This is Frank Eliason‘s last week at Comcast. The poster boy for leveraging social media for customer service and, in the process, turning around a struggling company’s image, will no longer be @ComcastCares on Twitter. Eliason is moving on to Citi where he will head up their social media efforts.

On the surface, it’s a neat, new plum job for a great guy who is a leader and pioneer in corporate social media. But there’s a lot more to the story because it writes another chapter in the personal vs. company brand playbook.

Frank Eliason - Voluntweetup

Yeah, Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang left Forrester and are now reunited at the Altimeter Group. But those two were analysts at a tech-oriented company who branched out to be analysts at their own tech-oriented company. (Yes, they serve non-tech clients, but they’re tech/social analysts.) Robert Scoble? Same thing … tech to tech. Different deal.

Eliason leaves a cable company to go to a financial services company. It’s a bit different when it is out of the tech bubble. Eliason is also, intentional or not, the face and voice of Comcast customer service, not just a shining star on a team of content providers.

Frank Eliason is many people’s personal connection to Comcast. Losing him will be a blow to the cable company, and one more impactful than other personal brands moving on have been. You would think that Comcast would realize that and make every effort to keep Eliason in that position. Not so says a friend in the know at the company.

I’ll also be watching Eliason’s move to Citi because the position there, as I understand it, reports to marketing and isn’t a delineated customer service initiative. Eliason is a customer care and quality assurance guy, so he’ll stir the pot at the financial services company, I’d bet.

More importantly, though, I’m interested to see how @FrankEliason evolves as a face and voice on Twitter. Will Citi position Eliason as an employee handling social media or a personal brand speaking for the company?

Ford’s Scott Monty oversees many social media efforts, but is perhaps most effective for the company on Twitter as himself. Yet, in many ways he has leased his name to Ford. (Not a criticism. Ford is his job. And it’s not my opinion. Look at his Tweet cloud.)

What happens if Monty were to leave Ford? Yes, their social media efforts would go on, and perhaps largely unaffected. Monty has wisely built a robust social presence for the Ford brands there and the company isn’t as dependent upon him as Comcast is on Eliason. But what about the Scott Monty brand? If he moves to, say, Sony, and suddenly becomes Sony fan boy number one, I worry that his personal brand may become the Rent-This-Space of the social world.

What happens to Frank Eliason’s personal vs. company activity is going to be interesting to watch. What could happen if Monty ever leaves Ford might be more interesting, but we may not see that any time soon. My guess is that Ford won’t let him go easily the way Comcast allegedly has Eliason.

But this new chapter in personal vs. company brand is being written now. How will the chapter end? What challenges do you see Comcast facing in the coming weeks? What challenges does Eliason have before him at Citi in terms of him vs. the company? The comments are yours.

NOTE: Frank Eliason and Scott Monty are both friends but also semi-public figures in this space. I did not contact either of them about this issue before writing it. I only offer the questions and scenarios here as what-ifs for us to consider about personal brands and company presences in the social media space. I wish Frank the best at Citi and know he’ll be as terrific for them as he was for Comcast. I love Scott Monty like a brother and, though I’m perhaps more critical of him as a result, think the world of what he has done at Ford and before. I also consider him perhaps the best corporate social media lead on the planet.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/swoodruff Steve Woodruff

    Sports teams have been dealing with this issue forever. There will always be “stars”, and sometimes, they'll change uniforms. Brett Favre is Brett Favre – maybe forever a GB Packer in some minds, but now he's wearing purple. I think it's great that we can cultivate our voice, our audience, our influence, and become that much more valuable to a potential employer – as long as we promote and build what we genuinely believe in.

    • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

      Love this analogy, Steve. It's true: What happens to a brand when the “face of the franchise” moves to another company? How does life change for the high-profile individual after joining a new brand?

      I had an intriguing convo about this yesterday with the high-profile “face” of a well-known brand. Sometimes, becoming the social media director at a big brand actually means becoming less visible: Instead of blogging and Tweeting all day, you're busy behind the scenes working on strategy, executive buy-in, planning sessions, and greasing the skids internally. What does that shift — from hyper-visible to less visible — mean for brands that hire “social media rockstars?” What does it mean for the individuals? Does effective social media leadership require you to be as visible as Frank Eliason?

      Great post, Jason…thanks for raising some good questions.

