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The Death of Corporate Brands and Personal Brands (SMX London 2013)

Mike Essex

by Mike Essex on 16th May 2013

The Death of BrandsSocial media has changed rapidly over the last five years. More and more brands have taken to social, the privacy of our information has drastically reduced and people are more willing to share information. This creates interesting problems and means ultimately the days of separating our “personal brands” from the businesses we work for is ending. So what does that mean for people and businesses?

I tackled this issue in depth during my SMX London presentation which took place today and you can find the slides below. If you couldn’t attend or want a text based recap then I’ve also written below a summary of what was discussed.



Summary of Key Points

People tend to see social media in two silos:

The Personal Brand: Where you share things you’d want your friends and possibly even your Mum to see.

The Corporate Brand: Where the business shares information that makes them look good or helps build the corporate image.

Except that’s not really how Social Media works as this album of photos of the Koozai Christmas party indicates. It’s a mishmash of corporate brand and personal brands smashing together but its the reality of how business works. No one in a business is a complete automaton who says everything the brand wants and likewise a corporate brand cannot exist without the people who make it happen.

So the reality of social media is employee personal accounts will always clash with corporate accounts in ways that affect the other. For example:

  • A teacher was fired for (admittedly stupid) tweets she made on her personal account
  • Paris Brown resigned over tweets she made on her personal account years before she even started in employment
  • A KitchenAid employee sent an offensive tweet to Barack Obama from their corporate account.
  • Cineworld recently divided audiences by getting a little too personal in a heated argument with a customer on their corporate account
  • A Chrysler employee tweeted the F-word (naughty!) on the corporate account
  • Adam Orth resigned from Microsoft because of comments he made about the next Xbox console on a personal account
  • McDonalds corporate account tweeted about a kidnapping case in Ohio a move which some said “capitalizes on the sensation of a tragic story”

This crossover is only going to get worse and the more we try to keep these two strands separate the more we are kidding ourselves that what we say on one account will not affect the other.

So if we can’t ‘fix’ this then what can we do to embrace it? Well at Koozai we use something I’ve dubbed The Everything Brand.

Instead of thinking about each ‘brand’ employees should be trained to think about how what they does affects everything. At Koozai we do this with psuedo branded accounts such as mine @koozai_mike. In essence it gives me a branded name and photo, with a bio that’s part branded / part me and the freedom to tweet content that reflects me as an individual.

We do this across all 23 employees in the hope that our team reflect both the ‘personal’ and ‘corporate’ by having a shared space. Employees have the choice of either transfering their existing accounts to the new naming convention on joining or we create them a new account. Either way we find that most people choose to use the @koozai_ ‘everything brand’ account as their main account.

It’s not just a Koozai strategy. Other brands who embrace the everything brand include the BBC, Sprout Social, Honda, Raven Tools, Innocent Drinks and Zappos with many hundreds more.

For the employee it means they get to feel part of the tribe, they tend to get new followers by association and it’s easier for them to tweet during the day.  For the business they get instant branding in all conversations, a far wider reach than one account and they get to target those individuals who prefer to follow humans instead of corporate accounts.

For Koozai here is how that looks in numbers:

mentions by employees

In essence over one third of the conversations that contain the word “Koozai” on Twitter are either conversations by our employees or with their name mentioned. Without the everything brand those mentions wouldn’t mention the company name. That’s thousands of mentions of Koozai all thanks to the everything brand and the work of our team.

How Can I Minimise Risk?

Of course the everything brand does carry risks. By associating yourself with employees you are making a connection between what they say and your company. Which is why this strategy works best if you integrate it in to your policies  and follow these steps:

Build it in to the culture: In the company handbook we specific some of the things employees shouldn’t say. We tend to be as flexible as possible and are not in the business of censoring employees so it mainly covers legal issues such as NDA’s. By having a clear set of rules we help stop disputes later and make it really clear where the line is.

Monitor conversations: Using tools like Brandseye or a filtered column in TweetDeck you can quickly monitor all public conversations with your brand name. This way if an employee is receiving abuse or has crossed the line it can be spotted. If you follow any of our employees you get a great insight in to them as people and we encourage debate and freedom of speech so have very rarely ever had to step in.

Determine who owns the account: At Koozai we allow employees to keep accounts when they leave. This means the time they invest in them isn’t wasted and is why I’ve written over 10,000 tweets and is good news for Sam who had over 2,400 followers for life.

Put it in to contracts either way:  If you are planning on keeping accounts afterwards then make sure employees know this up front. Or you could end up in a ridiculous law suit such as this one between Phonedog and ‘Phonedog_Noah who was sued $370,000 for trying to keep his 17,000 followers when he left.

Reclaim Ex Accounts: All we ask employees to do when they leave is remove the branding and rename the twitter account so it no longer contains ‘Koozai’. This creates a problem in that the old account is now ready for someone else to take it. So go back and re-register the old name to stop someone pretending to be an ex employee.

Watch out for fakes: It would be really easy for me to create a BBC_Mike account and pretend I worked for the BBC but I can guarantee they would shut it down quickly. One other advantage of monitoring is you can quickly spot fakes and then contact Twitter to get them shut down if they are pretending to be an employee.

Don’t forget about the corporate brand: You’ll still need a single corporate brand but you can apply the lessons learnt above to make it more personal. You should put in charge of this account the employee who performs well with their everything brand account as they should do a good job in this role.

You can’t silence the personal brand: I would never recommend an iron fist approach and if employees want personal accounts they can keep them. However it’s important to understand they should use privacy settings if they don’t want people outside of their networks to see the information.

Summary

The everything brand isn’t a theory, it is the way people see Social Media now and I think brands are just starting to catch up to that realisation. Unless you have very tight privacy settings everything you say is being scrutinised and can come back to haunt you or your employer. That’s the sad truth. The everything brand is just one solution but it works for us, employees really enjoy it and the business benefits as a result.

If you have any questions please leave them below:

Mike Essex

Mike Essex

Mike Essex specialises in digital marketing and everything search. A recent project of Mike’s was featured on BBC News, Radio 5Live and the Times here in the UK, whilst also featuring on USA Today and ABC News in the US. He will be writing throughout the month about digital marketing and much more...

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1 Comment

  • James Norquay 17th May 2013

    Nice presentation, some good ideas around building the corporate brand with a personal brand. Also an interesting note is that “Koozai Alec” actually use to work with me in Australia after he left the UK =)

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