Channel Goldilocks in determining the right amount of PR “personality” for your social business profile—not too little, not too much. Just right.

On CBC Radio’s The Current, a recent guest was Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking; she described introverts’ preferred forms of interactions and contributions to society. A sound bite that stood out from a public relations and social media perspective was about how the 19th century focused on “character,” whereas the last and current centuries promote a culture of “personality.”

From a social business perspective, what makes more sense for the PR management function: personality or character?

This is important when determining the fly zone (either as PR advisor or hands-on tactician practitioner) on a social enterprise’s real estate space (i.e., its social capital).

Too little, too much social personality

In my inaugural column, I stated the public relations management role is “central, fluid and relatively untested [regarding] effective reputation management and value in the social sphere.” Since time, I’ve been searching for examples of individuals doing it right. Alas, I see too many with an excess of personality and not nearly enough character. By this I mean too much unrelated-to-business information, negativity and “opinionating.”

There are notable exceptions, but it appears that many PR people doing an exemplary job in their traditional roles don’t have an adequate social profile—or too little, per my Goldilocks analogy.

Defining too little

It’s too little profile if various stakeholders don’t know who is in the lead public relations role and how to connect easily with him or her. This translates to missed opportunities in the social realm in regards to raising the profile of a social business and enhancing an organization’s reputation, value and relationship building. Journalists are an obvious example; others include potential B2B partners and relevant community groups.

At the “Tweeting a Business Beat” session at Social Media Week Toronto, two of the four panelists indicated they didn’t follow company Twitter accounts, but did engage with individuals. Alas, one panelist casually used the word “publicists” interchangeably with “PR,” thus undercutting the extent of his engagement with people in the PR function (probably limited to receiving media releases about new widgets). Speaking to the Globe and Mail’s senior communities editor (who served as moderator) post session, I indicated that being a publicist was a sub-set of public relations (as is media relations) and asked that this influential business publication’s journalists be educated on the difference.

On reflection, probably the journalists who indicated this preference mainly engage on Twitter with more-showy “personality” publicists than “character” PR individuals employed in businesses who cultivate relationships with a variety of publics, beyond consumers. For example, senior-level public relations reps responsible for:

  • reporting on investor relations and corporate social responsibility
  • relating with stakeholders in government and community groups; and
  • internal communications initiatives

Call to action: Ensure relevant PR people are identified on social business channels. Indicate personal account information where relevant.

From a social business perspective, I queried whether the Globe and Mail’s Small Business LinkedIn Group lent itself to developing article ideas for journalists. The business editor confirmed they were “probing [its members] for stories.” I noticed many attendees taking notes and it was one of the most-tweeted areas of the session, leading me to surmise that not many of my #smwto colleagues were aware of this LinkedIn resource. Judging by the looks on their faces, I suspect the existence of this Group surprised some panelists, too.

Call to action: Check out what relevant media properties have LinkedIn Groups. If Open, join and participate in discussions.

Recruiting a second opinion on too much

Now in her early 30s, earlier in her career Philadelphia-based Jennifer Mattern specialized in PR and social media consulting for creative professionals, plus small and online organizations. Currently Jenn is a professional blogger, covering social media and business. Although neither of us are shrinking violets in the social space, Jenn concurs that there’s often an excess of online personality:

“A brand’s social media identity shouldn’t revolve around a single person unless that person essentially is the business. That’s not the case with the in-house member of the PR team or a social media consultant. People leave positions willingly. They get fired. And duties are sometimes re-assigned to other employees or consultants. If an organization’s social media efforts are tied too directly to one personality, those kinds of changes could completely alter the public identity of the social business through its social media engagement.”

She continues, “There’s nothing wrong with injecting personality into social media interactions as an individual; that’s what personal accounts are meant to do. But the ‘personality’ of a brand in the social media space should be relatively consistent, even in light of a staff change. It’s important to pull yourself out of it to a degree so that relationships built between a business and its customers, fans or other stakeholders, so that the social business can continue with or without you, with minimal effect on members of that network.”

So who is just right?

I liked the take of columnist Joel Don about who, ultimately, owns the capital “developed” by a social lead. Regarding Joel’s “what if he leaves” example, I think Ford’s Scott Monty (although not specifically in a PR capacity) is a role model on the “just right” amount of character or personality. Other examples that come readily to mind are Dell’s Lionel Menchaca and Richard Binhammer, MSF Canada’s Avril Benoît, Genome Alberta’s Mike Spear and the Stratford Festival’s Lisa Middleton.

Why? Because in all of the above examples the business comes first, including strategy for engagement and the telling of the organizational narrative. The individuals’ own points of view and personalities come a distinct second, although they can shape stakeholders’ personal appreciation and respect for an organization’s PR and its chosen “social” representative.

PR fly zone on social media’s radar analogy

To underscore the title of this Byte, picture a small airplane flying above your city or at a public outdoor event—the ones that have a message trailing behind. (A similar, more obvious example: the Goodyear Blimp.) We’ve all seen them.

If the right set of stakeholders see the plane, plus its “tale” (sic) is “just-right-creative” enough, the message flying on the radar can influence a call to action to do something or find out more information. If it’s a lame message of blatant marketing, those same publics will stop looking and quickly revert to whatever they were doing.

Think of the pilot of the plane as being the PR representative, but this time flying in the social business sphere. The pilot works diligently in the hopes that you pay attention and engage with relevant communications or calls to action relating to or around the business. Navigation plays an essential role in flying the vehicle correctly, including being in front of the right stakeholders (quite possibly aided by the sales and marketing teams). But ultimately, any success relates to the brand being profiled (i.e., offerings and reputation), not to the pilot’s flying skills or personality.

In conclusion

Again, I channel the words of Toni Muzi Falconi regarding, “Who do you think has great public relations?”

“In most cases successful organizations do not have overt public visibility. Or, when they do have a high profile, they don’t betray their anxiousness or obsessive need to be liked.”

I suspect septuagenarian Toni is thinking of organizations and public relations representatives who have more of a 19th-century-style of character than 21st-century personality. Although in today’s optimal integrated communication environment, most companies would benefit from injecting more profile and character into the corporate DNA, in order to enhance organizational public relations fly zones on social media’s busy radar.

Which individuals have the “just right” amount of profile and fly zone in their organizations’ PR and social media roles? I’m interested in the “why,” plus whether their strategic and tactical influence is likely to continue past representatives’ affiliation with their social businesses. Think of it as the difference between a contracted, short-term “campaign” and a long-term “business communication plan.”

From a Profile Byte perspective, the most-useful examples are public relations practitioners who:

  • fly competently in the middle of the social media radar
  • have a Goldilocks just-right amount of character/personality; and
  • possess a laser-like focus on furthering the vision, goals and objectives of their social businesses

…rather than online aerobatics designed to build up personal reputations.