In social media should you choose personal or corporate branding?

The question arose the other night on Twitter, about user @bradinator retiring his personal persona account and focusing more energy on his corporate wine brand’s Twitter account @Blackcloudwine. The question put forward was: “Is he committing social capital suicide by doing so and if so why would he do such a thing?”. I have been wrestling with the same issue with my agency’s @powershifter account vs. my personal @jaypiddy account, so I thought I would wrestle it out here on the PS Blog. Is the personal brand more important than the corporate brand, is it the other way around or do they share equality in the equation? The answer may be clear to those that are born of the web and social media especially who are themselves “the brand”. If you are by definition a primarily a blogger then for all intensive purposes that is your “product” That means you engage users at a very personal level in social media and one might say that they are equal to the brand. The personas are the brands and are so intwined with the writing of the blogs and the Twitter posts it’s hard to separate the two.

That is not the case for such things as packaged goods and or large service oriented companies. Those that are born brand first as is the case for the vast majority of brands and companies in the social media space must keep the brand first in the minds of it’s customers. As much as a personal touch or the collective voice maybe important elements behind the brand touching the consumer in thoughtful and memorable ways, it is important to place the brand 1st and foremost.

Look at the top brands in social media today. Jet BlueDellStarbucksWhole Foods and WestJet just to name a few. They are all very personable and have clearly communicated as a group of people behind the brand that actually do care, but they do not place themselves before the brand. When I think of Zappos I have no idea what the names of the great people that helped me with customer care issues, and if I was not an in the advertising industry I would not be able to name Tony Hsieh as the CEO. Most of the Zappos customers only know the brand by name.

So back to @bradinator vs @Blackcloudwine for a few minutes here. What are the risks of abandoning the personal brand? As @paulrickett points out that 60% of those who follow @bradinator do not follow @Blackcloudwine so at first glance one might say that is a bad choice to abandon the personal account considering how often @bradinator tweets about his Blackcloud Wine. But that would be a very simplified view of the situation. @bradinator’s personal account is very irreverent and has collected a huge following for that very reason. What if those 2030 followers could care less about wine and follow him just for his personal commentary? Then even if he could transfer his social capital over to the @Blackcloudwine account then it would be worthless. If 909 followers of @Blackcloudwine have a higher propensity to love wine and buy more wine and were attracted to that account due to the winecentric tweets in the first place then the smaller more qualified numbers are much more valuable. I will admit that I did not take the time to attempt to measure the quality of the @Blackcloudwine wine followers but I will bet that most are more interested in wine that on his other account.

Social media is just like traditional advertising when it comes to influence. It’s not the number of eyeballs that count but rather the quality and relevance of those that follow you and your posts, tweets and feeds. Just because you have a follow count of thousands upon thousands on Twitter, your blog or Facebook page does not mean that you can market just anything to your potentially unqualified followers. Hell if it was a shear numbers game then why not just head over to fiverr.com and pay the five bucks to the literally hundreds of people offering to place your message or ad in their Twitter streams of 10′s of thousands of followers. I’ll tell you why. Proof that the clickthrough rate on those unqualified posts are incredibly low. All you need to do is pay one of the social media influencers a “fiverr” and then hand them over a message with a bit.ly or ow.ly link and watch your clickthrough rate. I will bet you that you will get fewer then 10 clicks on your highly un-targeted campaign. I am not saying that big numbers of followers don’t work but they need to be qualified. Sure we may lead tribes but if I started to push Tampex branded tampons to my Twitter followers I am sure my tribe would not buy what I was selling.

Here is another reason that the personal brand in social media may not be the right way to grow your brand…scaling with grace and authenticity. We have seen what happens when a personal brand does not scale well due to the fact that there is a finite amount of you [personal brand] to go around. Usually when a personal brand takes off there is the need to automate the posts and tweets etc. That is usually done by way of hiring assistants to do the work for the personal brand…that’s not very transparent now is it and can blow up quickly. When you choose to support a branded account the ability to authentically scale the brand is much easier to do. Sure it’s through the same process of distributing the communication through others like assistants or social brand managers. The difference is that each manager can be identified as an individual behind a brand.

On an account that our agency set up for a customer we have three different people that tweet on behalf of the brand and are demarked by the “^” charachter and their initials. This clearly identifies that there is more than one person managing the account and if need be others can be added with out the feeling that there is any misrepresentation of the branded tweets.

So I ask the question again. Is it social capital suicide or just the death of another Twitter ID? Or is it just the birth of another one that may suit the brand better and in the end move more product and connect with it’s customers in a much more authentic way?