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Who Should Represent Your Brand on the Social Web?

7 November 2011 BY

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Given that engaging on the social web can benefit your brand’s marketing, recruitment, PR, sales, customer service, and other departments, the question of ‘who should manage and represent your brand on the social web?’ will inevitably arise. The answer is, all of them.

I believe that all employees with a passion and interest in representing the brand should be encouraged to. Utilising the expertise and networks of the people within your business is incredibly valuable when it comes to engaging on the social web and is not something that can be easily outsourced.

It sounds obvious, but many businesses give a variety of social media responsibilities to the PR team, the tech team or external agencies, which is fine, but social media is not about using tools, it’s about extending your current business activities into the landscape of social media to identify opportunities. It should therefore ideally be the responsibility of the people within the business, assisted by those with experience in recommending tools and strategies to increase effectiveness and productivity.

The first step to creating an effective and sustainable social media strategy is creating an internal structure that makes the most of employee’s strengths and interests.

However, getting employees to engage on behalf of the brand is easier said than done, and there are many potential issues that need to be prepared for prior to jumping in. Remember that everything you publish on the social web represents your brand and adds to your brand’s online shadow, and this is why I believe businesses encouraging staff to engage should implement a social media council.

The power of having a Social Media Council

Given that the brand’s involvement in social media may benefit multiple departments within a company, it makes a lot of sense to have a social media council made up of a representative from each major department involved in the brand’s social media strategy.

The role of the social media council is to develop the guidelines, policy and direction to allow anyone within the business to represent the brand on the social web effectively and safely.

An example social media structure incorporating a social media council:

The collective wisdom of the social media council will be incredibly powerful, but without someone who can objectively absorb the social media council’s goals and provide a strategy that utilises the tools, networks and techniques available to achieve those goals, the council’s wisdom and power will not be used to its full potential. This is where I personally believe an outside expert or social media agency is best situated in a social media strategy (in most cases).

When the social media council and head of strategy have produced a carefully planned strategy and set of guidelines, it should then be safe and effective for employees to interact on the social web on behalf of the brand.

When you know who is going to represent the brand, the next step is how.

How to represent your brand on social media

One of the most commonly debated questions when brands enter social media is ‘how should we represent ourselves?’ With so many options to choose from it’s important to remember what your brand stands for and how you want to be perceived on the social web, because there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to setting up your profiles.

Do you want to ‘humanise’ the brand by getting employees to tweet from personal accounts, giving insight into their lives? Or does your brand need to retain its mystery and glamour by not presenting itself as overly ‘humanised’? Here are some guidelines, which are by no means factual but simply my perception of what different account structures suggest about a brand.

Account structure Impression that this gives the brand
Company account with anonymous person twe­­eting Impersonal, mysterious, corporate. Does not ‘humanise’ the brand. This approach works well for ‘mysterious’ brands that are not expected to be personal or accessible.
Company account with employees tweeting from company account Personal and gives the brand a ‘humanised’ element, but lacks insight into the lives of the people behind the company. Often results in an inconsistent mixture of corporate & personal tone / message.
Company account with fictional character tweeting Personal, fun and interactive. Lacks the human element, but if a brand is well associated with a mascot, this can be effective. WongaSEOmozand Compare the Market are great examples of brands using this approach.
Employees tweeting from personal accounts Highly personal and human, gives insight into the lives of the people behind the company, reducing the friction between the brand and customers.
Company account with employees tweeting + employees tweeting from personal accounts. Good balance of being personal, human, allowing people to develop relationships with the people behind the brand if they want to, but company account also maintains corporate feel.

The decision of which approach to take should be decided between the social media council, who will be able to make an informed decision on how the brand needs to be represented to achieve the goals outlined in the brand’s social media strategy. Here are several examples of different approaches that brands have taken, to give you inspiration on which may work best for you.

Example of a brand account with fictional characters tweeting on behalf of the brand:

Example of a brand account with employees tweeting (see left hand ‘tweet fleet’):

Example of a brand account with employees tweeting as well as from personal accounts:

Final thoughts

I asked some industry experts what their thoughts were on who should represent a brand on social media and how. A big thanks to Rand Fishkin and Luke Brynley-Jones who kindly shared their thoughts.

“I believe strongly in enabling authentic social media use by employees and encouraging those who want to participate more with the brand and community to do so. However, I’m not a fan of forced social contributions – for some folks, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ aren’t great public outlets.”

For that reason (and many others), I much prefer each brand to have its own, corporate voice that’s not uniquely tied to an individual. At SEOmoz, that brand voice is represented by Roger Mozbot, our mascot, and while many folks use the SEOmoz Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. accounts to publicly speak “as the brand”, they don’t identify themselves as such. It’s like getting into the Mickey Mouse costume at Disney World. As far as park attendees are concerned, you’re Mickey. Nothing more. And when you take off the suit, you should be who you really are.”

Rand Fishkinco-founder of SEOmoz

 

“Staff should be encouraged to participate in social media, but within a clearly defined framework set out by the company. The framework can be open (e.g. Zappos) or closely managed within a CRM process (e.g. Dell), but the bottom line is: it needs to be clear and understood from the outset. The question is: how can you leverage the personal knowledge and networks of your staff without either (a) courting PR disaster or (b) crushing them under brand guidelines and CRM Service Level Agreements? The answer is: carefully.”

- Luke Brynley-Jonesfounder & CEO of Our Social Times

 

Who do you think should manage and represent a brand’s social media presence? I’d be interested in hearing people’s experiences with different strategies, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter (my handle is @MarcusATaylor)

AUTHORED BY:
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Marcus Taylor is the founder of Venture Harbour, a company that specialises in digital marketing for the music, film, and game industries.
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