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Should internal brand advocates truly be themselves online?

Recently there’s been a heated exchange between RichardatDell and Amanda Chapel on Twitter regarding the lines between personal and professional when representing a company in the social media space. Without getting into the, ahem, personality conflicts between them and taking sides, I do think it’s an interesting and relevant subject to explore.

Where is the line between a “community evangelist’s” personal opinions and the company they represent? Does it matter in our new digitally connected world? I’d like to say no, but I tend to land on the Amanda Chapel side of the fence that it does.

Every interaction a corporate employee has reflects on the company while they’re “on the clock”. That’s standard thinking and it goes from the person in the call centre to the CEO. Why has social media changed that reality? Do brand advocates or community managers need to be “the brand” 24/7? Can they really do justice to what the company stakeholders want (profits & positive awareness) by being “real” and airing their own personal thoughts and opinions (and prejudices and biases) whenever the mood strikes?

When I’m interacting with someone who is clearly online in their capacity with the company (i.e. X@DELL), everything I read and every interaction I have with them reflects back on the company brand. Not to say that I don’t want to interact with a real person and that I begrudge them having a personality and a life, but when they are acting as agents of their brand, whatever they do reflects back on the brand/ company itself. That’s part of how human beings see things and it is something that we, as business people, need to recognize as we navigate this brave new frontier of constant connectedness.

We’re all human and we all have bad days of course, but they are paid employees, not organic consumer advocates and they, by necessity, have an agenda to promote a positive image of the brand, otherwise they would just be a regular Jane and post as themselves without the brand standing behind them. In reality, I could really despise company X’s evangelist because of their personal politics, or ego, or what have you, and that would reflect back on the company itself for no good reason other than they’re out there on the intertubes.

(And to clarify again, this isn’t meant to pass judgement on RichardatDell, but his interactions with Amanda Chapel, a fictional character, have spurred my thinking)

My thoughts on how to mitigate this are still evolving, but I think it does no one a service to ignore human nature and the pitfalls of being a high profile company representative who is “always on” and mixes the truly personal with their professional capacity.

What do you think?

[photo credit: dadawan via Flickr]

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What’s so ’social’ about product pitches?

Or when did social media become all about online PR?

As things have evolved these last two+ years in the digital social space one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there is far too much focus on blogger relations (aka product pitches direct to consumer) and focusing on alleged “influencers”. The echo chamber has been filled with arguments about how to best “reach out to bloggers” (which means how to best get them to write about your product at the end of the day) and the alleged “social media” press releases. I’m going to throw my wet blanket onto this because frankly I see it doing a real disservice to the potential of the space and leading companies down a path that skirts the outsides of the promise of what Web 2.0 communication tools can really bring to marketing communications.

Let me say this at the start: Web 2.0 is not about YOU. No really, it’s not.

That may sound dogmatic and counter-intuitive, but allow me to explain… It never was about you to begin with, it’s always been about filling a need for the people buying (or looking to buy) your products or services and providing them with *information* where they are seeking it, listening to their feedback, and interacting when *they* want to… not spin or hype. It’s about facilitating their interactions, not yours. It’s not about shiny new toys, or 80 million different channels to push your message out.

Most average folks really don’t care, or have the time, to have a “relationship” with a brand. The majority don’t have blogs where they want to review products. Most people aren’t paid to do so as the plethora of social media consultants are. If we step outside of the echo chamber of PR bloggers, social media evangelists, and tech start-ups, the majority of people just want the product they bought to work as advertised, to be able to find out real information about it, to be able to provide feedback when they feel the need, and a real person (who is empowered to do more than say “thems the rules”) to interact with them painlessly when they do – online or offline. Oh, and the ability to find out quickly what their peers are saying about it – with biases clearly spelt out.

For a company, web 2.0 tools have the potential to expand the reach of their messaging if approached strategically and with fundamental marketing principles in play. They can be used to facilitate content distribution & development; intelligence gathering to inform your marketing and product development; customer service (online & offline); search engine optimization; internal communications; usability and user experiences; expanding the brand essence, etc.

Where does “please send me links to your press release via email” come into play?

Let’s be realistic and clear — Social Media Press Releases are micro-sites for a product or announcement. This isn’t “game changing”, it’s just borrowing from what interactive advertising was doing 7 years ago and adding RSS and API feeds and using it as a landing page to direct bloggers and journalists to. That’s hardly something that deserves the amount of air-time it’s been getting if we are being honest (and doing more than patting each other on the back within the echo chamber). And it’s something that companies are spending a ton of money on for a highly niche audience, which may or may not be the right strategy for their brand.

Where’s the “pull” in product pitches?

/end rant (for now).

[Photo Credit: FelipeArte via Flickr]

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