Community Management, Social Media Strategy, Brand Communities, Personal Branding, Social Media Marketing

When the Face of Your Brand Goes Splitsville

Are you putting all your eggs in the basket of a single person?

I talk a lot about social media being about people, not logos. And as more and more communities find success by emphasizing their humanity, the sensibility of that approach is taking root.

But without fail, every time I speak about humanization and social media in a training workshop or at a conference, I get the same question:

“But what do we do when this person we’ve built around leaves the company?”

social media breakupIn fact, Paul Miser wrote an excellent blog post on this topic recently, using Scott Monty from Ford as an example. (Twitter interview of Scott Monty located here)

Paul asked in his post:

“What if something happens with your social media champion or your social media personality? What would happen if they left your company? If the followers are, in fact, loyal to the company, it won’t make that big of a difference. They will just begin a new relationship with your next social media champion or personality. But what if their loyalty was with the social champion or personality?”

5 Ways to Protect Your Humanization Program

While I don’t believe the humanization approach is entirely risk-free, here are the five reasons I’m not alarmed.

1. It’s Not Always an Employee
In the case of Scott Monty at Ford (and several others), the human “face” of the brand is in fact an employee. But that’s not required. The point of social media being about people, not logos isn’t to create a social media spokesperson. It’s to make the company more interesting and memorable and approachable. Sometimes you can do that with an employee. Other times, by showcasing customers. Or business partners.

Further, the humanization approach doesn’t really work until you understand the soul of the company (as Spike Jones from Brains on Fire calls it). I call it the “One Thing” and it’s what really differentiates your company. Not features. Not benefits. Not the head. The heart.

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Similarly, humanization in social media is the window to the soul of the company.

2. Broaden the Burden
A humanization strategy isn’t always just one human. True, Scott is more or less the face of Ford, but other companies (Radian6 and Dell come to mind), have several people building personal connections in social media on behalf of the brand.

Truly, if you have a large enough staff and enough passion for social media, you’re much better off getting multiple people involved, and having each of them focus on a different social outpost. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, blogging, blog commenting, social media monitoring, vertical speciality communities, etc. Each of these is enough work for one person to babysit, and trying to have just one person cover all those bases is not scalable.

3. Have a Bench
This is true of any staffing and personnel matter. You have to expect the best, and plan for the worst. Know whom on your team you would elevate if your primary face in social media left. Remember, passion trumps position in social media, so know who in your company loves social connectivity before figuring our your succession plans.

4. Symbiosis Equals Loyalty
Scott knows that he’s a bigger deal because he’s at Ford. Ford knows they benefit from Scott’s hard won social graph. It’s mutual success. It’s similar to the way reporters for traditional media outlets operate. A good portion of those journalists’ influence is derived from the longstanding reputation of the media entity they represent. If they leave, they are no longer working for The New York Times, or Arizona Daily Sun. They are just a writer with a laptop.

Consequently, I see the most likely scenario for trust agents to leave is to start their own company. Similar to how Jeremiah Owyang left Forrester recently to join Charlene Li at Altimeter. He clearly had a great gig at Forrester, but the opportunity to do your own thing is a strong incentive. But, most social media “faces” will not have (nor will want) an opportunity to strike out on their own.

5. Everyone is Replaceable
Would Ford hit a speed bump in social media if Scott left? Probably. But not for long. If one door closes, just build another door. The company can bestow the halo on a new person. Would Scott still be popular in social media even if he wasn’t at Ford? Sure. He was popular before he took the job. But Ford could make someone else nearly as popular – hell maybe even more so – if they needed to. So could you.

Having a face on your brand is critical. Having that face be the same person forever would be great, but if it doesn’t happen, I don’t see it as a deal-breaker.

How about you?

(photo by Kerosene Photography)