message, their reputation and what they wanted the public to know or believe about their product or service. Happy customers told one person, unhappy customers told ten. Not a good ratio, but it was still manageable. And it was easy to drown out a couple thousand unhappy people with a big newspaper ad, pr campaign or TV Commercial.

Web2.0 has changed the game. A customer can still tell one or ten, but with Social Media elements like Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, online communities, sites like Epinions, YouTube, and Twitter, that customer can also tell 1,000, 10,000, 100,000... a million. And each of those can turn around and amplify that same message to hundreds of thousands of their friends, and their friends' friends.

And you can't stop it.

Most marketers...and hopefully you, too...know that your brand is not your logo. It's also not your visual identity, print brochure, jingle or Web site. It's the expectation of experience. And everything you do either re-enforces or erodes that brand. While you can control the use of officially sanctioned graphics and information in your own promotional materials, you no longer can control the expression of the opinions people have about the experience they've had with your company, product or service. Social Media takes the actual quality of that experience and makes it the amplified message, drowning out your mission statement, your spin, your talking points or your finely tuned ultimate selling proposition.

Web2.0 makes the masses your new ad agency and PR firm, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. And their only campaign is to take the unvarnished truth about what your company does, and how well it does it, and make that the public face of your brand.

Some believe they can choose not to participate in Web2.0. But the bad news is: you already are participating, whether you have chosen to or not. Ignoring it won't make it go away... it actually makes it more likely that your company will be affected in a good or bad way. You may have a great-looking, perfectly search engine-optimized Web site, and think you're safe. But, with a growing number of people preferring posted opinions, recommendations and Tweets over what they find in the search engines, your efforts could be for naught. And you won't even know what hit you.

So what should you do?

First take a hard look at who's in charge of your Web strategy. Know that not every Web developer understands brand. And our experience is that, at least locally, a shockingly low percentage of advertising agencies even know what constitutes best-practice Web1.0. As you'd expect, most Technology and IT firms are out of their element on either, as are a lot of internal "experts." To do both right AND get Web2.0? It's a tall order indeed.

Look for a firm that understands and specializes in Online Brand Management. They will first make sure that your Web1.0 program uses creativity, design and technology correctly to effectively, efficiently and transparently re-enforce your brand. Then they'll help you understand the perils and power of Web 2.0 and leverage Social Media to your advantage. Finally, they'll help you use the synergies that exist between Web1.0 and Web2.0 to craft the proper email and SEO strategies to execute a successful TOTAL online brand program for your company.

Web2.0 prevents you from ever having total control of your brand again. But if you understand it, embrace it and take advantage of it, you'll at least be better equipped to compete, so your brand won't be "Gone with the Web!"

Tom Snyder @triveraguy Tom Snyder is Founder, President and CEO of Trivera Interactive, a Midwest New Media firm. Tom is a Web guy, wine snob, music junkie, Ex-Milwaukee Radio Guy, HDTV expert, and political wonk.