The Personality Paradox

[cross-posted on the Ogilvy Fresh Influence blog]

I’ve noticed something lately I can only describe as the Personality Paradox (mostly because I’m a big fan of alliteration).

It’s simple:  When it comes to engaging in social media, bigger brands (alliteration! OK, I’ll stop pointing it out.) tend to have smaller personalities.  This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

In the case of a big brand there are myriad factors that can cause this Paradox.  First off, having a big personality takes a ton of effort and focus.  Add to that regulatory/compliance issues, organizational challenges, multiple marcom agencies, new management and a million other things, big and small.  Or worse, simply losing sight of the customers who got you there in the first place.

The perfect parallel is a rock band.  The unsigned band playing half-filled clubs is going to cherish every fan – no autograph unsigned, no photo request denied, no interview not granted, no Tweet unanswered.  But as that band gains a following and eventually breaks, the demands on their time and attention increase, forcing them to (1) triage inbound requests and (2) start speaking to their fanbase as a whole, rather than as individuals.  Oh, and as their egos inflate, they often quickly forget their most loyal base.


(photo courtesy of Arne Hendriks)

As with anything of this sort, there are always exceptions.

Vans is a brand that immediately comes to mind.  And lest you think Vans is a little skate punk operation, they are owned by a holding company (bought for nearly $400mm a few years ago) that owns Nautica, North Face and Wrangler to name a few.  So it’s pretty cool that whether it’s their Twitter handle, blog, Facebook page or any other social profile,  Vans stays true to their skater beginnings – everything from the imagery to the language and content they feature feels totally authentic.  And their community manager, “Nikki S,” is in my opinion one of the best in the business.  Responsive, helpful and funny, all with a little bad-ass attitude.

Vans not big enough for you?  How about Ogilvy client, Ford Motor Company?  Just take a look at how they enthusiastically jumped into Google+, or the delightful and highly personalized way they invited bloggers to an event earlier this year.  I’m biased, of course, but don’t you think this is a great example of a huge enterprise acting like that unsigned band trying to make it to the top?

What are some quick takeaways for big brands?

  • Put a face and name to your social efforts.  Logos are good, people are great.
  • Put as much effort into developing your voice as you do your content.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
  • Always keep an eye on experimentation.  Try new things.  We all fail – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and might engender even more admiration.

What are other big brands (or bands, while we’re at it) that buck the paradox?  What’s their secret sauce?