      • http://www.arikhanson.com Arik Hanson

        Love the sports analogy, Steve, but you make an interesting point, Scott. I'll take that a step further: What role does an individual's personality play in all this? I think some people are pre-disposed, because of their personality type, to come to the fore-front of an organization, much like Scott and Frank have in the last couple years. Yes, working in marketing/communications/social media was /is their jobs. But, Scott and Frank are very personable, warm, outgoing guys. I think it's their nature to move to a public-facing role for organizations like Ford and Comcast. The nature of their jobs just made them that much more visible–hence the boom for their “personal” brands. Thoughts?

        • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

          Or, to boil it down: Can unlikeable people succeed in social media? Can they succeed in PR? Or sales?

          You're right — Frank and Scott are likeable, approachable people (at least I think so…). But they're smart, too. But what if they were just smart…wicked smaht? Is there a place in the customer service/marketing/PR/communications/sales picture for people who are strategic and tactical visionaries, but socially awkward?

    • http://twitter.com/StartupSidekick Jason Sullivan

      Excellent analogy. The uniform won't change the player (unless he comes to Seattle, but that's another story). I suppose if the person is very young they could feel forced to provide more socially because of their new position. But a major change in personality or style following most career changes (especially if they are already established like Eliason) usually doesn't happen.

      Jason
      http://twitter.com/StartupSidekick (Follow me on Twitter for fresh entrepreneurial advice)

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Or, to boil it down: Can unlikeable people succeed in social media? Can they succeed in PR? Or sales?

    You're right — Frank and Scott are likeable, approachable people (at least I think so…). But they're smart, too. But what if they were just smart…wicked smaht? Is there a place in the customer service/marketing/PR/communications/sales picture for people who are strategic and tactical visionaries, but socially awkward?

  • http://twitter.com/SusieSharp Susie Sharp

    Very interesting. The carefully created face of the brand moves. Where does that leave Comcast? Hopefully there's more than one Comcast representative who's been working hard to fill the gap. Did Comcast put all their eggs in one basket; I hope not. Frank left some pretty big shoes to fill.

  • http://www.redgiantconsulting.com Tamara Gruber

    Very interesting and good comments. As more high profile individuals move jobs and take their brand equity with them, I wonder if it will push companies to have a more corporate face on social networks and what impact that will have on their success. Somewhat of a double-edged sword.

  • Dana Webster

    It's an interesting consideration to keep in mind. My mentors, when transitioning into Social Media, urged being myself, using my face, my name, my story as the brand representing the company. We're small, and my presence is somewhat limited, so I don't think they'd be dramatically hurt, but if I were to leave the pharmaceutical industry, I do think my brand would topple like a house of cards (because that's what it's largely been built on)

  • Kevin

    I think Frank and Scott are great examples of how people use social media but honestly when it comes to impact on the company who cares besides the social media echo chamber?

    Do you think the average customer that has a problem with Comcast, that is outside the SM or marketing space, cares who is responding to them? Frank went out and showed his company how they should be responding to customers in social media and ultimately built out an entire department at Comcast. Conceivably that should have a long lasting impact on the company.

    His personal brand leaving won't impact the company overall as long as the people in the department he had a role in creating retain the same best practices.

    I think personal brand vs. company brand is relative to the size of the company and how social is being used by them. If it was some small startup where he was the voice and face of the company and his brand was way larger than the actual company it would be one thing.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great perspective, Kevin. Thanks for centering the discussion a bit.

    • http://twitter.com/Genuine Jim Turner

      Kevin I have to say when I told my wife that Frank was leaving Comcast to join CITI I was inflecting some major move and how it was going to change the world. Her response? “That's great honey, who is Frank again?” You are absolutely right that in the big world of big pictures and big companies it may only be moving the needle in that echo chamber.

  • http://twitter.com/StartupSidekick Jason Sullivan

    Excellent analogy. The uniform won't change the player (unless he comes to Seattle, but that's another story). I suppose if the person is very young they could feel forced to provide more socially because of their new position. But a major change in personality or style following most career changes (especially if they are already established like Eliason) usually doesn't happen.

    Jason
    http://twitter.com/StartupSidekick (Follow me on Twitter for fresh entrepreneurial advice)

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Interesting, as this is one of the reasons why companies are sometimes reluctant to make an employee the star.

  • http://TannerChristensen.com tannerc

    Makes you wonder: are followers of these individuals fans because of the personality the individuals brings to the table, or because of the personality the individual represents on behalf of the company?

  • http://scottmonty.com scottmonty

    @JasonFalls I love the discussion going on here. You wrote a great thought-provoking post. First of all, thank you for your kind but unnecessary words about our work at Ford. We're glad to be held to account for what we do, and we're always striving for the best.

