A Business Can’t Be Social

by Ilana Rabinowitz |

A business is a legal entity.  Only the individual people within the business can engage in social media. That’s why, several weeks ago, I wrote about the major shift in thinking and behavior needed for a business to be successful in social media.

I’d like to take a deeper look into one of those areas: hiring and training everyone in the organization in the age of social media.

Social media is the job of everyone in the organization

Most people in your company have a social media “address” at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.  They are out in the open as individuals at the same time that they are representing you. A potential client can speak directly to that individual, side-stepping the people you choose to give as a contact person.

If a customer wants to ask a question or make a comment, she’ll find someone in your company to connect with, and it won’t necessarily be your official brand account.

Everything is public

Before social media, the relationships and behaviors of your employees with others remained relatively private.  Today, if one of your salespeople meets someone at a conference and makes a bad impression, it could be tweeted to hundreds or thousands of people.  If that salesperson makes a great impression on a prospect, that could tweeted as well.  The connections that employees make through their personal social media accounts with others–colleagues, vendors, suppliers and customers–through LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook will forever become public.

These realities can neither be contained nor ignored. Your reputation could depend on them being addressed.

Hold a mirror up to your organization and ask yourself, “How Does This Look?”

People are out there taking photos and videos and sharing their every experience on social media.  So, ask yourself the tough questions. Do you sell women’s shoes but primarily employ men? Do you preach social justice but lack diversity in your workforce?  Do you tout your concern for the environment but your CFO drives a Hummer?

All of this points to the fact that everyone — from your CFO to your Creative Director needs to be social media savvy.  They need to be trained in what it means to represent the brand as an individual within the business.

You may as well be proactive about sharing what happens behind the scenes through a corporate blog.  Your customers and the community of people who could become your customers, want to know who they are dealing with.  What does your company believe? Are they true to their values?

Look outside the marketing department for content

Your product can’t be just another commodity in a crowded marketplace. The end of mass marketing and mass production requires you to go beyond product benefits—you need to find a way to create meaning for people—to make them better at what they do, or to enhance their knowledge, creativity or personal growth.

That’s a tall order.  It requires resources that Marketing may not have.  The kind of content we’re talking about could be created by Product Development, the creative team or the merchants.   For example, if you are a fashion brand, a buyer could write about (photograph and/or videotape) her latest buying trip to Italy, describe how the architecture influenced her choice of design, how the colors she chose were inspired by the landscape.  Don’t worry about giving away trade secrets.  The story of that trip can’t be copied.

At Louis Vuitton, a corporate blog The Creative Director (not the marketing director) shows the process of producing a bag.  When you watch this video, you understand why one of their bags costs thousands of dollars. (You might even be moved to buy one.)

At Stark and Stark, there’s little doubt that a requirement of signing on at this law firm is the ability to blog. Their attorneys write on focused (long-tail) topics of legal interest and people searching Google for answers to legal questions are much more likely to land on their page. Not only does this serve to improve the firm’s SEO, but it validates their thought leadership and trustworthiness. This law firm boasts a treasure trove of blog content, updated regularly on a wide variety of legal topics and a podcast as well.  I’m sure the lawyers who write do not consider themselves part of “the social media department.”

Think of every department and every individual as a potential source of content and make sure they know that this is part of their job.

The Social Media Team

The team on the front lines of social media requires a special skillset.  It’s much easier if you these skills in house.  When hiring or training, consider these guidelines:

  •  The people who talk directly to consumers should be the consumers. At Lion Brand Yarn Company where I head the marketing team, one of the requirements for the consumer facing people is that they knit or crochet.  It’s not just about having the technical know-how but about understanding the community on every level. That’s what authenticity is about.  If you are active in a community of people who use a product, you need to use that product.
  • Everyone must care. Caring informs all behavior. Caring results in putting out content that matters. Yes, they have to truly give a damn about the community.  When consumers get up in arms about something on Facebook about something, you need to take it seriously.  An apology only goes so far. Caring means you go to great lengths to make it right.
  • The team must be communicative and proactive.  If an employee spends many hours a week on your company’s Facebook and Twitter Twitter account and hears rumblings or raves about a product, that person needs to be able to communicate this to management. She needs to be able to coherently present both qualitative and quantitative feedback from the many conversations she reads every day, even when it means reaching across departmental boundaries to design, product development, customer service or shipping to improve the situation or commend the people who have been publicly praised on social media.
  • The brand has to be baked into all the interactions.  It’s great to have a manual that tells employees how we behave on social media and what the brand voice is but it needs to be internalized.  No human being refers to a manual before going to a cocktail party to interact with people.
  • Behaving in a human way means being vulnerable and imperfect.  Allow the people who engage in social media to appropriately express feelings and admit to mistakes and concerns.  It will be easier for your community to relate to you if they can identify with you.
  • Analysis goes hand-in-hand with content.  Marketing is traditionally a creative endeavor.  But, with digital marketing you have the ability to know how your efforts are performing.  Facebook insights, Google analytics, analysis of the blog results (comments, traffic, etc.) as well as clicks on your newsletter should be reviewed regularly and the feedback shared with everyone concerned.  Your marketing efforts become more effective when you learn from your successes and your duds.
  • You’re producing content all day. Add these skills to your team: HTML, video editing, photography skills,  Photoshop, writing, editing, curating, copy editing and proofreading.

Social media may be nothing more than modern tools to facilitate age-old behaviors, but for many businesses, the openness and human qualities required to use these tools are foreign.  Today you can’t relegate social media duties to a handful of people.  More people in key positions in the company should be nurturing a presence in social media and everyone should know that they may be participating whether they realize it or not.


Hiring For Social Media  (Brass Tack Thinking)

How To Become A Social Organization (Dan Schwabel for Forbes)



About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.