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Lee Odden

Brandividualism: Dilemma or Opportunity?

By Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

Many business owners and managers are perplexed by the social web. The effect of customer participation with social media on brands is undeniable. The effect of employee participation with social media can be a bit of a quandary.  The range of acceptance for social web activity runs the gamut from IT blocking all internet connections to sites like Twitter and Facebook to the expectation that every employee spend work and personal time as social media brand ambassadors.

Being social on the web isn’t natural for everyone and certainly not for every company. Once people and companies “get it” and develop processes, listening programs and overall strategy, social media policies tend to lighten up and move towards being productive vs limiting.

Some people really shine in their social web participation and companies often see increased social networking and engagement by individuals as an uncertain area. Some see building personal networks and attention as a threat to the brand that prompts questions as to whether individuals are simply building their own brand, (brandividual) on the company’s dime or are they acting as they should on the company’s behalf?

This issue has come to light several times in the past. As an example, there are some interesting arguments surrounding Forrester’s recent policy decision to limit staff blogging to non company topics. Forrester’s product is their IP, so they want to control what IP is released. At the same time, analysts discussing those topics on their own blogs can build more attention and awareness of the products Forrester sells.

The issue of corporate brand and brandividualism will only increase in importance. The real and perceived loss of control for managers has to be dealt with eventually.  Concerns from managers are totally reasonable since not all individuals promoting themselves and growing their networks during business hours are doing so with corporate business goals in mind.

On one hand, the employee is paid to promote the company brand. Because of so many opportunities for self promotion with corporate brand promotion, there can be “distractions”.

It’s essential that the company and employees acting on behalf of the company operate with a congruent vision and mutually agreed upon expectations.

Many budding brandividuals have an over-inflated sense of importance because of what they perceive to be end goal successes which are often more like proxies or stepping stones to what’s really important for a business.

For example: attracting friends/fans/followers, being mentioned by influential blogs, networking with other “known” digerati can seem uplifting to an individual that seeks increased visibility and credibility.  Those are important events, but they’re not the end goals that help companies make payroll. They’re a means to an end (revenue, brand, customer acquisition and retention). I think a lot of the folks that get “amped up” by social celebrity confuse notoriety with the ability to generate revenue.

Of course customers might become aware of a company’s services because of their social connection with a brandividual and may even stay with a company due to their relationship with that individual. But that’s not the issue I’m describing.

I did a post about the crack-like addiction to online fame in the SEO industry a while back, observing newer SEOs giving away loopholes and “secret” tactics to gain notoriety. Seeing fame as an end goal vs. a tool to extend brand exposure and shorten sales cycles created a situation in the Search Marketing world where individuals would focus all their efforts on becoming “known”, missing the business objectives entirely. “It’s hard to pay the bills with a pocket full of famous“.

On the other hand, empowering staff to become better known and influential with which to promote your brand can be a great investment. The employee gets something to take with them when that time comes (and it will eventually) and at the same time, they have more to work with when promoting your brand.

Some managers will look at such activity and try to control it. That’s not the productive thing to do in my opinion. Others will embrace it and encourage their staff to be all they can be to meet personal goals and company goals at the same time.

It’s critical to set expectations and have a strategic perspective of what the brandividual’s efforts are to achieve. Managers have to talk to these staff members and get involved with what they’re doing more than other types of company marketing. That’s a bit of a rub sometimes because executives hire community managers or digital marketing managers for the purpose of promoting the company because they don’t have time and expertise themselves.

I think in most cases, the best thing to do is keep in perspective that the stronger the brand of the individual that is tasked with promoting a business, the more reach and impact they may have. Getting exposure themselves will indeed benefit them personally, but if they’re doing so as a member of your brand’s “team” then it’s no different than an all star on a sports team drawing more attention to the team franchise.

What do you think? Does “brandividualism” put companies and their brands at risk? If you work at a company and have become a bit of a brandividual yourself, how has the company dealt with it? If your company has some “rock star” social media staff, how do you best empower them? Or does your company prefer to try and control such activity?


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