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 breakup 300x295 When the Face of Your Brand Goes SplitsvilleIn 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)

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com/ Jason Falls

    Excellent discussion. I recently left an agency where some may have thought I was the social media “face” of things. Your points ring very true to me because A) I learned a long time ago, no matter how cool I think I am, I’m very replaceable. B) I had two very talented social media thinkers on staff that would take the ball and run with it (a bench as you call it, though I would argue they were team members, not on the sidelines). C) If anyone thought I was the agency or I was the only engine driving the social media part of the agency, then that was a perception problem, not a reality problem.

    From my perspective, it was probably better for me to leave so the agency didn’t have that perception issue anymore. But that begs the question, when it is a singular employee, even if you’ve tried to follow those points, what can you do to lessen that burden without the employee having to leave? I don’t know the answers to that and while you touch on it, I wonder if it doesn’t warrant more discussion.

    Would love to know what you and your readers think. How can Ford mitigate the fact that Scott Monty might leave one day, knowing it’s much more about the perception he is the public face through social media, than it’s a reality he’s the only guy there they can talk to?

    Interesting food for thought.
    .-= Jason Falls´s last blog ..Smart Targeting: Influencers Or Fans? =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      Thanks for the comment Falls. Indeed, you’re an excellent example of the company not falling to pieces because a main player left. Same thing happened when I left my agency.

      The perception point is critical, and I think it requires active efforts to get other people involved. Dell is quite good at this. Ford, not yet. But, Scott says we’ll be seeing more “faces” at Ford soon.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Excellent discussion. I recently left an agency where some may have thought I was the social media “face” of things. Your points ring very true to me because A) I learned a long time ago, no matter how cool I think I am, I’m very replaceable. B) I had two very talented social media thinkers on staff that would take the ball and run with it (a bench as you call it, though I would argue they were team members, not on the sidelines). C) If anyone thought I was the agency or I was the only engine driving the social media part of the agency, then that was a perception problem, not a reality problem.

    From my perspective, it was probably better for me to leave so the agency didn’t have that perception issue anymore. But that begs the question, when it is a singular employee, even if you’ve tried to follow those points, what can you do to lessen that burden without the employee having to leave? I don’t know the answers to that and while you touch on it, I wonder if it doesn’t warrant more discussion.

    Would love to know what you and your readers think. How can Ford mitigate the fact that Scott Monty might leave one day, knowing it’s much more about the perception he is the public face through social media, than it’s a reality he’s the only guy there they can talk to?

    Interesting food for thought.
    .-= Jason Falls´s last blog ..Smart Targeting: Influencers Or Fans? =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      Thanks for the comment Falls. Indeed, you’re an excellent example of the company not falling to pieces because a main player left. Same thing happened when I left my agency.

      The perception point is critical, and I think it requires active efforts to get other people involved. Dell is quite good at this. Ford, not yet. But, Scott says we’ll be seeing more “faces” at Ford soon.

  • http://www.jeffersonstolarship.com/ Jeff Stolarcyk

    The real question is what do you do when your face gets fired or parts on bad terms? In most of the big cases of this that have surfaced so far, it has appeared amicable. The first high profile case where it doesn’t is going to be the litmus test, because the community is going to do the same thing that personal communities do when there’s a bad breakup – circle around the wounded, build bulwarks and take sides. It has the potential to be a flashpoint.

    Of course, most people managing social on a big brand level are professional enough to keep their mouths shut (unless they’re really bitter).

    “Have a Bench” is the best advice here – and make sure that the bench is visible the whole time and interacting with the rockstar so that the move up is as seamless as possible.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      Good point Jeff. If your “face” goes all Michael Vick, there’s not much you can do other than to have other people ready to step up.

  • http://www.jeffersonstolarship.com Jeff

    The real question is what do you do when your face gets fired or parts on bad terms? In most of the big cases of this that have surfaced so far, it has appeared amicable. The first high profile case where it doesn’t is going to be the litmus test, because the community is going to do the same thing that personal communities do when there’s a bad breakup – circle around the wounded, build bulwarks and take sides. It has the potential to be a flashpoint.

