Monday, January 05, 2009 Social Media Blunders that Can Destroy Your Brand

An interesting post by Wendy Piersall over at Sparkplugging discusses 10 Social Media Blunders that Can Destroy Your Brand. While I think it's a good post, I disagree with the second-to-last point (#9?): 

Show up as a company spokesperson, brand representative, sales executive, or anything else other than simply showing up as a real human being
...If you are going to show up in the Web 2.0 community for business reasons, show up as a person first. People don’t want to connect with brands, companies, or products. People want to connect with people.
 Yes, people do want to connect with people. However, I disagree that people don't want to interact with brands or companies. I think people are fine following brands and companies through means of social media if they know that's who they're following. It's all about expectations.

There are Four Levels of Social Media Involvement as far as businesses are concerned (I'm thinking mainly Twitter here, but I think the principles apply across the board):

1. The Deceiver - Mentioned in #3 of Ms. Piersall's post, these are companies that know social media can be beneficial, but go about it in an entirely errant way by being deceptive about it. For example, hiring people to go out there and secretly promote the company. Bad CMO! These companies don't grasp the point transparency, how crucial it is, and how when you screw it up it comes back to bite you. Hard.

2. The PR Printer - Their idea of using a blog, Twitter, digg, etc. is to pump out press releases. They are under the delusion that people want to hear their corporate speak. They are wrong. And while they may have a warm fuzzy feeling because they think they're "using" social media, nobody is listening to them.

3. The Rep - This person is assigned to take on social media responsibilities. Perhaps it's a PR team, brand rep...whatever. They know that content is king, produce good content and are open about who it's coming from. Inherently this person isn't as interesting as if he or she was the CEO, but their presence is still beneficial to followers/customers.

4. The Guru - This company has it down pat. They have someone in a position of real authority in their organization engaging personally in social media. This person provides relevant content on a regular basis and presents him or herself in a natural, likable manner. It's not just their company that understands social media, but the person producing the content really gets it.

Ideally, you want your company or organization to be at Level 4, but many companies at Level 3 have people who are interested enough about their company/brand that they are happy to communicate with a brand rep or PR person. This is because I'm interested in, and want to connect with, the brand and/or company, not necessarily the person.

An example of this is the team that writes Google's Gmail Blog. I don't pay attention to who writes it, nor do I care. I love Gmail and I want to know what's going on with its development, new features, etc.. 

That being said, no one should be ghost writing for the CEO, no matter how good the content is. And a company would be foolish to, say, try to buy diggs. However, if I know the blog I'm reading is:

1. From the PR team at X company
2. They tell me it's from the PR team - not trying to be deceptive
3. Producing quality content (Level 3)

... then great! While they aren't at a Level 4, they aren't damaging their brand either. In fact, I'd argue that they're building it.

As I said before, it's all about expectations.