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October 24, 2009

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I equate it to walking into an actual store. I would much rather have sale associates approach me about the products than watch a commercial that can tell me the same thing.

In response to your tweet: It depends on how you define a personality. According to dictionary.com, a personality is "the visible aspect of one's character as it impresses others", or "an embodiment of a collection of qualities". It's purely an academic question whether the brands needs a social media 'personality'. Certainly they need to be nurturing social media 'qualities': engagement, transparency, service.. And of course, these qualities have to be visible and trackable through people's behaviour within customer service departments of organizations, and the brands' outlets, online and offline. These behavioural traits ('an embodiment of a collection of qualities') then you can call a 'personality'. Nevertheless, this sort of personality may thrive only within organizations which clearly defined its own culture, of course. And to transform a culture within organizations, it seems to be rather difficult many times..

I'm afraid I disagree--I think brands have a personality that their PR department enhances by behaving in a way that impresses that personality on consumers. The degree to which this happens varies, of course, but take something like Ben and Jerry's, where the 'personality' of the brand overlaps with actual persons--brands often have a 'face' (make up and perfume, for example) who represent the qualities that the 'personality' of the product/brand wishes to have associated with it.
What this means is that companies need to be canny enough to employ brand guardians who will endeavour to convey that brand personality in a personal way, but, in a way, not allow their own personality to interfere with that message, if it is at odds with the brand's personality. Much in the way people working in advertising don't necessarily believe in the product that they're promoting--the most ethical solution to this, of course, is to have employees who do embody the traits consistent with the brand's personality to do this work for you--a case in point is the difference between Simon and Schuster and Penguin's twitter feed: S&S tend to have quite a spammy, tiresome approach, where Penguin engages with readers more, focussing on the fact that people who subscribe to the feed, like them, love books and reading. Anyway, sorry to have rambled on--this is something I'm quite interested in myself, because I feel that I still haven't seen enough campaigns that manage to use social media to their greatest advantage and am eager to see whether this will change in the future.

I think you're right and that you've exposed a fundamental distinction between a PR approach and a marketing approach to brands.

Yet brands are shortcuts that help people cope with complexity. As such, emotion or irrationality is built in to branding and this does not preclude Mickey Mouse, odd though it might seem.

I read an article a while back (I wish I could remember where) about the difference in an influencer and an evangelist working behind the [social media] curtain. An influencer may help drive traffic or bring attention to the brand, but an evangelist will share the love of the brand from an honest place and rally the troops.

That said, a SM "personality" can be useful to cater responses to my individual needs. That is something that I do appreciate, especially when I'm having difficulty with a product. It's great to have someone's ear who is targetting me.

But the other side to this "personality" you mention is the person who is controlling the messaging. I think when brands use social media as another form of PR, with carefully worded statements or corporate-sounding messages, they lose my interest(and statistically will lose the interest of others, too).

I recently shared my love of Best Buy's Twelpforce via my blog. After the blog posted, one of their Geek Squad members reached out to me and has since come to my rescue on a few iPhone questions. The "personality(ies)" behind Best Buy are not acting as corporate mouth pieces, rather they are employees reaching out to help people regardless of where they purchased their products. I rarely shop at Best Buy in the US (soon to come to the UK), but my opinion of them is good and makes me feel that I may shop with them more in the future.

I have five years of retail experience. The best advice I can give brands who are looking to inspire loyalty, change opinions, or increase conversion is to provide excellent customer service. Another great example of a brand doing great things on/offline is Zappos! They are trailblazers in this category.

I'm not sure if I have answered your question, but I say find people who are doing it right and figure out what it is that makes them stand out and how more brands can have it.

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