    Of course, most people managing social on a big brand level are professional enough to keep their mouths shut (unless they’re really bitter).

    “Have a Bench” is the best advice here – and make sure that the bench is visible the whole time and interacting with the rockstar so that the move up is as seamless as possible.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      Good point Jeff. If your “face” goes all Michael Vick, there’s not much you can do other than to have other people ready to step up.

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuart Foster

    This is going to become a bigger issue as time goes on. Especially when a disgruntled community manager is up for contract negotiations or is fired.

    Granted, steps can be taken to limit damage…but damage will still be done. Will be interesting to see how some larger brands respond to this type of issue.

    For instance, what if Frank left Comcast Cares?
    .-= Stuart Foster´s last blog ..Search is Social =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      I agree. This is a bit of conjecture at this point, but probably not for long. Should we start a pool on when the first big community manager-type is going to leave? That would be entertaining!

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuart Foster

    This is going to become a bigger issue as time goes on. Especially when a disgruntled community manager is up for contract negotiations or is fired.

    Granted, steps can be taken to limit damage…but damage will still be done. Will be interesting to see how some larger brands respond to this type of issue.

    For instance, what if Frank left Comcast Cares?
    .-= Stuart Foster´s last blog ..Search is Social =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      I agree. This is a bit of conjecture at this point, but probably not for long. Should we start a pool on when the first big community manager-type is going to leave? That would be entertaining!

  • http://www.amydelouise.com/ Amy DeLouise

    This is a very important and often overlooked component of an SM strategy. Or not even a strategy but just the reality that a handful of employees become the “face.” My concern is companies that consistently think they still don’t need this face, so their response to your topic would be “see, we told you so.” (In fact I just read an article in a biz mag that recommended that all SM use be banned in the workplace! “Except for the lad who updates your profile.”) Just blogged on this at http://bit.ly/XOdqh and would value any ideas on how to bring along the late-adopters while still incorporating a game-plan for ensuring the loyalty is to the brand and not the face.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      You’re right Amy. This isn’t a social media issue per se, it’s just that social media spreads the face faster, and makes he/she perhaps more “accessible” than offline.

      I completely agree that any negativity along these lines give the doubting companies even more ammunition to turn their back on social media and humanization. Same thing with consumer-led crises like “United Breaks Guitars”. Companies who don’t really believe are going to use it a reason to support their position. Companies that do believe will use it support for their view of the world.

      Sounds like politics!

  • http://www.amydelouise.com Amy DeLouise

    This is a very important and often overlooked component of an SM strategy. Or not even a strategy but just the reality that a handful of employees become the “face.” My concern is companies that consistently think they still don’t need this face, so their response to your topic would be “see, we told you so.” (In fact I just read an article in a biz mag that recommended that all SM use be banned in the workplace! “Except for the lad who updates your profile.”) Just blogged on this at http://bit.ly/XOdqh and would value any ideas on how to bring along the late-adopters while still incorporating a game-plan for ensuring the loyalty is to the brand and not the face.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      You’re right Amy. This isn’t a social media issue per se, it’s just that social media spreads the face faster, and makes he/she perhaps more “accessible” than offline.

      I completely agree that any negativity along these lines give the doubting companies even more ammunition to turn their back on social media and humanization. Same thing with consumer-led crises like “United Breaks Guitars”. Companies who don’t really believe are going to use it a reason to support their position. Companies that do believe will use it support for their view of the world.

      Sounds like politics!

  • http://cts-online.net/ Jeanne B

    Great food for thought, Jay– Thanks!

  • http://cts-online.net Jeanne B

    Great food for thought, Jay– Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/patrickboegel Patrick

    To Jason and Stuart’s points which I think are intertwined, I guess I can only suggest at the moment because “social” is the hype and still all things relatively equal very new, the idea of losing a potential face is scary to an organization. But I think to Jason’s point it is a perception vs reality issue, at the moment that perception is carried by lack of seeing a change/shift. We are basically going to all be lab rats in scenarios of change.

    Stuart your mention of what happens when an employee leaves under bad circumstances, while not to be taken lightly, frankly it would behoove both parties to act mature and think before broadcasting their opinions on a separation. Ease of communication should not be a motive for carelessness on either side. It will happen, but it should not. No one stands to gain from that.