    Steve Woodruff and Scott Hepburn make some excellent points – Steve's about sports figures is an apt one. The same could be said for a rockstar CEO. What happens when Steve Jobs leaves Apple? What happened when Jack Welch left GE? Some concept, different level.

    Scott's point about infrastructure building is an important one. For while public spokespeople do need to seem likable to some degree, ultimately a personality-based social or PR program won't work. There has to be a sustainable business model, and that comes from creating an appropriate organization and processes to support it.

    • http://twitter.com/bchesnutt Brandon Chesnutt

      Great point, Scott. The business must be able to back the play of the online spokesperson/communicator. Even if the person in a brand's social media seat is a mega star, their ideas may never see the light of day if the organization doesn't support it. We'd see lots of talk, but no action/results.

      Jason – Thanks for sparking the discussion!

      • http://twitter.com/DWSNJ Dale W. Smith

        Support by Management and by company organizations make or break the credibilty of the online persona.

    • http://www.jeremymeyers.com/ Jeremy Meyers

      And as for the Sony analogy (not that Scott would ever work for such a company), I think that Mr. Monty here has demonstrated enough integrity that should he choose to take another position, I have confidence that he believes enough in the brand (or at least the potential of the brand) for his statements to be genuine, rather than shill-y.

      Its really obvious when a brand ambassador is pure kool-aid, and when they're genuinely enthusiastic about what their company makes possible. We can tell the difference, in our gut.

      • http://scottmonty.com scottmonty

        That's a great point, and one that I wholeheartedly subscribe to, Jeremy. When I took the job at Ford, it was because I truly believed in where the company was heading.

    • http://www.briandshelton.com Brian D. Shelton

      Indeed, a great discussion. Scott, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “a personality-based social or PR program won't work.” True. Personality/likability isn't enough. In my opinion, there are two things that must be present. 1) Process (which you mention) and 2) substance. The best system in the world, with the wrong people, product, content will fail. Conversely, the best people, product and content in the world, without a sustainable process will also fail. I believe you must have both to win.

      As for Jason's assertion that the Scott Monty “personal brand may become the Rent-This-Space of the social world,” I think that ultimately comes down to integrity and character. I think Jason's hypothetical argument about you leaving Ford to become “Sony fan boy number one,” includes an unfair assumption that your current Ford fan-boy status could be seen as something other than genuine – that you're only doing it because they pay your salary.

      I, for one, would not become “fan-boy number one” for any company, product or service I didn't genuinely believe in. I believe you (and Jason) feel the same way. My guess is that if/when you ever do move on, you'll still be a “Ford fan-boy.”

      Thanks, Jason for a(nother) great post.

    • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

      Couple of points here. Yes, to some degree the sports analogy is apt…but not yet. The way you overcome a star leaving in sports is to replace them with another star, ideally bigger. We don't have enough of those yet in the space to do that, we have to create them…from scratch..all over again, which is why we're even having this discussion. There is no farm league to pull from except those who've made a name for themselves as *individuals* in the social media space…and to be honest most of those don't fit into large enterprises that well as employees.

      As to comments regarding whether anyone outside of social media circles has heard of “Frank Eliason” or “Scott Monty” I'd say they are right. But what one has to realize is that it is the 'social media elites' acknowledgement and acceptance of these people as being 'leaders' that causes traditional media to notice…which in turn garners the PR and the coverage…which in turn helps put that company on the map as a known entity leading in social media. There is a larger cycle at play here that I'm not sure should be ignored.

      The social media bandwagon could just as easily decide that @comcastbill (Frank's successor) sucks…and that's a bandwagon that Comcast does not want a ride on. It's a lot to put on one persons shoulders, especially given how fickle the social media world can be.

      Just my .02. Cheers.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com Tom Martin

    Interesting take Jason. Especially the part about “rent this space” with regard to social media leaders lending their brand to corp brands. Guess the crux of that argument lies in the trust that Scott, Frank and others develop over time with their followers.

    If for instance Scott and others like him were to jump ship (like Frank is doing) and did it multiple times in their careers the question would turn on our belief that they are just posing for the highest bidder, becoming a socem mercenary of sort, or do they only accept jobs from brands they truly love (and have loved) before a pay check was involved. This could even be something that you could research by going back through their socme timeline and seeing for instance if they had ever mentioned or promoted the brand prior to getting a paycheck.

    Certainly interesting and I'd think an important point for brand to understand if they plan to hire a socme star as a way to jump start their presence here.

    @TomMartin

  • http://twitter.com/bchesnutt Brandon Chesnutt

    Great point, Scott. The business must be able to back the play of the online spokesperson/communicator. Even if the person in a brand's social media seat is a mega star, their ideas may never see the light of day if the organization doesn't support it. We'd see lots of talk, but no action/results.

