In a world where every product is thoughtfully packaged, every message carefully crafted to sell us something, we often can't tell what to believe, and we increasingly look to real people to help us make decisions. And increasingly, companies and organizations are leveraging us, real people, as brand ambassadors—knowledgeable, respected employees, customers or fans—who give the company a human connection to consumers via social networks and friend groups.
A company's success in advertising to and through brand ambassadors depends on the power that those ambassadors have to positively influence others' opinions and actions. Most of us serve as both witting and unwitting ambassadors for a variety of brands. When we talk to one another or post a review or link online, we might be representing and promoting ourselves, our work, a cause we believe in, a friend's business, a company in our neighborhood, an employer or the employer's clients. As creatives, we often end up serving as de facto brand ambassadors for our clients. As we learn about them and come to appreciate their products and stories we start "selling" them to our friends and family even in our personal interactions. We're packaging—branding, even—our own opinions and disseminating them to those around us.
Whether we're representing ourselves personally, or our own and other brands online, most of us are speaking to a complicated audience that may consist of friends, family, clients, competitors, potential clients, competitors of clients, and so on. All of us increasingly have the very real power to influence others with what we say and do online. But ... "With great power… great responsibility."
The rules aren't any different in the virtual world than they are in the real world: time-tested axioms like "be polite, be generous, be kind, be honest, be tactful, don't hog the conversation" and "don't talk with your mouth full," hold up as well online as off-. But with the nonstop stream of updates, connections, check-ins, likes, retweets and friendings that we indiscriminately spew forth in the digital world, it is easy to forget that everything we put out is coalescing to form a picture of ourselves for others—a collage of our associations, our likes and dislikes, reactions, opinions, and eventually, our credibility, respectability and professionalism.
In our most impulsive moments, it's tempting to shout into the void and forget our audience and our real world, context-based manners. None of us wants to have to pipe down when we feel passionately about something, or to labor over our every word unless it's to fit that whole thought in 140 characters. And we shouldn't. But as advertisers, and we all are, whether we are asking our friends to "like" our new client, responding to a friend's question with a product recommendation, or bashing a local business for poor service, it's worth taking a moment to think about who we're talking to, why we're talking to them, on whose behalf we're speaking, and who else might be listening in.
The power of personally interacting on behalf of a brand is the possibility to stir someone to action or thought in a very real, very authentic and meaningful way. But there's also the potential to mislead, to offend, to confuse, to overwhelm, or to dilute our professional message with conflicting personal messages. It takes an extra degree of care to maintain relevancy, consistency and transparency when we interact online. But we'll probably find that our audience listens to us just a bit more if we're taking the time to think about our audience and our message and shift our tone of voice or our choice of words, just a bit, to fit the occasion. You know, like we would in real life.
We'd like to hear our creative friends' thoughts—How have you avoided overwhelming your friends and followers? How have you balanced conflicts between your personal brand and the brands you represent? How have you maintained privacy around personal opinions, or not?