  • http://twitter.com/patrickboegel Patrick

    To Jason and Stuart’s points which I think are intertwined, I guess I can only suggest at the moment because “social” is the hype and still all things relatively equal very new, the idea of losing a potential face is scary to an organization. But I think to Jason’s point it is a perception vs reality issue, at the moment that perception is carried by lack of seeing a change/shift. We are basically going to all be lab rats in scenarios of change.

    Stuart your mention of what happens when an employee leaves under bad circumstances, while not to be taken lightly, frankly it would behoove both parties to act mature and think before broadcasting their opinions on a separation. Ease of communication should not be a motive for carelessness on either side. It will happen, but it should not. No one stands to gain from that.

  • http://www.radian6.com/ Amber Naslund

    Here’s what you nailed Jay:

    It’s about creating a social *organization*. How is this any different than the guy with the fat rolodex that ran your sales organization and then left? Or the killer client services person that left a company on bad terms?

    If you’re creating a CULTURE of social media intent, if you’re baking these ideas and notions into the very fabric of what you do, it doesn’t matter if that “face” walks out – any more than it did 20 years ago if you put all your hopes on your superstar sales guy. The culture will backfill the hole, and the community will have been initiated into the notion that the company *itself* believes in these things.

    One of the challenges Jason points out above is that it’s a perception problem, and he’s right. If you’re putting someone out there as your “social media or community person” and hoping they’re going to carry the responsibility and accountability for that, that’s a problem you’re creating for yourself. If you’re not putting that person in a position to affect culture and internal solidarity as much as you are brand evangelism, you’re missing the point entirely.

    Amber
    .-= Amber Naslund´s last blog ..March of Dimes® Selects Radian6 for Social Media Monitoring =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      Hi Amber. Thanks for the comment, as always.

      You are absolutely right. You cannot do social media at bayonet point. Period. If you don’t have a culture of humanization and of treating the customer as a peer rather than a pigeon, it’s not going to matter who leaves and when.

  • http://www.radian6.com Amber Naslund

    Here’s what you nailed Jay:

    It’s about creating a social *organization*. How is this any different than the guy with the fat rolodex that ran your sales organization and then left? Or the killer client services person that left a company on bad terms?

    If you’re creating a CULTURE of social media intent, if you’re baking these ideas and notions into the very fabric of what you do, it doesn’t matter if that “face” walks out – any more than it did 20 years ago if you put all your hopes on your superstar sales guy. The culture will backfill the hole, and the community will have been initiated into the notion that the company *itself* believes in these things.

    One of the challenges Jason points out above is that it’s a perception problem, and he’s right. If you’re putting someone out there as your “social media or community person” and hoping they’re going to carry the responsibility and accountability for that, that’s a problem you’re creating for yourself. If you’re not putting that person in a position to affect culture and internal solidarity as much as you are brand evangelism, you’re missing the point entirely.

    Amber
    .-= Amber Naslund´s last blog ..March of Dimes® Selects Radian6 for Social Media Monitoring =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      Hi Amber. Thanks for the comment, as always.

      You are absolutely right. You cannot do social media at bayonet point. Period. If you don’t have a culture of humanization and of treating the customer as a peer rather than a pigeon, it’s not going to matter who leaves and when.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    It’s not just social media, though – it’s any company that has a recognizable face as the “brand”. Look at Apple share prices after the false Steve Jobs heart attack report, for example, or Sony Japan when Ken Kutaragi had to “step down”.

    Put too much faith or emphasis on one person and you’re asking for trouble somewhere down the line. Share key duties; responsibilities; be public with the faces.

    No-one’s irreplaceable, but sometimes brands might find themselves overshadowed by the irreplaceable. Then what?
    .-= Danny Brown´s last blog ..Define Your Digital Footprint – Lacing the Shoes =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

      Great point about Jobs, Danny. Solid thinking as usual. Seems like most brands are beyond that cult of personality, but not all. What happens if Zuck leaves Facebook?

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    It’s not just social media, though – it’s any company that has a recognizable face as the “brand”. Look at Apple share prices after the false Steve Jobs heart attack report, for example, or Sony Japan when Ken Kutaragi had to “step down”.

