It’s not easy to be a public face for your employer, and doubly so when you’re using social media. Blogs, tweets, and the like value personal authenticity (and shun “corporateness”), forcing vendor bloggers to walk a tightrope:
- Sway too far towards your own personality and beliefs and someone from PR or marketing is going to smack you
- Sway too far towards the press release mentality of “old communications” and your audience will abandon you
It can be hard to accept this burden, and many a bright young blogger flames out as the reality of the situation settles upon them. Yet some emerge from the trials with a reasonable philosophy and are able to continue – witness the success of folks like Chuck Hollis, Val Bercovici, Barton George, Duncan Epping, Lori MacVittie, Brad Hedlund, and many others.
Let’s consider the stages new vendor bloggers go through as they mature into a viable and authentic voice for their employer.
1) Drinking the Sweet Nectar
It’s tempting to drink the corporate Kool-Aid and jump head-first into the fray with a company-logo shield in one hand and product sword in the other. After all, if social media is a sure way to promote your employer, why not take the plunge and reap the rewards?
Because it won’t work, that’s why. Adults don’t go for overly-sweet drinks, and they won’t read “Corporate Kool-Aid” posts. This category of writing tends to be totally over-the-top corporate cheerleading: Ignoring one’s own faults, jumping on the shortcomings of competitors, and expounding on the merits of simple press-release content.
New employees often start here, but those who have worked for a while often skip this step. This is why some “people who blog and work for companies” aren’t really “vendor bloggers” at all – see, for example, Chris Hoff and Marc Farley. But who is and isn’t a “vendor blogger” is a topic for a different day!
2) Stepping Over the Line
Whether they start with Kool-Aid or with self-respect, the next step for bloggers (and tweeters, Facebookers, and other public speakers) who work for companies is to step over the line and get slapped for it. Perhaps they will enter a discussion charged with corporate or real-world politics; perhaps they will overzealously release inside information; or perhaps they will simply overshadow the marketing efforts of the company. Regardless, the repercussions are terrifying: Loss of “the mic”, a reprimand from the boss, or even an employment threat.
This is usually the low point for a vendor blogger. An act of corporate promotion becomes a threat to their employment, and they begin to question the wisdom of it all. “Keep your head down and do your job” seems like a reasoned response. Many an aspiring “public voice” is silenced at this stage. Trust me – I’ve been there, too.
3) Parroting the Press Release
Those who decide to persevere after the corporate slap-down tend to resume with a stripped-down, PR-focused style. Their blog posts contain a straightforward paragraph of praise followed by blocks pasted from official press releases. Their posting becomes less-frequent, too, as their heart has gone out of it.
If the “over the line” stage is personally risky, the parrot stage poses the greatest risk to one’s reputation. We all know that the Kool-Aid tasted great, so we can forgive posts that start with “my new job is awesome!” But seeing a formerly-vigorous individual reduced to quoting corporate marketing is harder to take. If many blogs disappear after phase 2, more are ignored when they reach this phase.
4) Being Honest and Forthright
If they survive the earlier stages, vendor bloggers eventually emerge as honest and forthright voices for their employer. They will try to avoid drawing attention to faults, writing about the highlights instead. When pressed, they will point to their tie of employment and hope the reader understands why they cannot say some things.
Great vendor bloggers are compromised and have sacrificed some authenticity. But their honesty about the situation makes this ok, and their creativity and thoughtfulness keeps the readers coming back.
It’s a tough task and not everyone can do it. But some can, and they earn my respect.
Image credit: “One Hundred + 16 — Drinking the Kool-Aid” by Khürt
“Kool-Aid” is a trademark of Kraft Foods and is used here for the purpose of satire