Wednesday, July 22

Choosing Spokespeople: Social Media

Two posts, one by Doug Meacham, multi-channel retail consultant with IBM, and another by Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, struck a chord with me this morning. It seems to be a reoccurring conversation offline: communication folks, marketing professionals, public relations pros, and executives keep asking how they might keep their personal lives personal as their companies enter social media.

The short answer: you can't.

Once you are a semi-public or public figure, there is little chance of going back. As Brogan points out, it's a commitment. Part of the unwritten contract is that as a representative of a brand, you are always on and more people will want to connect with you.

It's also one of the reasons I took exception to the company attempting to sequester all of its employees into a social media marketing effort. Aggressive, disrespectful nature aside, not everyone is suited to be a spokesperson. And even those who are don't appreciate the consequences of being such.

While being semi-public or public might be part of the expectations for anyone in public relations or communications or leadership or any other job skirting the confines of celebrity, it's just not so for the greater portion of the population. Even among teens, who freely share personal information, they still maintain some semblance of privacy because their accounts have yet to be dialed in as a de facto company spokesperson. Their openness is often relative to association.

Choosing an online company spokesperson.

Choosing spokespeople or online representatives for a company is not all that dissimilar from choosing who might appear on the evening news, assuming they understand up front that the camera is on all the time. Here are a few quick tips:

• They have some authority with the company (even if outsourced)
• They are presentable, with better-than-average writing skills
• They are knowledgeable about the company and industry (or learn it)
• They are compassionate and make emotional connections
• They can write tight, without too much industry jargon
• They are familiar with the tools, communities, and customers
• They can establish positive experiences and remain steadfast
• They need to have a sense of what boundaries to set for some privacy

They do not always have to have the title of CEO nor do they have to be a recent college grad granted the title of social media director as opposed to public relations assistant. (I'm often amazed how many companies assign social media titles to new hires that the same company wouldn't trust on a television interview, but that is not to say some won't surprise you.) Above all, they need to understand communication from a strategic perspective while being able to execute that communication as a community developer who is willing to be semi-public if not freely public (even if they operate a team account).

Amber Naslund has been contributing a few posts on the subject of community. I would encourage anyone to read them. But there is something else I might add.

Two-way communication doesn't stop between a representative (in-house or outsourced). The information they glean from the community or customers can help shape other communication efforts and sometimes the products or services themselves.


Geoff_Livingston on 7/24/09, 4:25 AM said...

I would argue that you can set an expectation that you won't always be on. It's been tough for me to do this, but I think my followers get that no, I am not available on the weekend. Sorry. And that's just a healthy boundary.

Justin Kownacki on 7/24/09, 4:58 AM said...

Good advice. These days, being personal is part of the job description. No one wants to hear the "company line" when we now have the opportunity to interact with real people who can relate to us personally.

As long as a company has standards or guidelines in place for what their online representatives AREN'T allowed to say or do, giving them the freedom to be themselves will be a far more empowering experience all around, and that's what strengthens the bonds between a company and its customers.

Rich on 7/24/09, 7:24 AM said...


Absolutely, there are boundaries. Your boundaries might even be looser than mine. :)

I often cut off for the weekend too. But unless I am mistaken, I think Chris means representatives are always on when they are online (or, if offline, anywhere related to work).


Absolutely right. The company line doesn't hold water and personality can make a difference.

While healthy guidelines are always welcome, we've found that flexible context can sometimes be enough. It's no surprise to us that companies who do extend their social media presence to include more employees often back it up with an equally strong internal communication program.

My best to both of you,


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