When Personal and Institutional Brands Collide

November 16th, 2009
Flickr Image: srboisvert

Flickr Image: srboisvert

Valerie Simon

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to discuss social media with the Commission on Communications & Marketing for the American Association of Community Colleges. One of the key concerns they expressed was how to address those (namely professors) who are active participants in social media and use it as a platform to share opinions that are not representative of and that are potentially harmful to the organization. Freedom of speech and academic freedom are integral to our educational institutions, but what can be done to avoid a false appearance that the university is taking a position on a polarizing topic?

Social media persona’s can be categorized in several ways. There are purely corporate (or institutional) brands, such as the BurrellesLuce Twitter account and Facebook page. There are strictly personal accounts as well. Increasingly, however, social media accounts are held by an individual with a clear and distinct professional affiliation who may participate both personally and professionally. Whether or not a message is posted on behalf of an institution, a professor’s social brand is often inextricably intertwined with the institutional brand. So what can organizations do?

But then comes the hard part. What happens when an individual whose personal brand is tied to the institutions brand, commnicates messages contrary to the position of the organization? Does this become more complex in a field such as academia or journalism, where freedom of speech is critical to the mission of the organization? How can the communications team address this without engaging? Does ignoring the situation work? (These are not rhetorical questions folks… please leave a comment and help me finish this post by adding your advice and opinions).

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  5. Rick Hardy says:

    Valerie, thanks for your wise counsel/guidelines on social media for organizations. IMO, if social media is done right, there will be a blending of the personal and corporate. You want your official channels to have some personality.

    You are correct: higher education is a challenging environment for controlling employee voices/behavior. Faculty are renowned at speaking their minds and in challenging administrative decisions, brand messages and images. In fact, such openness is valued in higher education. So, you’re not going to silence critics. It’s one thing to value authenticity in social media and be open to criticism, but it’s another to have criticism in social media coming from within (especially when it’s not entirely informed).

    The solution? An on-going dialogue with faculty and staff by the CMO or marketing leaders on issues such as branding, social media, and what’s in all of our best interests. What to do when criticism does come from within? Usually I’d say to let it go; but that depends on context and severity of comments (however, face to face communication is usually a good way to deal with conflict).

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