While many tend to catalog this conversation in the branding bucket — company and personal that it is — I'd like you to consider a broader angle, public relations. Perhaps I'm stretching the definition of PR, which is fine, it needs redefining or redesigning anyway. WikiLeaks is making it evident that our relationships are public.
The other data point for this conversation is that digital media and the Web are blurring even further not just the private and public lines. They are dismantling the very defined walls we had between roles — you are shareholder, stakeholder, and customer at once. And its becoming more difficult to avoid pesky situations where there is conflict of interest.
Of course, there are policies and guidelines that govern those. Still, I wanted to take a look at where business and social intersect and what happens when people have a hard time reconciling their roles.
Intangible sampling is still valuable
As you may know, many organizations have a code of ethical standards, which you sign as part of the paperwork when you're hired. Do you read that document? Have you ever read one? It spells out pretty clearly what is considered ethical behavior and even provides you with escalation paths if you have questions, or encounter a situation you're not entirely sure how to handle.
Many of those documents spell out examples of how to behave when a service provider lavishes gifts upon you in return for a contract or strong consideration in a bid, for example. Usually, those examples contemplate a physical good or gift certificate.
Although we're experiencing a return to a product-driven economy, much of the value creation in today's service environment comes from intangibles — advice, service, experience — generated with and thanks to tangible things — people, electricity, software, etc.
Where business and social meet
I started this blog and did the work to build a social network going back ten years while still working on the corporate side. In fact, this blog and my activity in social networks spanned a couple of different jobs over time.
Organizations are anywhere from very open to quite prescriptive on the spectrum that dictates the use of the Web and social networks on company time.
I worked in fairly regulated and conservative industries, which implied that the best course was to keep my day job separate from my social online activities — done on my time, on my equipment. This was a good choice especially many years ago, when all this was fairly new to organizations and it was not really clear how it mattered to them.
Where your company settles on that spectrum today may depend on your role — are you in marketing and communications, customer service — and company culture. Culture is not just driven by the nature of the business, it's also very much dependent upon who's at the top and in the driver seat.
Is you product a contract? In that case, legal counsel is a big part of how your organization thinks and sets the cultural tone. You may need to do some digging here to find out. It's not always obvious that's what you ultimately sell, by the way.
Receiving and making pitches
One of the places to watch out for conflicts of interest is how you blend your roles — corporate and social network participant — in making and receiving pitches.
On the receiving end, I found it quite fascinating that agencies and service providers would not think of searching for my social media/network presence before picking up the phone to call me or emailing me a pitch. It would have saved many from an outright gaffe and provided real information to start off on the right foot.
Over the years, this situation has provided me with plenty of anecdotes that start with "remember when I got that email from agency xyz with a whole introduction to blogging?" It happens, no harm done. In fact, a couple of times I met smart listeners in business development roles who could shift their thinking from talking at me to talking with me. We're still in touch today.
On the pitching end, I figure that if you find my thinking valuable and need help with strategy, you will connect and I will in turn connect you with the business development team at Powered. You sample here every single day, for free.
Using one role to gain leverage in the other
I kept my roles much more separate in the past, so much so that many of you probably never even knew I had a corporate job for years, despite me not really hiding it — a search would have gotten you there instantly.
Even though that was the case, I respected my code of conduct at work and the ethical codes I abide to from the professional associations where I am a member in my social behavior. It was very important to me that none of my writing and speaking impacted my employer adversely in any way and was written in full disclosure.
Through my membership and participation to the Social Media Business Council I benefited greatly. It was about the learning and the discussion of issues I had in common with colleagues in corporate America. When I stepped out of that forum in leaving my company role and joining an agency, I didn't start calling and emailing all members to do business with us.
The personal benefit I get from staying in touch with smart practitioners — in organizations and on the agency side — is comparing notes as peers, supporting each other. My philosophy remains grounded in a few, simple principles:
- be helpful
- be in conversation
- connect ideas and people
However, I get paid to deliver strategies that are bolted right onto the business and grounded by an action plan. And I do that pushing myself to really know the business and the people I'm working with, including their customers, partners, and market ecosystem. I am absolutely passionate about this work and would not dream of short changing anyone in the process.
Too much leverage?
I have noticed something interesting recently. In more than a couple of situations in the last year or so, I have noticed people in corporate roles trying to leverage their title and company brand to gain visibility in social media for personal ends.
There are, of course, dependencies and outcomes from doing good work and being noticed in action. This is not what I'm talking about here. To me using company time, identity, and assets in social networks should be directly related to providing a benefit to the organization.
Even trickier… if one of those moves involves trying to get a service provider to give you work for free, would that impact the organization adversely as well as personal reputation? A special favor is not just a good or financial incentive. It includes all things of value — intellectual property and work fit there, too.
It's kind of the same thing that is finally getting a push back from organizations — when social types expect special treatment publicly instead of fair treatment offline just because they feel they have a bigger megaphone with their social presence. (Yes, I have written about poor customer experiences. I'm very much in the fair treatment camp, though.)
Should organizations start looking at their people for this same kind of behavior with service providers? What's your take? Are you seeing this or am I seeing a rare outlier that will in all likelihood normalize?
I don't see it as a dilemma. Business and social have always coexisted. Today, the lines may seem more blurred because virtually anyone in the organization could be a candidate for expecting some kind of special social consideration, not just the upper echelons.