The Bad, The Ugly and The Good

An extensive piece on the future of business social media was published yesterday on the Buzz Bin. While a little too futuristic for the average marketing exec just trying to figure out social media, there was a very relevant section, which was a carry over from previous conversations about business social media and personality:

Like Shel, I also disagree with Forrester’s Josh Bernoff that companies can act as an entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity… Instead, personality must be infused into social environments. Identifiable people that work inside companies must represent the entity.

This strong stance finds it basis not in purists as Josh would state it, but because the social environment itself is inherently relational and community based. Without identifiable people to associate with, companies become inherently monolothic, relying on the brand identity to communicate. By its very nature, this is antisocial relying on something to build trust that even political pollsters know just doesn’t work – that’s corporate identities.

At bare minimum, corporations need to use an avatar or a personality to associate with the social media effort. For example, Nokia’s Mosh uses Russell the empty shirt and Goodwill of Greater Washington uses the Fashionista. In short @richardatDELL works a lot better than @DellCorp.

Here are some examples of personalities and why they work and don’t work…

The Bad


Ah yes, the suit. Mr. Safe and Corporate. Who trusts this guy (geez, these are my book photos)?

Point being, this shot was intended for book promotion to a community of business managers just trying to figure out what social media is. I mean, if its the Rayhteon blog targeted towards defense buyers, maybe, but otherwise, where’s the soul? It in its own right this photo is not ideal for social environments because its too stiff and formal.

Let’s be frank, would you rush to go talk to this guy in his office on your coffee break?

The Ugly


Oh yeah! The prototypical crazy blogger! This meets the general executive perception of a blogger, a member of an unruly horde. People are afraid of this guy. While it may get fans in some social media circles, this type of avatar is not likely to appease executives trying to bridge the gap between formal corporate communications.

The Good


Finally, a happy medium. Turkish coffee in Aswan Egypt is quite good.

This is the persona of a real person, an identifiable person, the fellow next door, that you would talk to on a coffee break. Real enough to socialize with, yet refined enough to engage in a conversation.

There is no one-size fits all approach to corporate personalities in social worlds. What’s most important is that conversational marketing include it. With personality comes a sense of authenticity, rather than an ivory tower that people think may screw them over for a profit.

Rohit Bhargava has an excellent book coming out on this topic, “*Personality not included.” Parties interested in this topic should pre-order it today.

6 Replies to “The Bad, The Ugly and The Good”

  1. Good post Geoff, the first couple of chapters of Chris Locke’s Gonzo Marketing cover this subject really well.

    Most companies have worked so hard on getting the brand voice to fly that they have forgotten about the corporate voice. Now that more people are working on the idea of a parent voice/personality for the brand, the rules have changed.

    However, I still think there is something to say for building a suporting framework around company bloggers and having a company blog – but please staff it with real people.

  2. I like how you articulate that customers prefer to deal with a person than with an entity. As I wrote recently, corporate social media is difficult to do because in the process of getting buy in, group think and average wins over voice and opinion. It may be a lot easier to respond as a faceless corp. than to look at a person in the eye – the person connects, the entity is just that, a vessel. Can we please populate that with people? We like people.

  3. Thanks for the book mention, and for the great post. One of the points I try to make in the book which relates well to your idea is that faceless companies have people and authentic companies have individuals. The challenge for every brand is to find a way to encourage those individuals to contribute to the brand while retaining their own voices. Brands that can do that are the ones that manage to have a personality.

  4. You said:

    Without identifiable people to associate with, companies become inherently monolothic, relying on the brand identity to communicate. By its very nature, this is antisocial relying on something to build trust that even political pollsters know just doesn’t work – that’s corporate identities.

    My response: it’s not just blogs. Companies relate in a bunch of ways, forming communities, for example.

    And when I say companies can communicate, I don’t mean they should avoid spokespeople. But those spokespeople are not speaking for themselves, they are speaking for the company. Direct2Dell is not Lionel’s Menchaca’s blog, it’s Lionel’s blog FOR DELL.

  5. Andrew: Agreed. Guidance is good, and anyone who engages in social media should have tools to help their employees figure out how to engage.

    Valeria, Rohit: Amen.

    Josh: Even in communities, you need someone to participate. Everyone knows spokespeople act for a company, yet your post suggests that companies don’t need personalities acting for the company. And that’s just wrong. Sorry.

    Without someone to talk to, without a human to identify with, it just doesn’t work. In that sense, a PR background is necessary because the discipline by its very nature is relational (and not one-way as your post would suggest).

  6. Hi there Geoff

    Thanks for the call out. Of course Lionel, John, myself and others speak for Dell, but we are not inanimate @dell objects. We are people.

    We change our pictures, we joke, we get serious as company spokespeople, we find others in the company to help us out when we run into someone with an issue we are not qualified to answer…and does that not add up to one of the truly great benefits of “web 2”. Its people connecting with people and humanizing companies. Its why I have my photography on my blog and flickr. @dell would not likely go there in its corporate and brand persona.

    Just today I had BarakObama start following me on twitter. Come on? We know that is BS. Its certainly not likely to result in the kind of human relationships we have been building, nor does it foster the kind of dialogue I have with other real people — good and difficult. BUt even the difficult ones are still two people connecting.

    Rohit has a great point about faceless companies have people (or objects) and authentic companies have individuals. And to flip that point a bit, from working inside a company, its kind of fun to let loose and be real authentic too.

    great post Geoff

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