Social Media and the Clash of Brands

MUD day 10:

On his new blog today, UK journalist Tony Hallett considered a question raised indirectly by my Tuesday post on destination versus identity. His concern was with personal identity versus publication identity, or, if you prefer, personal versus corporate branding.

In traditional print or broadcast media, the corporate brand controls the personal brand—except in a few rare cases, writers are expected to adapt their voice to that of their venue, and publication editors make sure that happens. But as he noted, social media largely defies such control. Like it or not, social media tends to emphasize personal identity and to amplify personal voice.

This is a tricky issue for media organizations. On the one hand, they want to encourage the individual voices of their contributors. On the other, they don’t want to be eclipsed by them. It’s still true, as Hallett put it, that the corporate brand has the final say. But as traditional forms of media morph increasingly into new, more social forms, this may change. In chats, live blogging, and other types of instant publishing, there is no active editorial control, no formal restraint on the personal voice.

The conflict might be even more problematic for content marketers than for independent publishers. Traditional publishing brands have always been perceived, to a degree, as the sum of their individual voices. That’s not the case, I think, for most product and service brands. To control the corporate brand message, must the individual voice be restrained?

In any event, as the atomization of media proceeds, the individual voice will get louder. Media venues may become something more like an ever-shifting alliance of individuals than a stable and unitary identity. The tribe, perhaps, will supplant the brand.

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