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Companies have traditionally branded themselves with fictional characters that represent products or services (think the Brawny man or Mr. Peanut). These classic symbols function as the personalities of the brands and a brand character is often the first association people make with the product or service.

But social media is changing this dynamic. Consumers now are using blogs, forums and social networking sites to interact with each other and their favorite brands. In a quest to communicate on a more personal level, companies are increasingly speaking through the voices of actual people rather than their fictional spokesperson ( Ford’s Scott Monty and Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh).

Which brings us to this week’s question:

How do we strike the balance between brand personality and having a personality as your brand?

CHRIS:

Brands stand to benefit greatly from personal representation on social networking sites. People in these spaces are accustomed to interacting with people, not corporate beasts. People identify better with a single person who they can actually get to know. A face and a logo can act to represent the brand in a way that consumers can relate to on a personal level.

AMANDA:

Sure, a company should try to reach out to consumers on a personal level. No arguments there. BUT a business should not depend on a single person to act as the brand identity for the entire company. There’s too much at risk. People make mistakes. They change companies and they’re not invincible. Using human faces and personalities to support an existing brand campaign works great – look at Apple, Inc. , for example. The company has long built its brand on being the forward-thinking, ground-breaking, “cool” technology company.The Get a Mac campaign portrays Apple as cool, young and trendy, while PC is a middle-aged, stuffy guy.

In 2006, Apple launched its “Get a Mac” ad campaign, portraying Macs (young, well-groomed actor Justin Long) as cool and trendy and PCs (a middle-aged, husky guy with glasses) as stuffy and outdated. Putting a face to the Apple brand – and putting that face next to a stereotypically “dorky” one – helped reinforce Apple’s outstanding brand image, but it wasn’t the only campaign the company had going. Ads featuring the new iPods ran in conjunction with the Get a Mac launch, and the company continues to air ads that focus solely on the product’s “cool and trendy” technology. Using people to support the brand is a great strategy, but basing a company’s entire reputation on one person is just plain dangerous.

CHRIS:

Apple is a great example of a company that’s fostered a community to support its brand. The “Mac” character in the popular commercials has helped Apple create a dedicated following of real people interacting in the online world. It’s these REAL people who enhance Apple’s branding efforts, and something the company counts count on when releasing new products (CEO Steve Jobs is a master at using secrecy to spawn excitement for Apple’s announcements.)

Not every company is lucky enough to have this kind of loyal following though. Companies looking to establish a community are smart to employ a specific individual with the task of interacting with REAL people online. In the SM space, too many brand symbols can be confusing, and a corporate identity can seem contrived. Though fostering an Apple-esque community is ultimately the responsibility of an entire department (be it Marketing/PR/Advertising), the brand’s voice needs to be a personal one – what better way than to make this be the voice of an actual person?

AMANDA:

Yea, but if you’re depending on a single person’s voice, you have to be willing and ready for the worst possible scenario. One of my favorite examples of the danger in celebrity endorsement is the Beef Industry Council – this group seems to have some bad luck picking spokespeople. James Garner seemed like a great choice – I mean, who doesn’t like Darby’s Rangers? The campaign was going great… until it got out that Garner had quadruple-bypass heart surgery while promoting the wonders of artery-clogging protein. Yea…

So the Beef Council took another stab at branding with spokeswoman Cybill Shepard. What could go wrong? She’s a respectable, healthy Southern woman… who let it slip that she doesn’t eat meat. Strike two.

I’m not saying Sharpie should drop its popular Sharpie Susan because there is a slight chance she might go to rehab for marker-sniffing or announce she favors Crayola. I’m saying be careful how many eggs you put into your person-as-a-brand basket.

CHRIS:

The Beef Council is an excellent example of how personalities can destroy an organization’s image. But personalities can help a brand just as much as Garner and Shepard hurt their brand. Think Jessica Simpson rep-ing proactive, Jared the Subway guy or Charelton Heston acting as the President for the NRA (though some NRA members may disagree on this).

BUT…. In the scheme of things, these mega personalities (read: celebrities), don’t help foster the relationships that REAL people do. I’ll use one of my favorite brands to prove my point.

Pandora Radio is a unique online music service that plays “only music you like.” The company has fostered a fairly significant online community with >32,000 followers on Twitter and >111,000 fans on Facebook, thanks to a team of online marketers and IT folks. But the effort is headed by one person, Lucia, who balances her personality with that of the brand. By letting one person champion all online interactions for the brand, Pandora has allowed Lucia to establish human relationships. For me, this personal interaction is much more significant than any engagement I could have with a logo.

