Who’s Behind the Avatar?

My friend Toby Bloomberg is collaborating with John Cass to ask a question about transparency – namely, what sort of transparency needs to be in place if “outside” agents are feeding social media content for a client brand?

From Toby’s blog post:

Social media is a hungry beast that to succeed demands content…PR agencies, advertising agencies and social media consultants are seizing an opportunity to carve a service niche from their time pressed, staff starved clients. Yes, the agencies are stepping in and taking over the role and responsibilities of implementing social media initiatives….but unlike an ad campaign or dropping a media release where no one really cares what name you use, social media is supposed to be different. Tweets and posts are supposed to be from the real people who are working for the brand…However, since on Facebook and often on Twitter “no one knows your name” seems to be the acceptable norm, 2010 will see more. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just fact of social media marketing life? Does it really matter?

I’ll toss in a few brief thoughts:

1. Since there is an expectation set currently in place with social media (real people interacting with real people), and since violating that expectation leads to a lot of unwanted on-line attention, it’s not wise for a brand to play “let’s pretend” in social media platforms – at least, currently.

2. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing expertise to “feed the beast.” Life is full of outsourcing. Just be honest about it.

3. I’d recommend that brands who outsource the maintenance of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. establish a “brand” identity on those platforms instead of trying to pretend that there is one person behind the account. I’m OK with, say, TiVo having a brand account – as long as it is positioned as a brand account. I’m also OK with the TiVo account being TiVo Shanan if Shanan is for real (she is, apparently – and very nice!). If the platform is going to provide info and interactions from a team, fine – let’s just have accurate expectations.

4. These platforms are communication channels and we all have to take a deep breath and have a reasonable view of how companies will use them. I happen to think that the companies who advance with real personality in their social media endeavors will likely do best, but not every company is prepared out of the gate to have designated in-house personnel to “feed the beast.” We don’t need to beat these folks with a purist club and accuse them of being inauthentic – unless they’re being inauthentic! Let people get their feet wet, and outsource as they must. We should encourage brands to use social media responsibly, realizing that those who abuse it by a lack of transparency will be outed in time, and the lesson will be learned!

My 2 cents – your thoughts?

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

5 Responses to Who’s Behind the Avatar?

  1. Karen Swim says:

    Steve, you’re asking really great questions and I think that this type of discussion is helpful for us all. As a marketer, I help companies integrate social media initiatives into their overall marketing goals so these discussions are common. I agree with you that setting expectations for your audience up front is essential. Whether you use the platform as a brand, as an info only stream or as people behind the brand, as long as you are honest about your intent, you will not have a problem. As social media continues to evolve we may no longer care, but in this stage of infancy establishing your intention is important.

  2. Zoomed right in on your fourth point about being more circumspect about using social media and then using it responsibly.

    In the past two months, I’ve been spending a lot of time advising potential new clients who “already have social media,” to take the Twitter, Facebook, and blog links OFF their websites until there’s a strategy in place for using those media and a clue about how to generate and sustain content. Strategy! Imagine that?

  3. John Cass says:

    thanks Steve great article, in the case of example 3, should the agency reveal their relationship with the brand, saying something like “we are tweeting on behalf of…?”

  4. John, I don’t really think it’s necessary to reveal who the agency/consultant/blogger/whatever is – because that may change. I’d just say something like, “This is the official Brand X account and we’ll be providing updates, information, resources, etc.” without “we” claiming to be some specific individual. I think that’s a good middle ground. Perhaps later, one individual will be placed in charge, and things can shift nicely in a more personal direction.

  5. Pingback: Where Does ‘Transparency’ Fit In The New Social Media Marketing Model? | Web Business Woman

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