There is a lot of debate on the appropriate reference to use when interacting in social media for a brand, whether your social media management is in-house or outsourced. In our own office, we often settle with an “agreement to disagree”. Why? The root of the debate is transparency of the individual(s) posting.
One side is the philosophy that the person posting and interacting for the brand should refer to themselves singularly as the poster, using “I”, “me”, and “my”, or denote who they are if multiple people are posting for a brand. The other side is that the persona represents a team behind the brand - “we”, “us”, “our”. The truth is that there are many people strategizing on the social media interaction for a brand.
Singular Reference – “I”, “me”, “my”
- When the individual posting IS the brand – professionals, artists, bloggers, authors, elected officials, celebrities, public figures, small business owners – singular reference makes sense. Even though @mashable has an individual name and photo on their Twitter profile, you don’t see use of the word “I” – that tone is reserved for Pete’s own twitter profile: @petecashmore
- When the individual is identified officially as a spokesperson for a company to represent the brand – singular reference makes sense. Examples were hard to come by, but here are a few: Old Spice on Facebook and Twitter and Progressive on Facebook and Twitter.
- And here is an example of how a brand can engage an audience - via an individual employee. Notice though, his Twitter handle is @NordstromDave, not @Nordstrom. Why don’t more brands use the voice of their persona/spokesperson/celebrity endorsement? Recognize some of these endorsement disasters? Tiger Woods, Kate Moss, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Vick…
If an individual contributor of a brand is popular and holds a high level of influence, they will likely have their own personal branding space – like Paul Steele. He's a @HuffingtonPost Travel Blogger – but Paul holds a ton of influence as 'himself' on Twitter @paul_steele. (Give Paul a follow and it's likely he'll follow you right back!)
- Examples for singular reference: Lady Gaga, Mike Tyson, Justin Bieber, Richard Branson, Will Ferrell, Cristiano Renaldo.
Group Reference - “We”, “us”, “our”
There is no "I" in "brand". Posting as a group of collective brand advocates/representatives is the best practice, as evidenced by some of the most-respected and most-followed brands online. "We" are connecting with our fans and followers... When brands interact referring directly to the individual poster as “I”, the audience may ask… Who IS this person? Are they like me? Do they see the brand as I see it? Are they the CEO -or- a summer intern? How can one person identify with millions of people?
- If a brand posts using “I” it creates confusion for the audience. Brands don’t define themselves, people define brands. A brand is many things to many people. It is misleading to suggest that just one person is behind it.
- Examples for group reference: (aside from the usual suspects like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Disney, Dunkin Donuts, Coca-Cola...) Sprinkles Cupcakes, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Jamba Juice, Sephora, National Geographic, and Zappos.
When you see a post or tweet from a brand, how do you feel about knowing who posted it? For your audience, this might be the most confusing option of all. When they see a post with ^JZ, the average user might scratch their head and ask “what the heck is THAT?” This option makes sense for B2B interaction from brands that have a strong presence among their peers, such as Social Media Examiner. A B2C example: ZonePerfect Nutrition Bars denotes the writer when answering questions or commenting on posts from their audience – but is there any real value to the audience?
The bottom line is that your audience is a fan of your brand, not a fan of one person that works for you behind the scenes. If you want to be transparent, then interact in social media as who you really are - a team behind the brand. If you “agree to disagree”, let’s hear your rationale in the comments!