    Put too much faith or emphasis on one person and you’re asking for trouble somewhere down the line. Share key duties; responsibilities; be public with the faces.

    No-one’s irreplaceable, but sometimes brands might find themselves overshadowed by the irreplaceable. Then what?
    .-= Danny Brown´s last blog ..Define Your Digital Footprint – Lacing the Shoes =-.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

      Great point about Jobs, Danny. Solid thinking as usual. Seems like most brands are beyond that cult of personality, but not all. What happens if Zuck leaves Facebook?

  • http://twitter.com/dunkndisorderly/status/4025421294 Duncan Birch

    interesting post from @jaybaer ‘When the face of your brand goes splitsville’ http://tinyurl.com/ogz6c3

  • http://twitter.com/thirstforwine/status/4025497289 Robert McIntosh

    RT @Dunkndisorderly: interesting post from @jaybaer ‘When the face of your brand goes splitsville’ http://tinyurl.com/ogz6c3

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com/ Jason Baer

    Lisa, I know where you’re coming from. I do. But my experience has been different. Sure, the precise skill sets of some people are not replaceable in that exact same combination. But organizations are much more resilient than we think.

    Probably instead of saying “everyone is replaceable” i should have said, “all departures are survivable”. That’s really what I mean. Like sticking your finger in a bowl of jello, the organization shifts and moves to fit the needs and talents of its personnel.

  • http://twitter.com/jteeter1/status/4026203908 Jim Teeter

    #twitter When the Face of Your Brand Goes Splitsville | Social Media … http://bit.ly/1f4jfN

  • http://twitter.com/jteeter1/status/4027387169 Jim Teeter

    #twitter When the Face of Your Brand Goes Splitsville | Social Media … http://tinyurl.com/ogz6c3

  • http://twitter.com/anthologymonica/status/4031922358 Monica Metz

    Interesting take on brand voice (individual or company?): When the Face of Your Brand Goes Splitsville via @ jaybaer http://bit.ly/HEWh5

  • http://twitter.com/anthologymonica/status/4031932788 Monica Metz

    Interesting take on brand voice (individual or company?): When the Face of Your Brand Goes Splitsville via @jaybaer http://bit.ly/HEWh5

  • http://twitter.com/kwand1/status/4056886959 Kwandi Jaya

    RT: @delwilliams: RT @ginidietrich: What happens when the face of your brand quits their job (by @jaybaer)? http://bit.ly/1qoLQ3

  • http://twitter.com/debdobson/status/4056987470 DebDobson

    RT @ginidietrich: What happens when the face of your brand quits their job (by @jaybaer)? http://bit.ly/1qoLQ3

  • http://twitter.com/nextwaveray/status/4057284325 NextwaveRay

    RT @ginidietrich: What happens when face of your brand quits job | http://bit.ly/1qoLQ3 | brand loyalty?

  • http://twitter.com/thefunkyagency/status/4058565401 The Funky Agency

    RT @jaybaer: Should you be concerned about the "face" of your brand bailing out to take a different job? http://is.gd/3iQ7a

  • http://twitter.com/thefunkyagency/status/4058565401 The Funky Agency

    RT @jaybaer: Should you be concerned about the "face" of your brand bailing out to take a different job? http://is.gd/3iQ7a

  • http://www.internalsocial.com Chad Swaney

    Grat points…I especially think that having a Bench, and key secondary players in place is key. For example, Steve Jobs has a very charismatic backup in Jonathan Ive, and has a very reliable bench in Tim Cook, although Tim Cook certainly isn’t Mr. Personality.

    The bottom line is to balance the benefits of having a prominent face behind your brand while still making sure there are other recognizable personalities

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  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com Jason Baer

    Lisa, I know where you’re coming from. I do. But my experience has been different. Sure, the precise skill sets of some people are not replaceable in that exact same combination. But organizations are much more resilient than we think.

    Probably instead of saying “everyone is replaceable” i should have said, “all departures are survivable”. That’s really what I mean. Like sticking your finger in a bowl of jello, the organization shifts and moves to fit the needs and talents of its personnel.