AMANDA:

I think it’s great that you and Lucia are so close, Chris, but I have to assume that with more than 32,000 followers, she can’t be making these personal connections with everyone. There just isn’t enough time. And if her face is the face of Pandora, what happens when she decides to leave? Does the Pandora personality and its credibility go with her? What if she just needs a break – managing an entire SM marketing campaign must be stressful – does the team take over on her accounts? Then you open a whole new can of worms with the ghostwriting issue.

It’s more consistent to create a brand identity that is not that of a real person. Such an identity has no expiration date and allows more people to help manage brand communications. With more people working on the account, you can build a more effective brand personality. I don’t know about you, but that cute little gecko has about as much personality as any person I know, and I would totally follow him on Twitter. The random Allstate woman? Notsomuch. No offense, but her face means nothing to me except “MARKETING.”

But obviously we’re on two separate pages as usual, Mr. Sledzik. I wonder the readers think?

Social Media’s all the rage. But is it keeping you from what you’re supposed to be doing?

We know this new technology isn’t the end-all-be-all of the PR/Advertising world, but it is significant. So much so, that some companies are hiring SM specialists to focus solely in this realm. But where does that leave the rest of us? Should we ignore our Twitter and Facebook feeds during the day? Is it wrong to read or <gasp> write a blog post between the hours of 9 and 5?

Is it wrong to use SM on company time?

chris prompt

CHRIS:

If you’re in PR, you’re responsible for your company or client’s reputation. This means knowing what people are saying about you and your brand. SM is a great place to start, especially if you operate in the consumer market. And while most PR/Marketing Communication agencies now have full-time staffers devoted to SM “listening,” many companies still avoid the SM playground for various reasons.

But why? Don’t they understand the value of monitoring sites like Twitter and Facebook? Can’t they see the value in the early warning systems of Google Alerts, or the ROI a company can gain from engaging in industry specific forums and wikis? In my eyes, it’s the role of the PR professional to be aware of these opportunities and train employees on how to take advantage of them. Social Media is about engaging with external audiences, and in my eyes, that’s the essence of public relations.

amandafaceAMANDA:

I’m not here to argue that any communications professional should ignore social media – that would just be irresponsible. Like Motrin learned from the mommy bloggers, social media is just as important as any traditional communication forum. It just takes a spark to start a wildfire, and it’s important for us to monitor what is being said about our companies online so we can address any issues before they become full-on disasters.

I will argue, however, that there is a fine line between effectively monitoring social media and letting it take over your workday. What were you hired to do? More and more companies are creating social media positions – a good idea for companies that have the resources, in my opinion. But for those at companies that haven’t jumped on that train yet – how much of your workday should be devoted to SM?

CHRIS:

While it may not appear specifically in a job description, we’re all charged with professional development throughout our careers. Over the course of five years with a company, you should not only by knowledgeable about how that company does business, but also learn more about your role and how to do it more efficiently and effectively. While management and supervisors can be great sources of wisdom and experience, an infinite amount of information is only a few clicks away – and with SM, it’s now specific and personal.

For instance, I subscribe to a number of professional newsletters and blogs that give me invaluable information specific to my job. Suggestions that help me do my job better, quicker and cheaper. Should I forgo reading these blogs on company time because they also help me personally? Not happening (and I think my employer would agree). The trick here, is looking at Twitter feeds and blog rolls through the lens of my position as the company’s communicator. I ask myself, is this relevant to my job and how can I apply it? If  it doesn’t apply, I tag it for after hours.

balance-scale

AMANDA:

Absolutely. If you grow as a professional, chances are your company will benefit – however, I think this gets tricky with social media. The fact is, social media was meant for people to engage, well, socially. Yes, professionals interact via SM constantly, and I’ve learned a lot from watching what these experienced pros say on their blogs and Twitter pages. It just seems like a slippery slope – there is virtually no hard line between what could and couldn’t be considered ultimately beneficial to your work productivity.

But, as important as my boss thinks online media is, I wasn’t hired to grow an online presence – neither mine nor the company’s. Do I ignore social media during the workday? Not at all. I have Google alerts and SM keyword searches on my company’s brand and I absolutely RT when someone tweets a positive message about the company or product. But I can’t justify focusing on social media – even if it could be considered beneficial to the company – at the expense of my assigned responsibilities.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go above and beyond what we are hired to do – I am definitely not saying we should ignore SM or not consider what other ways we could advance our client or company. I guess all I’m trying to point out is that, as sexy as SM is, we need to make sure we aren’t sacrificing performance or efficiency in our assigned roles in favor of social media management.

CHRIS:

I’ll agree that engaging in SM while at work is all about time management, and finding a balance is definitely tricky. But ultimately, I think the PR pro is better off engaging throughout the day as the potential ROI for the company is too big to be ignored (so long as the day-to-day tasks are still being completed).

