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The Real Problem For Bureaucracies On Social Media

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It's a question that comes up a lot when organizations consider how to use social media most effectively: "How should we present our identity to the public?"

Here are the typical options, along with the pros and cons:

A single account where nobody knows who is talking (a.k.a. The Wizard of Oz): The benefit of this approach is that the organization does not risk its brand on the reputation of any one individual. On the other hand, social media is all about individuality and authenticity, so having an unnamed entity issuing messages is incongruous, to say the least. 

A single organizational account explicitly populated by a staff, with messages identified by name: This approach humanizes the brand, but there is a lack of consistency in terms of "voice."

An individual account in the corporate name where the person is identified as a brand representative: This approach can be extremely successful, but if a popular social media representative leaves the team, that unique individuality is suddenly absent, creating an identity problem for the brand.

An individual communicating as themselves, who is understood to be synonymous with the organization: This is typically the scenario when a senior executive communicates, and that person is so identified with their organization that the public understands they are "on duty" at all times. The problem of course is that we are all human, we all have private and public selves and it is unworkable in the long-term to expect any person to suppress their real selves for the sake of the organization.

An alternative approach is for the organization to create and re-create the brand in dialogue with its audience 24/7.

This means that there is no official social media presence for the brand. Rather, the organization allows the public to have its own authentic conversation about the brand without attempting to interfere.

In this scenario, the company or organization assumes that its own employees will participate in the conversation, but they will do so of their own volition, in their own voices, expressing themselves naturally and authentically without having to get approval for their messages first.

I realize that this is an unusual way for most organizations to think about social media but I think that it would address one of the most significant reasons that the public distrusts institutions, which is that they attempt to participate in communication in a manner that is forced and artificial.

By putting employees and other stakeholders on a level playing field, and essentially vacating any official stance on what should be a fully individualized set of platforms, the organization shows that it understands the inherent nature of this type of communication channel.

An organization's website is the only place it should anonymously provide official data and statements of position. These items belong to the corporate body, and no name need be attached to them. The focus should be on providing comprehensive information that is accessible, rich, and easy to navigate.

As with everything in life, the most important thing is to think before you do. Just because "everybody" has a social media account does not mean your organization needs to copy them.

Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer or any other organization or entity. 

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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