    Jason – Thanks for sparking the discussion!

  • http://impulsemagazine.net Impulse Magazine

    Personal branding definitely has a new face online because it actually involves showcasing your personality

  • http://twitter.com/megfowler Meg Fowler

    The individual who spearheads and oversees the creation of social programs at a company is often emotionally connected to their brand by their socially-focused constituents, whether they're a @comcastcares, a @scottmonty, or even a Tony Hsieh at @zappos.

    But the reason we're worried about their Twitter followings becoming “cults of personality” (so to speak) is that we can't imagine a world yet where several people have passed through those positions — where multiple voices have been a part of a brand.

    After all, social platforms have existed for much less than a decade, Twitter itself has only been around for 4 years, and each of these people has only been known as the voice of their company for a couple years. But two or four or six years from now, when companies have done more juggling, positions-wise, when new social platforms have risen to the fore, and when many of these pros have moved onto new challenges (and new pros have entered the fray), the idea that the company voice and presence will prevail when the personal brands connected with them move on will seem like less of a stretch.

    From a business perspective, yes, companies are often related to the brands of their founders — but when those founders move on, someone else takes over and takes the company in a different direction. Sure, some businesses fail at that point, but many get even better.

    And honestly, most people don't focus all that much on the leadership of companies they buy from (unless they are in those circles themselves, or want to be) — they focus on the service and products they get. Most people who buy GE lightbulbs couldn't tell you who Jack Welch is, and most people who shop at Wal-Mart haven't thought twice about Sam Walton. I'd dare say the same thing for the vast majority of Comcast users and Ford buyers, as great as Frank and Scott are.

    We have to be careful to see brands and business trends from a less rarefied lens, and to recognize that the social landscape is just one part of the business/marketing equation.

  • http://www.kemarie.com Bourke Purses

    Personal branding is definitely in these days. It's part of the web 2.0.

  • http://twitter.com/Genuine Jim Turner

    Frank and I had this conversation last year in Seattle at Gnomedex over lunch. Is what we have accomplished on social networks as personal brands, (Yeah @geoffliving hates me when i say that) what is a benefit to the overall company brand? Is there a distinction between the personal brand and the company brand? I am looking at this too. In the social media circles it is already happening, CITI is probably seeing more traffic from that sector and we will be cheering Frank on from the sidelines as he works his magic. Sorry Frank, no pressure but we do expect magic.

  • http://agapistudios1111.blogspot.com AgapiStudios

    Just heard you on Prophets with BlogCatelog … Great Job … enjoyed listening to you

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Very cool! Thanks for saying so.

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  • http://seanseo.com Sean SEO Marketer

    I have seen some people worrying about their position, screaming out to find a new job not a personal brand. However, such people need to realize the importance of getting focused about them. Personal brand is not something that just bought up either by a person or a company but by the quality of the services. If a big company has to loose someone crucial I think they will decide him losing only if they have someone to alternate that place. Because, I don't think a big company would react on personal emotions as emotions don't mix well with business!

  • http://seanseo.com Sean SEO Marketer

    I have seen some people worrying about their position, screaming out to find a new job not a personal brand. However, such people need to realize the importance of getting focused about them. Personal brand is not something that just bought up either by a person or a company but by the quality of the services. If a big company has to loose someone crucial I think they will decide him losing only if they have someone to alternate that place. Because, I don't think a big company would react on personal emotions as emotions don't mix well with business!

  • http://jasonwietholter.com Jason Wietholter

    It's interesting to me the difference in the two players in your article and how they leverage themselves differently. And it brings up the interesting question about how to handle the mixing of personal brands and corporate brands.

    The example of Monty moving to Sony and essentially becoming a brand for hire is a major dilemma. I think you eliminate a lot of the inherent trust problems of being a “brand for hire” by making your goal to provide exceptional customer service and not hack a product.

    These guys will be the ones to watch to see how things shape up for the near future in big name corporate/personal brand mixing.

  • http://xeesm.com/carlosrhernandez CarlosHernandez

    What a pleasant problem to have.

    The days of the power solely lying with the brand and not the employee has been busted by the range and power of social media.

    I have been encouraging those who are uncomfortable with social media that it provides the space to step out from behind the brand identity ( best symbolized by one's name on a corporate business card).

    Employees are faced with the occurrence of having their identity stripped away after being dismissed from a position. Unemployed and employed alike face the challenge of having to seek a new position every 2-3 years.

    Why not have their personal brand being the consistent message?

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