Brands have always walked around with a sense of entitlement. Whether we’re talking about a celebrity, a company responsible for a popular product or service, or someone who deems themselves Internet famous, there’s this idea that when you ARE the law, you’re above it and things simply don’t apply to you. And for a really long time, this thinking was okay. It was okay because these brands owned the media and, by association, the conversation. They were the content creators, spitting out ads, commercials and press releases that the public had no choice but to willingly swallow. Because when you’re only recourse is to ‘write a letter’ that will sit fragmented from the thousands of people who feel the same way you do, you often choose not to write it.*
But that was then.
Today, brands are accountable. They’re accountable because consumers are connected. Through the help of blogs, tweets and updates, we’re just as much the content creator that big brands are. And even more powerful, we can now use these networks to band together over issues and use our combined voices to demand change or, at least, a public apology and promise to do better.
Earlier this week the Internet was set aflame when Marie Claire columnist Maura Kelly published a pieced called Should “Fatties” Get a Room (Even On Television)? on the Marie Claire blog. Maura answered her own question, saying yes, the fatties should get a room because she finds it “aesthetically displeasing” to watch fat people do anything, especially watching “people with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other”. And she said it all while wearing the Marie Claire jersey. Stay classy, Maura!
My head about exploded when I read Maura’s post. Not because of how apparent her own issues with weight were, but because, for some reason, she thought it was okay to post that rubbish under the Marie Claire brand. Either thinking that her brand was enough to warrant it or that the Marie Claire brand was strong enough to weather it.
She was wrong. Your brand is not strong enough that common sense does not apply to you. Marie Claire’s wasn’t, Facebook’s wasn’t, BP’s wasn’t, and neither is yours.
It’s often infuriating to spend any time in social media. I get enraged when I head to Twitter and watch people burning themselves and others thinking their “brand” will make it okay. As if they’ve “earned” the right to not have to honor basic tenents of social interaction and human decency. I’m sorry, but you haven’t. You may be branded, but you still need to act like a human. And if you don’t, if you act like you’re above it and you’re better than your audience, people are going to take you to task. They’re either going to do it publicly like what happened with Marie Claire, or they’ll do it privately by simply avoiding you and whatever service it is you offer.
How do you act with common sense on the Internet? It’s really not that hard. Here’s where I’d start to help you avoid killing the brand you worked so hard to create:
Watch how you mix business and personal
Yes, social media has opened up the door for brands to become human again. And that’s awesome. But it doesn’t mean that everything is now fair game. During the 7 Realities of Blogging For Bucks keynote at BlogWorld, Sonia Simone spoke about how no one actually wants true transparency. We only want it when it’s appropriate. Sonia mentioned how folks like Naomi Dunford and Johnny B Truant do this really well because they know how to maintain their authority, but also be human and funny at the same time. You want to be the best version of yourself, and maybe that means NOT showing the world every insecurity you have by constantly talking about yourself or passing judgments on others.
Remember your team jersey
Even if the brand you wear is a personal one, remember that you’re wearing it every time you open your mouth and the effect it may have on your audience, your business contacts and those around you. Your “brand” is not an excuse for being a jerk, just like “authenticity” isn’t either. Before you say or publish something, remember the jersey you’re always wearing and ask yourself if this will build it or take away from it. If it’s going to detract from it – is it worth it?
Don’t be a jerk
Social media has NOT changed the basic rules of communication and behavior. Just because legal doesn’t have to approve your tweets doesn’t mean you can use them to smash someone in the face with a baseball bat. Use common sense. As Scott Stratten says, you should never say anything in social media that you don’t want to see on a billboard with your name, logo, face, and phone number attached, with your client/boss/mother driving by. That sounds like a pretty good rule to me.
When in doubt, run it by someone
If you’re reading over a blog post and you’re not sure if you should publish it, ask someone else. If you’re about to publish a tweet and your hands are still shaking, check with someone first. The Internet is permanent. Tomorrow is ONLY a new day when you didn’t publish something to incite a riot the day before. Sometimes you’re not the best person to decide if what you’re about to say works with your brand. Find the person who is.
If this doesn’t sound like rocket science, it’s because it’s not. It’s common sense, which is often something we ignore in our attempt to be the big, bad brand we want to be. Use social media to interact, engage and have fun, but also use it to be smart. The best advice anyone can give you in social media is to use common sense and remember that you’re a person talking to other people. Because when you’re shiny brand won’t save you, falling back on common sense might.
*Unless you’re my father. Then you spend hours in your home office dictating these letters to your young daughter, accidentally improving her typing skills and pretty much ensuring she grows up to become a jilted blogger. True story.