There have been a number of local events here in Salt Lake and out of it that have emphasized what @365daygirl, @decanblue and myself have been nailing down in terms of the Social Media realm "personal branding".
It is always interesting to watch how people feel they should used tools like Facebook without realizing that it can be used as a tool, a very powerful tool, one that can harm as well as hurt.
The local scene of Gothic/industrial has seemingly been split between two venues, that is not the subject of this blog, but it is how things have been handled that make up some of the subject for this blog.
One of the things that people don't realize when running a business and playing it's life out in a social forum is that that it is public and it is visible.
Things that can be done right? Quickly announce staff changes and accept the consequences of your decision, no matter what flak may come from it, but understand that once you go down that road you're prepared for how your brand will respond to it. Personally, I think it's always best to be upfront. If questions arise or defamation occurs, you and your company has fired off the first volley, you have first control of the information as you perceive it. You must also own up to the information given out and choose to ignore or respond, but choose and stand by your choice, make it a part of your PR on Facebook or Myspace or Twitter but choose your brands stand on the matter.
Remember that the person let go has their own following of people (it's why you hired them right?) and they have their own brand to protect and that their brand could carry a loss versus yours if the time for separation should ever happen. Prepare for it.
Secondly, develop a plan for how staff will use Social Media to work for you and definitely determine how it could work against you. Understand who those hotheads and mavericks might be and decide if their independence should be allowed (which is always a tough choice because it's about free speech, but there is such a thing as self governing oneself when one represents a brand). Be prepared when staff members may embarrass your brand simply on the basis of being representatives of your brand. What do you have in place to deal with such events? Do you ignore it and hope it goes away (could possibly work but you're hoping against something that once out in the social channels becomes permanent and my never go away). Do you delete said information so that the offensive material is no longer visible (this is "transparency" and while people may disagree, deleting is one of the worst mistakes you could make as far as I am concerned). If you delete, you make a she said he said scenario, but only their word is out there for people to judge your brand on, you just deleted anything that could allow people to decide on their own. In addition, any positive comments made to counter inflammatory statements supporting your brand and distancing the comments from your brand have just been flushed down the drain.
It is my belief that deleting comments and statements goes against your company in so much that you come across as hiding the truth, hiding the events, and dare I say, can stink of a "cover-up", perhaps too harsh a term but really if people don't have access to the information they will create their own speculations (those speculations could be worse than what was actually written). Instead, why not leave the remark there and let people make up their own minds, own up to the material as a responsible business and respond with a statement of your own stating why and wherefore your brand does not agree with it. Decide on what your going to do publicly to the person damaging your brand or not, but decide first and state next. Know what your going to say and how your going to respond to any flak coming your way. Plan it, execute it and wait for it. This is accountability, and in the realm of Social Media it your life blood, because everybody and I mean everybody will see you and judge you by your online actions. Do nothing and you will be judged, do something and likewise your will be judged, but best to do something and let the chips fall than allow the vagaries of chance to cut your brand out from under you at the knees or as @decanblue called it "brand death".
@Innovapor was almost un-followed by me due to what I considered spamming tactics by the company, I did not discount them automatically because two of my good friends are involved with the company and in the spirit of that friendship I felt it best to talk to them about it first. Innovapor was very appreciative for my input, they had not considered that their approach could have been looked upon in that way and immediately ceased their current tactics to a new more personal approach, moreover, Innovapor apologized to their followers on Twitter, accepting that perhaps their approach could have been alienating followers and taking responsibility for it, publicly they seem on the road to re-ignite their brand and get it back on track.
Another topic that came up was that of fledgling branding, trying to strike out on your own and make a name for yourself in the vast landscape of the Social Media playground. I'm still in that boat and I am working hard at starting relationships, offering value, offering dialogue, offering interest and consistency (a point made very difficult for me with this new job, it is requiring a period of adjustment). To wit, I have tried to learn from those with more experience and been fortunate to catch their attention and not annoy them (I thank you all for your patience), this isn't to take advantage of or for political reasons, but to gain a network of valuable and fun people to interact with and learn something from. The worse thing a fledgling like myself could do is publicly "dis" on someone who may or may not have more connections than myself, now I'm not saying you cannot but I am saying should you? Obviously, if it is a direct attack your choice is to defend or ignore, but remember that people are watching you, people who are your friends or followers (For Facebook or Twitter respectively) and they might have more friends/followers and they MIGHT NOT WANT TO FOLLOW based on your behavior. Imagine if Conan O'Brien had decided to follow Sarah Killen, on Twitter and she had decided to not only NOT believe it was actually Conan O'Brien but to insult him publicly for it (believing it was really not him) what would that have done for her? The women currently has a following of over 28000 people as @LovelyButton on Twitter and because of Conan deciding to follow her she has been able to push awareness for the important causes she supports, would that or could that have happened if she had dismissed Mr. O'Brien? In your quest to get your "brand" off the ground don't be so quick to dismiss who follows you and be generous to those that do and offer friendship to them, remember this isn't some void your putting yourself out on, people are watching all the time, and if you offer nothing then they will just move on to those who will give them something, whether that be valuable info, fun anecdotes, clever observations or industry tidbits they will find it, but not from you especially if you ignore people. In addition please be gracious to your followers (something I learned from @bkmacdaddy).
Finally, we come to my testing of the US Census' Twitter page, it offers plenty of information, a lot of it very interesting and very helpful, but very little interaction with their followers that I can see, which given the current consternation over question #8 and #9 in the Census form is a mistake. I personally have posted two questions to @censuscount on twitter with no response, now it is the US Census and they are busy, but if they can find the time to post valuable information, shouldn't they have the time to respond to their 879 followers (Twitter)? Especially, when it comes to how question #8 was worded? I personally believe my question to be valid, and I would like to give the Census a chance to respond to me, I mean other company Twitter pages do it, in fact it's become a new way of handling customer questions for many a company (Dell for example). Here is an opportunity for the Census to handle customer questions (let's face it, my filling out the questionnaire makes me a customer), yes they have their own help line (Hell, I work on that help line) but why ignore this avenue? One could argue or assume that the Census started their Twitter and Facebook page to add a friendly face to their endeavors but one also has to wonder if they had a strategy in place on how to handle questions from their "fans" or "followers" in their respective pages. I see questions on there, but I see no responses from an official Census representative. In the end I think this will hurt them, it ends up making their "brand" a cold entity that silently disgorges information with no real mettle to respond to their detractors, those that give them praise and those who simply have a question. Here is a "branding" strategy to put a possible "human" face to an otherwise faceless entity and I see it failing. Like many other companies the are doing it without understanding what they are supposed to be doing or should be doing. It seems there isn't a plan set in place. I personally have to assume there isn't a plan set in place because the Census remains silent to the people asking questions, silent except for the information that occasionally comes out of it.
In the end we are each and everybody responsible to our own brand if we create one, whether it be personal or business, we are perceived by the actions of our ourselves or our peers that associate with us or our business. WE represent our company or our self. Our friends or employees say a lot about who are company is or who we are as a person. In this age of Social Media awareness, nobody escapes the microscope once you put yourself on the grid, you can try but you are out there in one way or another even if you don't touch a computer, because someone will mention your name, someone will take a picture of you, someone will write about you and your digital footprint will then be there for all to see, and if you're worried about your personal brand you better take the reigns and develop a strategy on how your going to control the information about your brand.