A Line In The Sand: Personal And Professional In The Social World

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February 3, 2011
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heart on sandLEADING THOUGHTS It’s almost impossible to be effective in social media without adding a personal touch. The only reason I say “almost impossible” is because I don’t believe in absolutes and want to leave the door just slightly ajar for someone to come and prove me wrong. That being said, I haven’t observed many people who can do social media successfully and remain completely anonymous. Below are some reasons why this is the case.

Social media is relationship media. You won’t be able to form a meaningful relationship with a faceless brand on the other end. I’ve done studies proactively engaging via my personal account vs. company logo account, and the former was clearly advantageous to both: getting and retaining people’s attention. As Todd Defren pointed out in his blogpost this week, there are different reasons for engaging with a company logo vs. a personal photo. Bigger and stronger brands should absolutely engage as themselves, because that’s what their consumers expect. They expect to find a mix of company news, helpful tips and service (unless service is broken out separately), as well as for the brand to respond if he / she @ replies to them on Twitter. However, even for big brands, it’s important to have individual spokespeople. Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted this year that a technical resource within a company is the 2nd most trusted source (64% would trust this person), while trust towards the CEO increased from 31% to 50%. This evidence points to the importance of a strong individual evangelist to the brand’s credibility.

In addition, if you are tweeting under the corporate logo, I always recommend that you list the individuals behind the corporate Twitter account, because whatever its purpose is, there are probably people behind it, unless it’s an automated news stream). At the end of the day, people just want to connect with other people. Moreover, these Twitter editors should have their own profiles, where the community can connect with them.

You will be more effective in dissolving negativity and conflict. It’s easy for customers to get angry and start yelling threats to the company, unless they get serviced. Things can get spun out of control easily when you feel like you are yelling at a giant with no heart. However, when you realize that there are people on the other end, you become more “human” in your approach. In preparation for this article, I had the pleasure of connecting with Kira Wampler who handled the Intuit Small Business community. When they first started engaging on Twitter in 2008, 65% of sentiment towards QuickBooks was negative. ”I chalked that up primarily to what I call the “it’s easy to gossip about someone who’s not at the party” syndrome along with some product and support issues that folks were concerned about,” Kira shared with me. As the company progressed with its learnings of what works in the space, they learned that being a real, helpful person was the best way to neutralize negative sentiment online. In order to not come across like a faceless, anonymous big company, coming across as human was a key priority — in addition to being helpful, of course. “My avatar was always a picture of one of my children and me during that time. I regularly told folks that it was easy to say “f$%^ you” to Intuit the brand, but really hard to swear at the mommy and the baby. Especially when the mommy was helping,” says Kira. Of course, every case study is much better with numbers in it, and Kira was able to attest that over a 6-month period, Intuit moved sentiment towards the QuickBooks brand online from 65% to 35% just by engaging and being human. There you have it, folks! Right from the community manager’s mouth :)

Deciding that you will humanize your Twitter brand is step #1; however you still need to figure out the human part of this equation. Who will be the person(s) humanizing your brand, and what tools do they need to be successful? How do they balance their own personal brand with the company brand?

1)   Company brand and personal brand aren’t mutually exclusive. Any successfully social business understands that it’s important for the social employee to have a voice and an existing personal sphere of influence (hopefully in the subject area relevant to the company).  A socially-astute business will encourage its employees to develop their voices and grow their personal brands, with the personal brands and the company brand reinforcing each other.

2)   Understand and find balance for yourself and all your social employees. What’s balance? Well, you need to define it for yourself. Read this great post by Mitch Joel for inspiration. Work-life balance is very very subjective, so as a business, you should be careful about making assumptions on what balance means to others.

3)   Because your social business is run by people, you need to establish reasonable SSLAs, which benefit all parties involved: community, company, employees. SSLAs are social service level agreements – read this post by Jacob Morgan which offers a nice overview of what an SSLA is and isn’t. Did you establish an upfront expectation for service turnaround? What about product demos or any other pre-sales support? What about webinar registrations? What about [insert any other touchpoint here]? Setting realistic expectations that also please customers is key here. If you have people in every time zone, you can certainly offer 24×7 support, but if you have one person tweeting, you probably shouldn’t… Unless you get a giant vat of coffee hooked up to your veins. As a social business, you need to decide what’s reasonable to expect of your employees. If your employee doesn’t feel comfortable friending clients on Facebook, because he / she has photos of kids there, you need to respect that.

4)   Establish SSLAs as an individual. Individual SSLAs are like company SSLAs, but rather at individual level.  Careful balance has to be achieved between being there for the company’s community, as well as retaining a level of personal privacy. Privacy is an important and ever-evolving notion, which will only continue to gain mindshare. As the social employee, you need to decide how present and available you are in each network. Is Facebook for friends, or do you want to connect with everyone? Do you want to connect with people only after meeting them face-to-face? Have you thought through how you will turn people down (yes, diplomatic delivery does matter). What is your follow-back policy and how does it reflect the company’s outlook? Jeremiah Owyang spells this out upfront, and I personally need to create a statement like it for myself. Just like in company SSLAs, personal SSLAs are all about setting up and managing expectations.

Photo credit: Scarleth White

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February 3, 2011

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