Social Media best practices


Is social media the new corporate star-maker?

bewitched darrin

A few months back I did a fun interview with Susan Wassel, the social media voice for Sharpie pens.  Susan made me a believer. If you can bring pens to life over Twitter, just about anything is possible.

So here is a debate I have with my customers: Do you have a real person (like Susan) represent your company on social media or a corporate logo with a rotating line-up behind the scenes (like most companies)?

Susan represents the ying and yang of this argument.  On the positive side, she has built a faithful following of nearly 4,000 who tune in to hear the latest Sharpie adventures of her friends and family.  She is an enthusiastic, charming woman who has come to personify the brand online.

Now the downside.  Some day Sharpie Susan will move on.  Remember the feeling you had when they replaced the first “Darren” on Bewitched?   That was hard to take.  There was a pretender in the role.  I don’t want a SharpieKim or SharpieFred or even (gasp) SharpieDarren.  I want my SharpieSusan dammit.

This is the ultimate two-edged sword of establishing your company’s voice online.  What happens when a solitary person BECOMES the brand?  Where do all those followers go when your spokesperson leaves … and joins your competitor for more money?  Sure, the company will survive, but why make the investment in developing the talent when you don’t have to?  Avoid the risk.

If you’re a talented communicator with a great personality interested in being a corporate social media persona, this is great news by the way.  Becoming your company’s social media rockstar may be the ultimate job security.  Or, you might be sentencing yourself to social media hell. Do you really want to be the company Pat Sajak for the next 20 years?  Any way, we will certainly see a growing number of popular corporate bloggers whose importance and value to the company will grow exponentially.

To close the loop, my recommendation to my customers is to provide a real face to the world. Nobody wants to relate to a logo.  But I don’t have answers to the hard questions I’ve raised here, either.  Let’s hear from you on the subject …

The social media country club

monkey

I finally had time to read the Brogan/Smith book “Trust Agents.”  I thought it was “OK” at best – disjointed, repetitive, and even silly at spots (“much of journalism has a faux objectivism that can’t die fast enough”).   I think it’s a good book for social media newcomers.  But based on the take-your-breath-away reviews from the blogger community, I was expecting much more.

Why was my impression of this non-remarkable book so different than the biggest names in blogging?   Here’s my hypothesis:  The opinions were probably NOT much different than mine – but they just wouldn’t say so.  Why?  The “thought leaders” of social media marketing are a country club fearful of saying anything negative or controversial about another club member.  The real commerce of social media is trading favors and a negative comment breaks the favor chain.

Brogan and Smith express this importance of belonging when they write in their book: “be yourself, which is to say, ‘be one of us’.”   They describe the clannish protectionism of those at the top when they say “(newcomers) don’t realize that we all know each other, that we we recognize the new stranger in our midst …”

I understand the human nature present in this situation.  Someone who wants to make it as a blogger is not going to rock the boat with a powerful individual who can influence their success by turning favors.  We all want to belong. That’s the way the world turns.   So if somebody wants to be a sycophant, why should I care?  Here’s why.  The nicey-nice world of social media blogging creates problems beyond the walls of the country club:

1) Group think. If you are unfamiliar with this term, here’s a good definition.  Among the top social media bloggers, there is little or no substantial debate over ANYTHING.  Sometimes an individual outside the “inner circle” lobs a grenade, which is usually deflected by a member of the inner circle in defense. The result is that essentially everybody expresses and re-expresses the basic opinions of the leaders without serious challenge or innovation.

2) Myth-making.  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about social media myths.  The ideas I chronicled probably seem ridiculous, yet mantras such as “it’s all about community” have become foundational tenets of nearly every blog I read.  As I’ve entered this arena and observed participant behavior, I’ve been astounded by how many people tweet, praise and re-blog anything uttered by the primary thought-leaders, no matter how insipid. It seems Marshall McLuhan was wrong in this case. The medium isn’t the message. In social media, the messenger is the message.

3) Lack of credibility.  Take a close look at the credentials (if you can find any) of nearly any leading social media marketing “expert.”  How many have ever had a real sales job or have been actually accountable for delivering new value in a marketplace by creating, testing and distributing a product on a meaningful scale?   Very few.  Yet these are our marketing “gurus?”  In a communication channel already dominated by porn-peddling, get-rich-quick nimrods, it simply doesn’t help our collective credibility to have our most visible advocates spouting incredibly naieve statements about marketing fundamentals they know little about.

4) An infrastructure of angels. If you get to the point where you are huge on the social media scene, shouldn’t you be able to pull enough strings to constantly surround yourself with enough positive tweets, reviews and testimonials to bury any authentic complaint?  The real strategy of Trust Agents is to build enough goodwill to call in favors forever.

OK, so let’s not talk about what’s going on “out there” any more. Let’s bring it to the here and now, you and me.  What would better serve MY social media strategy … or yours?  To provide an honest opinion that might upset the favor-makers, or to join the country club?