About three years ago, when I first started blogging and tweeting, there was one overriding benefit perpetually tied to social media. Now, it was proclaimed, you could “Humanize your brand.” In retrospect, I think this statement was interpreted broadly. Some people took this to mean that as a brand on social media, you should really only talk about yourself as a person and you should really only interface with other people as a person, not as a company. Other people began to create content that was deeply personal, even as they wrote on a blog site that bore their company’s name in the masthead. Still other people assumed that this meant tweeting from your corporate account but talking to people, on occasion, as if you were just your own person.
For me, it was the last interpretation that always made the most sense for companies. I translated “humanize your brand” to mean that you were acting like a person was visiting your office, just in an online digital environment. You would be personable and friendly. You would not shake the person’s hand and immediately say, “BUY NOW BUY NOW!” You would not have a person sit down in your office and recite a news release. At least we would hope you would not do that.
Some people have hedged far more into “personal” versus “personable” in the online world, however. I remember one of the first blog posts I ever read. It was from a fairly well-known person in the online world, and it was all about how she had been suffering physical abuse at the hands of her husband. She went into a lot of detail about the difficulties she had experienced, about how it had impacted her work life, and more. Her post got a lot of shares and comments (that’s how I came upon it), but I found myself wondering if writing a blog post like this – so personal yet so public – was truly a good business decision. How would you know that people would not look at you a little differently?
Let me use another example to better illustrate why wading into the personal can become complicated online. Let’s say you’re the president of a big company, well known in your industry as well as in the online world. You have been diagnosed with a serious disease and you decide to blog about your experiences as you deal with the disease and the various treatments to help you get better. While you might receive a lot of personal support, it is possible (unfortunately) that people will begin to wonder if you are fully committed to your business with all of this going on. Maybe they will start looking at other companies “just in case” things do not go well for you. Maybe they will worry that even if you get better, you will never be back to your 100% self. I think these worries explain a lot of the reasoning behind Steve Jobs trying to keep his battle with cancer quiet. Jobs was the face of Apple. If people had known how truly sick he was (and many guessed) Apple could have experienced significant problems.
If you’re in the online world on your own behalf, these kinds of concerns don’t weigh as heavily. But if you are associating your online presence with a company, personal versus personable is a significant distinction to make as you proceed. It is possible to connect with people without revealing your innermost secrets. It is possible to connect with people in a business setting by simply being cordial, in fact. It is possible, I think, that in the effort to be “personable,” some people reveal far more information than is necessary.
What is your take on this issue? Do you feel there are some cases where blog posts or tweets get way too personal for a business account, or do you think these kinds of journeys to the soul are important in today’s business world?
We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/2193827707/ via Creative Commons