Yes, I know, the term “Brandividual” is kind of funky, and maybe even has an annoying buzz, but as a concept it’s here to stay.
Because brandividuals are the most transparent, authentic and ultimately effective way of representing an organization in an online conversation.
Brandividuals (Armano, 2008; Vespi, 2008) are employees who draw on their personal identity as well as the organization’s identity to represent the organization in online relationships. Found on corporate blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and other social media platforms, brandividuals speak on the organization’s behalf, consciously expressing their own personalities, attributes and attitudes while they represent the organization.
Why Bran (d)-(in)dividuals?
Brandividuals meet the implicit demand of social media for communication between one person and another.
Social media platforms demand what I call a ‘first person presence’. That is because social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, are designed to be used by individuals, as individuals, to create relationships with other individuals.
This requirement of a ‘first person presence’ is something that most social media users take for granted, but if you’re not a big social media user (hello, management academics!) this requirement of person to person interaction arrives as an insight.
The weirdness of the “third person” in social media
Have you ever talked with a 4-year old going through a particularly self-important phase, where he’ll only refer to himself in the third person? “Yes, William will sit down for supper, if Thomas and James come too.” “William does not like Sir Tophamhat!” (Maybe you have to be staring at the 4 year old to really understand just how weird this sounds? Okay, then check out this Zappos live chat for another example. )
Well, that’s a bit what it’s like when an organization presents itelf as an entity in social media. They sound pompous and self-important.
Moreover, Twitter streams from these corporate accounts read like relentless sales promotion updates. (Check out @Microsoft_Xbox for an example. ) None of this ‘communication’ sounds like human conversation.
Social media users realize that we are not really interacting with “the organization” itself when we’re interacting online with these corporate accounts. Yet, even as we recognize behind @Microsoft_Xbox is some person working the levers and the keyboard, it still takes up some of our cognitive energy to manage the disconnect between the third-person presentation and the understanding that there is a first-person back there somewhere.
We all know that “The organization” does not participate on social media; the organization’s representatives do. These representatives can participate “as” a single person, where several members maintain one profile together (e.g., @Offic_Live ). Or, individuals can participate as solo representatives of the organization. Either way, it is up to individual members of the organization, working on the organization’s behalf, to be the actual social media participants.
There are only 6 different tactics for creating a first-person organizational presence in social media.