Social media managers are the keepers of the flame of the brand’s identity

The giant touchscreen Tweetdeck and AT&T Park is a great symbol of how social media managers handle a large responsibility.

A very large company hired me to work on its social media at the beginning of this decade. I looked through the company’s accounts and discovered something that astonished me. The company’s LinkedIn account was set so that any one of the company’s 200,000+ employees could post as the brand. I contacted the department that oversaw the account and told my contact about what I saw as a vulnerability.

“Do you think we should change it?” he asked me.

“Yes, I do,” I replied.

“Hmmmm,” he said. He told me another employee set the account up this way, and that employee was on leave, and he was reluctant to change this without checking with the owner of the account, who could be very particular about things.

“The company is the owner of the account,” I said. “Job-hunters go on LinkedIn and look at companies to see if they want to work there. Right now any employee can post anything.”

“Hmmmm,” he said.

My contact elected to let it ride. I had many other things to work on, and I moved on.

Months later I got an email from my contact. The employee who was on leave had returned. The setting that let any employee post had been an oversight. Things were being posted that were unprofessional and troubling. A forum of disgruntled employees had discovered the vulnerability.

Could I help?

“Of course,” I said.

This was a long time ago in social media years. This situation would be unheard of at a large company today. But at that time, it seemed wiser to perpetuate a significant social media security vulnerability than to change a setting without checking with someone who was seen as the owner of the account.

An organization owns all its social media accounts – no single member does. Social media should support and express the brand identity – not one person’s opinions.

If your company is conservative and careful, wacky social media giveaways may not be appropriate. If your company is a candy maker or energy drink maker, staid social media may be too stodgy. The brand decides those things, not someone who set up an account, or hired an agency, or laid out a process. Employees don’t decide tone or style or even best practices. They use brand identity as a North Star to guide them toward the best governance. That navigation is not set once, but tacked back and forth and adjusted and refined.

As managers of the brand’s live communications, we participate. We express the brand’s messages, riffing off them to suit the context of right now.

We listen to what customers and employees and critics say. Those people are our tribe, and we are the keepers of the flame they gather around.

That’s a privilege and a responsibility, not a territorial right. The voice of a brand is no one’s turf. How things were set up in the past is not important. What’s important is the integrity of what we say on behalf of our community right now.

Written by

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist working in the blogosphere. Once sold books to Johnny Cash. My Medium post about that was praised by Paris Review.

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