Getting Your Social Media Stars Into Alignment

Oct 31, 2012

Making a name for yourself in business these days often entails the cultivation of a strong public persona via blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. And so just as a top salesperson brings his/her contact list along when hired, today’s social media stars come packaged with followers, friends, subscribers and an archive of postings.

These (generally) desirable hires are what Wall Street Journal columnist Alexandra Samuel calls "co-branded employees" — expected to support the corporate mission while maintaining their own brand, both for their own prosperity and that (presumably) of the company.

In a sense, companies hire not just individuals in these cases but a network of connections the star has built through LinkedIn groups and the like. While the potential benefits are many, so are the questions raised, according to Ms. Samuel. Can/should the employers insist that the two brands be cohesive and mutually supportive? Who gets to copyright the content produced? Who owns the intellectual property when the employee moves on? How much company time should be devoted to the employee’s blogging, posting and tweeting?

In many cases, it would be foolish for management to discourage activities that bring in business leads and valuable connections. In fact, many employees are expected to produce content regularly, much like professors must publish regularly to keep their tenure.

The WSJ piece recommends establishing clear guidelines for the job requirements and ownership of intellectual property, but these would no doubt vary considerably depending on the type of brands and job positions involved.

In what types of executive positions do you see social media celebrity being a requirement? Where do you see the greatest potential conflicts between personal and company brands? What issues/successes have you seen in your own business sector?

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6 Comments on "Getting Your Social Media Stars Into Alignment"

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Ryan Mathews
9 years 6 months ago
This is a tough question. Obviously one can game the system, i.e., become a “social media star” without — if you’ll excuse a terrible pun — having any authentic or earned Klout. How you ask? Simple. Many, many people are promiscuous, “Frienders,” “Linkers,” and, “Likers.” My bet is you could make up an identity, a resume and invest a week and make any fictional character a star. The issue then is quality versus quantity and here the judgement gets very subjective very quickly. Obviously if you are hiring someone to work on your social media program it helps if they know the rules of the digital road. Ditto — perhaps — with marketing and/or advertising. Probably wouldn’t hurt in human resources either. The problem is, brand equity is hard to transfer. Building an individual franchise is often best accomplished at the ultimate expense of the, “sponsoring brand.” This is the age old problem of star making exacerbated to a degree never before possible. In a way, it’s a sort of corporate ouroboros — the more… Read more »
Ian Percy
9 years 6 months ago

In the book “Brains On Fire” Robbin Phillips, et al, describe this as “brand advocacy.” Word of mouth marketing campaigns aren’t haphazard, they are very deliberate, including ‘whose mouth and what is that mouth saying’?

If a brand can enlist an army of brand advocates committed to igniting “passionate conversations,” owning your piece of the market is virtually guaranteed. Brand advocates from outside the company are much more effective than those from within the company, even though having your employees proud and vocal about their work is a powerful thing.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
9 years 6 months ago

There are a number of issues: is the social media-connected person using his or her own name? Is the person making comments from an individual or company sponsored site? Is the person hired to be a spokesperson or is the person asked to make independent comments? Is the person making comments only about one company’s products? Does the person make it clear that they are working for someone else?

Only when these questions are answered can we begin to talk about who “owns” the content.

If an individual portrays a bias for one company or product consistently over time, their network is less likely to believe comments. The most reliable people will be those who demonstrate independence.

Anne Howe
9 years 6 months ago
Having been in a position working for a marketing agency, but with responsibility to help be the face for a specific industry segment, I have experienced the best side of this debate. As an executive employee, I did get the opportunity to build my own brand through the industry and social media. However, the accrued benefits were realized when potential clients of the agency would reach out to us through me, because I was very visible. My opinions on Twitter were my own, but industry facing not agency facing and my purpose was to share and increase the value of the discipline of shopper marketing to a broader audience. There was no IP debate to be had, as the belief that a rising tide raises all ships was in place. My twitter handle @ShopperAnnie became a key business asset as well as the name of my blog when I left the agency and became a consultant. My purpose has not changed. My tweeting and blogging and any other social media I partake in still follow… Read more »
Brian Numainville
9 years 6 months ago

It is indeed an interesting position to consider. On one hand, an individual that builds a significant presence on social media becomes a more valuable internal advocate for a brand. On the other hand, this celebrity status makes them more valuable to others as well, perhaps to advocate for their brand. And more than likely, the social media celebrity status remains with the individual. Bottom line is it behooves organizations to think carefully about how they build their social media presence. And while one could certainly build a fictitious identity, there is that whole transparency side of things.

Mark Price
Mark Price
9 years 6 months ago

Truly, I do not see social media celebrity as a requirement for any position. I guess it depends on the definition of celebrity. Someone who is experienced in reaching out to communities and consumers in specific groups with an authentic, credible voice is important across almost every position in a company, because every position is impacted by social media.

The conflict is between truth and perception, between reality and “spin.” For an employee to be credible, they must deliver the truth as they see it to the world around them.

The issues are when the employee’s perceptions differ from the official company line. The company must accept that difference in order to have a truly authentic employee voice, and how they deal with it will say a lot about that company.


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