I-rule-twitterMore than the advent of other social sites, Twitter, in India, has exponentially increased personal branding by many different kinds of people. This is a great sign actually, that people are taking their personal branding seriously – this could help them either socially or with their job prospects, in the future. At the bare minimum, it enables more and more connections and every connection is worth something.

Some of the more common personal branding examples include,

  • Niche social media consultants creating content and participating in relevant discussions about…what else…social media engagement
  • People from PR agencies (like me, of course), trying to create visibility for the agency and for ourselves, at a personal level, as a knowledgeable-enough place/ individual to head to, when it comes to social media engagement
  • Twitter enthusiasts who take active interest in twitter-exclusive events like Twestival and proactively taking ownership and titles (Regional Twestival Coordinator…anyone?)
  • People with specific interests trying to associate their names with that interest (shameless plug, my @milliblog twitter ID which is exclusively about my interests in music/ movies or @premsankar, who is focused on cloud computing – just to add 2 diverse examples)
  • The generalists, who have an interesting outlook and opinions on many disparate topics (@surekhapillai, for instance)

That said, for the first 2 categories above, is there a problem with the use of personal network and client interests? Let me take two particular cases that has been bothering me recently.

1. Using your personal network to promote your clients

Let’s start with an example.

You consult with a client on their social media engagement, in India. Your personal twitter profile has 5,000+ followers.

Would you,

  1. promote your client to your 5,000+ followers?
  2. suggest that the client start their own twitter profile (if necessary), help them ramp up using all the basic, obvious and much-discussed strategies (create relevant and useful content, share very often, be helpful, sound humble, participate in relevant conversations, answer promptly etc.) and then promote themselves via that profile?

If it’s the former, isn’t that akin to – for instance – calling all your friends to a room and start selling your clients’ products/ services? Now, the point is, if the people you’re calling have been chosen by you with a particular criteria, then you’re selling to a relevant set who may need your client’s product/ services. But twitter is much broader than that and such selection if often impossible – Facebook or LinkedIn enables that better.

Often you see twitter profiles of many PR agencies merely posting their client’s press releases. Worse, even without a disclaimer that they are indeed promoting a client. This is quite similar to Times of India selling space to a brand and masquerade that as a news article (example one and two). Even people from PR agencies and niche social media consulting firms do that, but twitter’s character limitations often dictate the addition/ omission of the disclaimer.

Barring big time twitter users like artists who have a real world following too (which could easily translate even on twitter – great example… @gulpanag), others like you and me have to build our twitter network from scratch. Despite the number of followers, the personal network sticks to our twitter stream only because we are able to add some value even within those 140 characters. Given that, at least in my personal opinion, I’d think many times over before promoting a…any client to my personal network. Simple reason: what I post as a tweet and what could be a good read to my network ends up as yet another deliverable achieved for my client. It could be page views or even added membership/ participation. So, I’d post such blatant plugs almost apologetically, if possible, within relevance and that too, very rarely, so that I do not mess with my followers’ trust, whatever little that sticks in a serendipitous medium like twitter.

Most blogs have evolved in this aspect and bloggers frequently cite client interests/ biases before or after their posts. On twitter, things are still evolving and the personal network will perhaps decide on its own whether a particular user abused their trust or not.

2. Giving clients the credit

This is a PR-specific dilemma. But, let me explain it with an example from advertising. You see a fantastic ad on print. If you’re not familiar with the ad fraternity, you’d naturally assume that the brand advertised did a great job creating that ad. And not, ‘that ad agency mentioned in fine print on one side of this ad came up with this brilliant concept’. This is more pronounced in case of a television ad. since the agency is never mentioned. So, should it be any different in social media?

Example again!

You consult with a brand for their social media outreach. The work gets noticed by mainstream print media. A journalist calls you (particularly if you’re in a PR agency, given your connections – this will be all the more difficult if you’re a niche social media consulting firm with limited media contacts) for generic information about your client doing ‘interesting stuff’ using social tools online. Who would you credit? Your agency, since it did the hands-on work and built an online audience for the client, from scratch? Or your client, who funded the entire operation and perhaps had little say in it, given its early stages and not many clients understand this medium well enough to give you a specific direction?

My personal take is rather simple.

The client funds it and deserves more credit than you, the architect. But there’s no harm in asking your client if they are open to credit the partner who conceptualized, enabled and is managing the entire activity online. You will get your name out depending on how generous a particular client is. But, steamrolling your name in your client engagements, just because you have a fantastic personal brand online would only annoy the client further. Forget media mentions…even if you blog about the great work you/ your agency is doing for a client, I believe it requires an explicit client approval for two reasons,

  1. This is similar to you seeking a client’s quote and approval for an agency reference
  2. The issue with trust. If you handle a client’s twitter profile, how would that twitter profile’s followers feel when they come to know that you, the person from an agency, is answering on behalf of the brand that they think they are dealing with?

The opportunity here is to build a big enough personal brand so that the client perhaps finds more value in mentioning your name on his own! Almost like, say, a client naming Balki as the brain behind their latest ad campaign!

Picture courtesy: Larry DeVincenz’s blog post titled, Twitter And The 80/20 Rule.