Social Media Identity Crisis: How do employees and brands avoid a personality disorder?

A mindmap of our discussion created in real time at WPP Stream; click it for the whole shebang.

The title of this post refers to a session I led last week with my pal, Howard Pyle who has just started as the acting director of digital platform integration at IBM (or something like that).  We were both at WPP Stream in Athens, Greece last week and over the weekend (Article on Huffington Post).  The conference itself was really remarkable — WPP invites a bunch of advertising folks, digital people of all sorts (startups, innovators, VCs etc) and runs an O’Reilly-style unconference at a lovely beach-side resort in Marathon, Greece (about an hour outside of Athens.)

Moreover, the running joke during our session was that it could just as easily be titled “Does your boss want you to be a social media d’bag?”  That is, are you an SME or an SMD? (Subject Matter Expert or Socila Media D’bag?)

In our discussion we opened with a handful of assertions.  Namely:

1.Firms are increasingly calling upon their employees to “be” the brand.  That is, represent their employer’s brand in new and increasingly personal ways through social digital expressions of themselves.

2. Meanwhile, there is a “social media miracle” mentality out there that needs to be debunked.  Most people don’t want to be “brand ambassadors” for their firms — it’s simply a fallacy that you can somehow easily convert them just by asking nicely.  And when you engineer programs based on the social media miracle mentality it will inevitably flop due to a lack of authenticity, participation or both.

3. The method by which companies select their social media spokespersons is often random.  Typically it’s ill-defined, undemocratic and –worst of all — lacking in mutual benefit.  Meanwhile, the traditional means to identify experts and spokespersons (through a PR department…an approach I call “editorial selection”) doesn’t scale to the demands of the social-internet

So the name of the game is this — can you (as a manager of a brand or someone interested in switching on the social-ness of your business) shape the culture, policies and platforms etc within your firm without alienating individuals?  Afterall, social media or social business inherently demands the participation of some people (um, “social” right?) so you would think your employees have to be there, no?

There was a good deal of discussion about managing identities — in one case, a communications director from a large pharmaceutical company told us about one of the “rockstar” scientists at his firm who had four LinkedIn profiles.  She was exasperated, but being a very busy scientist, didn’t have the time to deal with it.  A senior strategist from LinkedIn who attended the session said this is a widespread issue (an “edge issue” she said, but an issue nonetheless) where rockstars’ — like Obama or certain CEOs etc — profiles become essentially fanpages.  Again, this is a tension point that I think many of the people we would most like to activate on behalf of our firms confront (and retreat from.)

Of course rewards and recognition for participation also came up — most organizations do not expressly reward or recognize brand-building for individual employees in a meaningful way.  Even those in the session who said their firms had built social media participation into some of their employees’ goals said that it was basically an empty gesture or a very peripheral activity.

Finally (well for this blog post anyway) there was a great deal of discussion about the portability of reputation.  Who exactly owns the individual’s professional reputation? The answer seems obvious at first, the individual, right? But what if the firm has invested significantly in developing that reputation by allotting time or other resources (like building technological platforms that enable an individual to enhance and retain reputation etc)?  The investment implies, I think, some stake on the part of the firm in the outcomes (good or bad.)

Anyway, many of the ideas are captured in the mind-map that you can see attached here.  Have a look and let me know what you think.

5 thoughts on “Social Media Identity Crisis: How do employees and brands avoid a personality disorder?

  1. Some very interesting thoughts there Ethan…and the mind map is really useful. I certainly intend sharing this with my social team here at Adobe and see if it kicks up some conversation internally – I am sure it will! 🙂

    Hope you are doing well…


    1. Thanks, Goldie! Long time no see 😦 Hope you’re doing well and glad to hear you will share with your folks at Adobe — there was participation form Adobe at the Stream conference (you were sponsors, in fact) though I can’t at the moment recall who attended.

  2. Interesting Ethan! Have been discussing Social Media in the Arts (ie, Gallery and Museum staff & marketing strategies) at Uni, so v. topical here. Gotta love mind maps too…yours looks like MindNode Pro?, which I’m using at the moment. Will definitely share.

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