But it looks like we’ve got another sticky one here. And another one people can relate to, considering most are probably reading at work. But we want your input. With less than 4 years combined experience, Amanda and I realize our words only carry so much mustard. So, let us know what you do. Or maybe more importantly, what your employer demands you do. (FYI, if the comment box doesn’t appear below, click on the top title of the post then scroll down.)

The Internet, no doubt the most significant technological advancement in the 21st century, brought countless new forms of communication that connect people around the globe. Email, chat rooms, blogs and other Web tools allow us to connect with people from places we have never seen and might never even go to. People with common interests build online relationships without ever meeting face-to-face and online dating is one of the Internet’s biggest and highest-grossing industries.

Of course, we also interact with friends, family and others whom we know “In Real Life” via the Internet. Facebook, the most popular of all social networks, allows us to find and keep in touch with former colleagues and classmates. But is posting a message to a friend’s page as personal as a phone call or lunch date? Do we ignore our “Real” relationships for online buddies? In other words…

Is social media making us less social?

amandafaceAmanda:

This clip from the movie Wall-E is all too close to reality for me (you only need to watch about 30 seconds from this link to get my point). We are so consumed by electronic communication that we are losing touch with actual person-to-person interaction. I’m guilty as well – I feel incredibly lost and awkward if I leave my cell phone at home and go in public alone. But sometimes I think we are so caught up in our digi-lives that we forget what REAL interaction feels like.

chrisface2Chris:

IMO, social media isn’t replacing “real life” communication so much as it is facilitating interactions that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Between mobile Internet devices and applications designed to run in the background (a la TweetDeck), professionals engaging in social media are making the most out of their time — and making the most of their “self-diagnosed ADHD“. Although responding to tweets or commenting on a blog post isn’t as rich as F2F interaction, I don’t see folks canceling meetings because they’re too busy updating their Facebook page or growing their online network.

Amanda:

I agree growing your network is extremely important, but quality still trumps quantity. I might be connected to potential employers via social media, but if I don’t do anything to build those relationships, what does it matter? It’s great we’re able to meet people around the world online, but until there is some quality, one-on-one effort, do you really feel connected to an avatar? SM is a good icebreaker, as Chuck Hemann pointed out in a comment on our first post, but if you don’t build on every relationship, what’s the point? You might have 14,789 “buddies” on Facebook, but how many would you actually call your friends?

Chris:

Though don’t yet have 14,000-some FB friends, I do admit that the age of information overload is upon us, and it applies to social networking just as much as it does to digital content. As the number of SM adapters continues to grow, the number of people bombarding us to “connect” will also grow. But I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Granted the ratio of quality relationships to total connections will always be fairly small, value comes in two distinct forms: 1) the sheer number of leads that can come from a large online network (think the long tail) and 2) the few digital connections that proliferate IRL that wouldn’t have happened without SM. Though it’s impossible to build on EVERY connection, it may just take one relationship to make a difference.

Amanda:

Okay, I agree there are a few cases when social media is the best way to connect without being too creepy. Facebook is a great way to “see” friends who have moved away or to semi-stalk your ex to make sure his new girlfriend isn’t that cute. HOWEVER, I think social media is making us lazy in too many of our relationships. Yea, I could call my high school friends to see what they did last weekend, but I won’t. It’s a lot easier to just visit their SM pages, read other people’s comments and click through their photo albums. I know I’m not the only one who “keeps in contact” with most of her old friends this way, but I bet I’m also not the only one who gets mad at herself for limiting these friendships to online “interactions.”

Chris:

I have nearly 800 friends on Facebook – a virtual collection of people I’ve met F2F at least once. But connecting with these folks through social media doesn’t weaken our relationships. Interaction in the online world allows me to stay on top of what my friends and family are doing without a phone call. I can see pictures from my friend’s vacation hiking in the southwest, and get a better idea of how the vacation went then I ever could from a phone call. Then I can follow up with a phone call and and talk about the pictures.

But the best part about SM, is its ability to connect me to people I might otherwise forget. I’ll be honest: I’m not always going to take the time to call my second cousin, or the guy who lived down the hall from me sophomore year, but if I see they’ve posted pics on Facebook or tweeted something cool, chances are I’ll check it out and send them a note – it’s not the most genuine of connections, but more than would happen otherwise.

Amanda:

Yea, SM lets us make many more connections than we otherwise would, but using social media is much different than depending on it. I think this Coleman ad campaign says it perfectly – it reminds us what social interaction should be. While I’ll probably never give up my SM addiction (a minor problem, compared to some), I still say I’d rather fully immerse myself in the experience and enjoy life than tweet about it all the time, thinking other people care. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I can have a million followers but if my strongest relationship is with my laptop, I won’t be happy. Maybe you see things differently, but I still feel too much social media gets in the way of Real Life. I say put down the Blackberry and wherever you are, be all there.

