The conversation amongst online community managers often centers around brand advocacy: how we represent our products in social media; how we maintain a consistent message across multiple platforms; how we turn customer feedback into positive change; how we build lasting relationships for our companies, both with our users and with other brands. These are valuable conversations, but too often I see community managers single-mindedly interacting as their brands, where in many cases a little touch of individuality would go much farther.
I am not a robot. Believe me, I've been asked. I've also been asked for my "customer service ID number" so that the user would not have to deal with someone else... at a company of (then) 14 people. I saw both of these interactions as failures on my part -- not necessarily failure to represent the brand, but failure to be an individual within that brand.
When I came into community management in early 2008, the industry was still in its infancy. It was derived in terms of other established roles (customer service, marketing, content moderation). Today, we're [mostly] respected in our own right, with a dedicated position in the corporate hierarchy. We no longer need to fight tooth and nail to have our jobs validated as necessary, and can dedicate those resources to making ourselves -- and our brands -- more approachable. The key is humanity, but even more than that, it's individuality.
By no means am I advocating flooding your branded Twitter feed with personal updates about what you ate for breakfast. Chances are, you were hired as community manager for your brand at least in part because your temperament meshes well with the culture of the company. Trust yourself to choose appropriate moments to share, and the appropriate time and forum in which to share them. Posting pictures, videos, and written anecdotes of the office, staff, and team outings are an easy place to start. There's not too much controversy there. But I recommend going further.
Introduce and promote the [public] social media profiles of your staff. On your own personal accounts, share not only industry news and product updates, but twinklings of personality. I tweet quite a bit about HubPages and community management in general, but I also throw in links to my food blog, silly Instagram photos (as at right), the occasional FourSquare check-in, and a weekly #FlashbackFriday video highlighting the memes of years past.
I understand the instinct to completely compartmentalize, but the truth is, illustrating your humanity to your community can only help your brand image -- assuming you do it responsibly. As we're all tired of hearing, online activity is becoming increasingly social. To engage socially, you need to be more than a bloodless, faceless organization. You need to be a living, breathing organism. You have to be human.
Coming soon... "The Balancing Act: Personal vs Brand Sharing on Social Media."