Personal Brands: Should Your Organization Reward or Fear Them?
I capped my time at South by Southwest with one last panel, Media Tomorrow: The Message is the Messenger, focused on the rising influence of personal brands. The majority of the session consisted of personal brand leaders Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter, Sarah Evans of Sevans Strategy, Leslie Bradshaw of JESS3 and Jenn Van Grove of Mashable sharing advice for building and strengthening your personal brand. The panelists explored interesting angles like the SEO challenge for married women who want to change their names and if the permanence of the Web limits the evolution of your personal brand with life’s twists and turns.
What most interested me was the discussion about personal brands as a tool for companies. Having admired the ability of Ford’s Scott Monty and Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior [disclosure: Cisco is a Text 100 client] to humanize their brands and trigger information sharing at an individual rather than institutional level, I didn’t need to be sold on their value. Jeremiah framed up the spectrum of social media presences currently used by brands – corporate, hybrid and personal – highlighting that as organizational control increases, trust from your audience decreases. The panel used two recent social media brand crises to put the corporate and hybrid presence in context:
- Corporate: When a staffer at Chrysler’s social media agency tweeted a disparaging, obscene remark about Detroit drivers from the brand’s Twitter account, the company responded the corporate way, deleting the tweet and posting on its blog later that day apologizing for the actions of the New Media Strategies employee, stating it doesn’t “tolerate inappropriate language or behavior.” (Chrysler explains its approach here)
- Hybrid: Contrast a similar incident with the American Red Cross when a staffer accidentally posted they were drinking Dogfish Head beer and “#gettngslizzerd.” The organization responded by using a personal, relatable voice, assuring followers that “The Red Cross [was] sober.” Ensuing apologies were light-hearted stating that the brand handles crisis everyday and this isn’t one, reiterating that “while we’re a 130 year-old humanitarian organization, we’re also made of up human beings.”
Alluding to the power of a personal brand presence, Jeremiah posed hypothetically to the audience: what would have been the reaction to the auto controversy if it had been Scott Monty who issued the tweet? Would Ford had fared better than Chrysler? Implying that the relationships and trust people have with a personal brand like Scott, and subsequently Ford, create a more forgiving environment to make mistakes. “Imagine if a personal brand like Scott would have followed up the tweet like ‘I’m offering free driving lessons at XYZ dealership in Detroit,’ Jeremiah suggested. [Side note: Jeremiah also predicted that as a result of these two incidents, we'll see less junior people running accounts, more process and more workflow tools used to manage brands in social channels.]
The panelists agreed companies should find, cultivate and reward the personal brands in their organization. But Jeremiah cautioned that companies need to understand the RISK of personal brands. As referenced above, corporations have less control over personal brands, but there’s also a danger in your brand’s community being built around one person – who could leave your organization at anytime. For example, what if one of Dell’s evangelists like Chris Byrd left? How would Dell retain a relationship with Chris’ 15K followers on Twitter? I asked the panel for succession planning advice and here are their recommendations:
- Be wary of co-branding – Many personal brands bring their company’s branding into their usernames such as @comcastbill and @richardatdell. While this allows people to quickly understand their affiliation and sets expectations for the type of content and information shared, if Bill and Richard were to leave their organizations they would take the Twitter accounts with them and can change the username at anytime. What Comcast does right is that it allows co-branding, but doesn’t rely on it. The main activities happen through the @comcastcares account, which remains property of the organization and can be “re-assigned” as needed.
- Bring out the talents of the team – It can be tempting to find an influential personal brand and hire them to be the voice of your organization in social media, but it’s very clear that brands who are most successful are involving an entire cast of people with different points of view and strengths. This helps both manage workflow and a growing community, but also eliminates the risk of one singular voice/brand.
- Think through the transition – When Frank Eliason resigned from Comcast, the company was losing its trusted personal brand and the human behind @comcastcares, but it made a concerted effort to introduce his replacement (@comcastbill) properly. Frank introduced Bill, which was important. People needed to know that Frank trusted him and that Bill had been a critical piece of Comcast’s social media team. After Frank’s last tweet, Bill followed with an introductory tweet making sure that he picked up the torch properly and @comcastcares didn’t miss a beat.
Check out the SXSW session hashtag #personalbrand for more insight and tips.