Your brand identity is how you see yourself. Your brand perception is how others see you. If you want your brand strategy to be successful, you need to ensure your brand message is consistent.
Your online brand includes a lot more than just your website and logo. It also often includes you and how you behave, your personality and writing style as well as the personality of any community elements within your site will affect your brand.
The brand perception you are trying to create will depend upon the subject matter of your site. For example, a site about insurance will probably aim to come across as professional and serious. Therefore you will want your brand to reflect these attributes. You will need to adopt a serious tone and come across with authority.
As a rule, you have overall control of your website. If you have a community element such as a forum within your website however, you need to be aware that this will affect your brand. You need to understand that you have less editorial control over your website once you introduce community elements. To deal with this, you need to pay attention to your community to ensure it does not damage your brand.
Having an excellent site design and excellent content won't be enough if your online community is full of bickering and negativity. Similarly, some may doubt your claim to be a popular site and a trusted resource if your community is void of active members. Never add a community element to your website as an afterthought.
A fantastic site design and brilliant content will count for nothing if your community is full of arguments and abuse. Indeed, you may well find that your visitors will stop trusting your brand if you claim to be a popular site yet have a completely empty and unused forum. You need to have a strategy for your online community. Never tack on community elements just for the sake of including them.
You should also be aware that how you behave away from your website can also affect your brand. If you claim to be an expert on a subject but are seen on another site looking for help on this subject, your reputation will be damaged. If you take a strong stance or opinion on a certain subject but are seen on another site (or indeed, in an offline social situation) contradicting this view, again you risk doing damage to your brand.
It is important that you understand you are often just as much of the brand as your website is. You need to strive to ensure you maintain a consistent brand image. As long as you stay truthful to yourself, this should not be a problem.
Martin Reed is the developer and owner of a popular UK chat and community website. He also blogs about how to develop successful online communities.