Chris:

While I’m not here to debate my social media addiction (let’s just say I’m definitely in Amanda’s “some” category), I will maintain that these tools ultimately foster relationships more than they destroy them. Like the folks in the Coleman ads, I too like to live my life deliberately, but I see emerging digital communication platforms as tools to help me do so.
image courtesy of Marketing Weblog & singlemindedwomen.com

As the traditional 9-to-5 workday collapses and we begin to share more of ourselves through social media sites, the line between our personal and professional lives is being drawn thinner every day. We are constantly trying to balance our personal and professional relationships on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, raising the question of how personal our personal branding should be. Even President Barack Obama chimed in on the debate, warning the nation’s youth “to be careful about what you post on Facebook … in the YouTube age.”

For our first-ever Budding Heads PR post, we ask the question:

Should you censor your online personality for the sake of your professional life?

Chris:  Trying to separate your social online persona from your professional online image is not only impossible, but will result in a lack-luster personal branding effort.

chris promptI’ve wrestled with the term “personal branding” for a long time and am finally deciding to make a stance on how I feel about these two words: THEY’RE STUPID.

While I understand the value of creating a consistent “brand” in the traditional marketing sense of the word, applying this idea to oneself is hypocritical and inauthentic. To me, creating a “personal brand” means deciding who others want you to be and trying to portray that fictional persona to the world.

Often, for young professionals, this means hesitating to share on social networking sites. It means de-tagging pictures on Facebook and making sure your LinkedIn profile picture is a snapshot of you in job interview form.

But why? Why try to be someone you’re not? Aren’t you good enough being JUST YOU?

I am who I am, NOT who I say I am. (And, no, I’m not trying to be Eminem *profanity warning on link.) Granted that perception is reality, as a young professional entering the digital landscape, my words and actions will shape these perceptions. What I do defines who I am. Nothing I say can change that.

My point is that actions have always and will always speak louder than words. If you’re doing one thing and saying another, you’re not transparent, thus breaking one of the cardinal rules of Grunig’s Excellent Public Relations.

Ultimately, the falsified personal brands will be seen for what they really are. Rubish. But that’s to say that folks who are creating a false sense of themselves are even noticed. All too often, young pros fail to take advantage of the personal and professional networking opportunities in SM. If they do engage, they have their trigger finger on the delete & de-tag buttons, fearing that what they do in their personal lives will haunt them in their professional lives.

I say: Get Real.

To me, refraining from being yourself in the online world is like censoring your life. Doctoring your thoughts and actions online to fit into some type of SM normalcy is a bad move. This type of personal branding (READ: life censoring) will leave a young pro lost in a sea of SM celibates, appearing uninspired or unaware of the importance of online networking.

Engage intelligently, but engage authentically.

Amanda: Controlling one’s social media image is necessary to maintain personal integrity and the respect of both professional and personal colleagues.

amandaIt’s okay, Kanye, we all make mistakes.

Tales of public figures’ youthful mistakes have been scrutinized for centuries – think Washington and the cherry tree – but new technology will cement this generation’s mistakes online forever.

When we were kids, gossip was word-of-mouth hearsay, whereas today’s kids can prove who kissed whom at Sarah’s party – with pictures. Students interact with friends via social media, but they are also sending that information to the world when they click “upload.”

This idea applies to all of us – would you show your mom that pic of you bonging a beer?  Do you want a potential employer’s first impression of you to include a “sexy cat” costume? Do you think anyone WANTS to know that chili at lunch gave you heartburn?

Of course, there are countless examples of people getting into trouble because of social media  . We’ve all heard ‘em – and most of us realize posting pictures from Halloween that just happened to be the same day you were “sick” is a bad idea.

When it comes to making questionable decisions, I’m guilty as any college student. Do I have fun with my friends on weekends? Sure. But do I want my boss to see on Twitter that I’m “nursing an AWFUL hangover”? No, thanks. (You can bet I’ll be whining to someone, though.)

And what if someday you become more than just another person, but a public figure? If your not-so-proud moments are embedded in the Web, there’s a better chance than ever they will come back to haunt you. Michael Phelps found that out the hard way.

I’m not saying we should take our personalities completely out of social media, but we need to make sure we’d be comfortable letting anyone and everyone – in our professional and personal circles – into our lives. If you can maintain your integrity with that post or picture, go for it.

Last point I’ll make: Those annoying social media mavens – the ones who post every 5 seconds about where they are or what they’re eating – doesn’t it seem a little egotistical? Do we like to just hear ourselves type? Maybe I’m missing something, but is there anything wrong with a little self-censorship?

images courtesy of : atr.org & valleywag.gawker.com