I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Official social media & the weirdness factor re: authorship

Here's a question I am tossing around in my mind:

Should official social media accounts have individually named authors?

Or should they be considered the amorphous "voice of the organization?"

I used to think they should be anonymous.

But in the wake of the current high-profile Twitter scandal (you know the one), I am not so sure.

Here's why.

A long time ago the issue of authorship on social media was simple. Personal accounts were for people living their personal lives. Official ones were for organizations.

Then everyone became enamored with the concept of personal branding through social media. Twitter handles went from names or pseudonyms to brand identities. (I am @thinkbrandfirst.)

The issue became, how do I separate:

- my personal LIFE -

- from my personal BRAND, which is a professional identity of my own construction -

- from my JOB...which may or may not reflect my desired brand.

The solution was the ubiquitous disclaimer, which I also use: "All opinions my own." Which isn't really a perfect one. Since you can google most people and find out where they work. Which means that not mentioning your employer can be seen as astroturfing.

But I digress.

The above three distinctions are navigable enough, as long as you are operating a social media platform that is inherently operable by a team.

Facebook is a prime example. The audience "gets" that a group or business page is run by a team. Even an individual celebrity page is understood to be run by a PR team.

Blogs are another. Again, the audience understands that people routinely ghostwrite for their bosses, and leave your personal opinions out of it. Although if you are a political extremist writing for the polar opposite side, that would seem irreconcilable. (Not that most people would do that, but hey, it's a bad economy.)

However, highly individualized platforms like LinkedIn and especially Twitter present a problem.

LinkedIn is actually less troubling. Because it is clearly for professional networking, recruitment, etc. But still there is the issue - you are supposed to be representing yourself, so how do you distinguish that from promoting your employer? People actually do this, but I find it odd and frankly, dishonest unless they are very clear about it.

Twitter, though, presents a truly thorny dilemma. If you are tweeting for an organization, the job demands that you bring your personality to it, in real time. So it is you. No matter what the organizational brand is. And yet you are a nameless, faceless "them." Again, odd.

This is really evident when you see people receiving a shout-out (an @ message) from a handle that named for a company rather than a person. Who is this, you think?

On the other hand, if you explicitly name the account as your name, all sorts of lines are blurred. You are you, but you are "them," but you are also your carefully constructed professional brand, all at the same time.

You can say in the bio who you work for, but people don't normally check bios when they see a tweet, do they?

This is the situation we are in with "the politician" and "those tweets." Was it clear to the recipients what role the person was playing? I am not so sure. Politician on his personal time? Politician making contact in an official capacity? (I honestly can't say the latter without smirking or, alternately, fuming...let's just call this a learning opportunity and leave it there.)

Look at this post. What a bunch of weird, surreal questions I think none of us could have imagined even a year ago. With no clear answers. These are some crazy times for sure.

At the same time, it's an exciting time to be a communicator. I am glad to be part of this evolving conversation and look forward to learning from others' experiences.

For all of those engaged in social media for their organizations, I hope this one at least raised useful questions for you, even if there are no clear answers.

Good luck!