Social Transparency and the heart and soul debate

by Joe Pelissier on October 8, 2014

Last year, after some negative criticism, Bank of America decided to get social and use Twitter [@bankofamerica].  Like a lot of grey institutions it felt it was important to be seen to be socially connected. However not everyone was that impressed,  one Follower tweeted a public message saying, “Your tweets seem computer generated, like you have no heart or soul.”  Therein lies the debate –  we want big organisations to be places with personality, not lifeless automatons.

Over the past few months I find myself often quoting this tweet to marketing and communication teams as they look to find ways of using social media in a professional context. One the one hand they want to be seen to be social but on the other they don’t know how informal they can be. Much of this comes down to language (tone and style), conversations (knowing what customers want to talk about) and listening  (observing the chatter).

Conversational Q & A

I suspect that the person who followed Bank of America had unrealistically high expectations. Personally, a bank is not the type of organisation I want to follow. They are institutionally more comfortable with sober, dry language and so one cannot realistically expect ‘heart and soul’.

At least they are trying. Last October Bank of England [@bankofengland] launched a live Twitter Q & A via the hashtag #AskBoE. The only problem was that the chief economist was replying with the aid of a team of assistants who were obviously terrified of tweeting something that might be mis-construed. He would agree the answer and then some lackey would type it out. Although, #AskBoE lives on you can see its answers are kept very factual and to the point.

Heart and soul is what most most digital consumers seek these days. They want to get a sense of the personality behind the business they are dealing with.  The challenge is that boardrooms don’t do personality. It scares the daylights out of them as informal, social communication is perceived as risky.  To an extent it is, but that’s also where the opportunity lies, especially if you run your own business or work for an SME. You can be nimble, agile and fleet of foot – all of the things that large companies would like to be but are not.

The influence of the ‘social personality’

The heart and soul debate is driven and influenced by the cult of the social personality. The individual blogger or vlogger who makes it their business to regularly allow others into their personal and professional life. In terms of influence they now have a much bigger video audience than established brands like Burberry (123k subscribers), Dyson (8k subscribers) and the late Steve Jobs (103k subscribers) via EverySteveJobsVideo.

Burberry uses multiple channels and knows the video marketing value of Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne and Mario Testino; especially if you get all three to work together on one film. James Dyson knows why it’s important to be seen talking on digital platforms about the innovative vacuum cleaners he manufactures. And Steve Jobs was and is famous for his talks, whether for a new product launch or via TED.

You could never accuse any of them of trying to duck the heart and soul debate. But contrary to what you might expect, they are not the ones driving it, it is the young twenty-somethings like PewPieDie (31 million subscribers), Pointless Blog (3 million subscribers) and Zoella (6 million subscribers).

If you are unfamiliar with these names you are either getting on a bit or lacking in digital credibility. But don’t worry, they didn’t come onto my radar until recently, but that’s only because I have ‘millenial’ children (those born somewhere between early 1980s and early 2000s) who point me in the right direction.

Watching these videos is both fascinating and unnerving. Fascinating because they represent a shift in power and influence. The top vloggers are in complete control of the media they use. The videos are clearly shot, are decently lit and have good audio. Underneath their informality is a sense of structure. They are open, honest and irreverent – what you see is what you get.

The result is millions of subscribers and where there are lots of subscribers come the big brands and the advertisers. Don’t assume that this is a flash in the pan fad. These vloggers are digitally smart and savvy, they seamlessly hook up with Instagram, Pinterest or any other relevant channel to extend their social reach. And as they and their audience grow older, it is likely that their product and offering will evolve and mature. Unless of course they get bored by the whole thing and move onto something else. So, it’s not surprising that behind the scenes is Gleam Futures, a new type of agency specialising in the management of ‘social’ talent.

It’s unnerving because these seem to be the people in control. Unworldly and unwise they may be, they nevertheless call the shots.

Why you may need to work on your social personality

Have they unwittingly discovered the secret ingredient of the ‘social personality’? And should we care about the influence they have on teenagers and all those growing up in our connected world?

If you as a business want to have a social personality  – to show some heart and soul, this is possibly where the challenge lies. Whether you are Bank of America or an up and coming SME you may want to consider your social personality and how to express your heart and soul.

You’ll have to do this, not because people are going to stop using your services, but because your future customers are more likely to want to do business with those who’ve discovered the business benefits of unlocking their corporate personality and how to share it.


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