Over the past 5 years of marketing for companies that I didn’t own, I would handle Twitter accounts other than my own, as, at the insistence of my CEO, “they didn’t want to see their staff’s stars rising on their dime”, thus relegating me to Twitter wallflower status.
I heard this one repeatedly last week from a company President who allows no social networking on business hours (read: real old school), and had a pretty practical reason saying, “Well if I let them build their own social networks around this business, they can just take that over to the competition at will”.
He’s not wrong. It could happen. So the question becomes, does the benefit of doing social networking “right” trump the threat of losing some of that value the instant one of your stars jumps ship.
My easy answer is, it really depends on the business you are in. An anecdote from my not so distant past provides a pretty good example of where the paranoid paradigm fails. While director of marketing at a startup, I and the rest of the marketing staff were living in what can only be described as a bars and all Twitter cage of our CEO’s making. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Despite heading a company that was building and promoting a social app, he and the executive team were nowhere to be found on social networks, never made a public peep and all sported those tell-tale “no-photo” avatars on the profiles they did have.
While not all companies HAVE TO let their sales and marketing people let their personalities shine in social media, when companies like the one I cite don’t, it should be an indicator to the market. The first problem is that it reflects a clear misunderstanding of what drives social networks. It’s people, not companies that engage. Not that you can’t have a company Twitter handle or Facebook page, of course they all do, but the personalities in front of the business are what drive the relationships that create the growth and success.
The equity the company gains through that is not dependent on the personality to survive. It may weaken slightly when key people leave, but if the company understands the symbiosis at work, and supports their employees in building their social clout they will retain ongoing value through the process.
And that’s the second big reason why the “I don’t want their star rising on my dime” idea is so wrong. Because people today understand the importance of these networks, personally and professionally. This is especially true of sales people, who fundamentally understand the power of relationships and trust. If you are really concerned about losing your sales person to the competition and their social network with them, then the best way make sure that doesn’t happen is by supporting their growth, and letting them shine. By corollary why would a sales person want to stay in a stifling environment that doesn’t allow them to build their clout and personal equity in the industry they are serving.
Now I know it’s weak to blame others, and while for my own part I certainly could’ve done more outside of work to build the old Twitter account, honestly, at the end of a day of marketing, the social web was one of the last places I wanted to hang out. But this is much less about me, and more about the role of personality generally in a corporate context. While I am still not a big tweeter, at this point, were I ever to return to the corporate fold (which I never will!) I don’t think I would be so ready to hand over my personal social networks to their service.
And so you see, it works both ways. If a company can’t see the value you in you giving your personal digital brand and network to the service of their company, do they even deserve you in the first place.?
So there we have it, another not so sacred cow slain at the hands of simple logic. Now fly birdy, fly, the cage is broken and falling to the floor.