The co-branded, social employee: risk or reward?
This was the year that the concept of self-branding went mainstream. And now we’re starting to hear more about the ripple effect — both good and bad.
The Wall Street Journal wrote about it in late October in an article with a headline of “Your Employee Is an Online Celebrity. Now What Do You Do?” The story’s first sentence is “Meet your newest management headache: the co-branded employee.”
The co-branded employee, the article says, will become an “even-greater challenge” for managers, co-workers and companies.
What’s interesting is that companies have been pushing their employees to put themselves out there and to share their personalities online. Hey, in between posting about your kids and that delicious meal at the trendy new restaurant, don’t forget to also plug the employer’s brand now and again.
Some people have succeeded in revealing themselves and developing a following beyond their employers’ or vendors’ expectations.
Independent insurance agent Kevin Knauss, a prolific blogger who is everywhere both on social media and in person at local business and community events, has a big following, even if some people only remember him by his URL and Twitter handle of @InsureMeKevin.
A week before the election, Knauss blasted in his blog an unnamed insurance company that instructed its independent agents — of which Knauss is one — to hush up about personal political views. Including through social media.
“Don’t tell me not to share my own beliefs,” he blogged. “I specifically set up my website and social media so people can learn who I am and what I represent as a person. … I am certain I lose as many potential clients as I gain. But I grew weary of being the ‘happy insurance guy’ trying to appeal to the widest possible audience.”
Of course, in Knauss’ situation as an independent agent, he is free to bark back.
As for the employer-employee relationship, that’s where it is getting murkier. What are the rights and responsibilities? And who owns the content?
The Wall Street Journal article emphasized the need to establish a clear understanding of who owns online content and to set clear expectations and guidelines. But in many cases, these rules are being made after the game is well under way.