Online marketing and social media tips for business from Shannon Belew, best-selling author of "Starting an Online Business For Dummies, All-in-One"
Do you really know who is lurking behind that popular social media profile? After being outed for not writing all of his own social media commentary, disappointed fans were left asking, “Will the Real George Takei please stand up?” Is your brand destined for the same fate?
Comedy writer, Rick Polito, recently revealed that he was paid $10 a pop to provide jokes for the beloved celebrity’s Facebook page. The public seemed shock to discover that the witty banter and entertaining memes Takei has become known for on social media were not all his original creation. Since the revelation there’s been plenty of back-and-forth about exactly how much of Takei’s posts are from paid contributors, staff, friends, and fans – and how much comes from Takei. But the bigger issue we should all be discussing is this: Who should own your brand’s social messaging? Then there’s the question of how much social media content is appropriate to outsource – and whether you should be upfront about it if you do use freelance writers.
First, let’s be honest. Ghostwriting has been around for a long time and the practice continues to thrive. There are LOTS of politicians, celebrities, and public figures who have talented, nameless writers behind those best-selling books with million-dollar advances. Likewise, the rise of social media and the reignited mantra that “Content is King,” has pushed content into the spotlight for just about every brand – and most brands use freelancers to feed the content machine. Today, content includes everything from blog posts and customer case studies to daily Tweets and Facebook posts. Content is everywhere. Whether you are generating leads or building a fan base, it takes a Superman to keep up with the constant churn of quality information and entertaining posts that fans crave and customers require to keep you in the spotlight. For that reason, it’s not unusual for brands to turn to freelancers, guest bloggers, and even consumers to contribute content.
It’s understood that while a business has its own identity, there are people (employees) behind that identity who are pumping out the content that shape the brand. If JetBlue is sending tweets, it’s a given that an employee or other representative is sending the message. But brands, even those of small businesses, still face the challenge of creating a personable image that feels more like a real human and less like a faceless company name. Now, consider that if the brand is an actual person, like George Takei, then there’s an expectation (however unrealistic) that it is that individual who is actually tweeting, posting, and blogging – everything. This problem isn’t reserved for people with the mega-watt celebrity status of a Takei or a Justin Beiber. There are plenty of authors, consultants, and other experts who have personal brands (versus a company brand) and who struggle to produce content on a regular basis.
Whether you have a business or a personal brand, how do you keep your identity authentic while creating enough content to keep you relevant? Let’s answer those key questions surrounding social media messaging:
1. Who owns your social message? You do! Whether you write every single word published under your personal or company brand or you hire freelancers, the control over the message should always reside with you.
2. Is it appropriate to outsource social media content? Absolutely! There’s nothing wrong with hiring talented freelancers (writers, graphic artists, etc) or using guest bloggers to help create or contribute quality content that reflects your brand’s message. There is a balance, of course. The majority of the content you produce should be your own – but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little help now and then.
3. Should you come clean if you use a ghostwriter? This is a little tricky to answer. If you hire someone to ghostwrite a book under your name, it’s accepted practice not to reveal that detail. If you work for a brand and have inside content producers or hired talent that ghostwrite blogs or by-lined articles for a particular executive, for example, then you don’t need to reveal that fact (unless a publisher requests a release from both the executive and the actual author of the material – but that knowledge is not used publicly). What if you happen to have a personal brand and you hire people to write tweets, Facebook posts, Google+ updates, blogs, and more? What’s the appropriate thing to do? The best approach is to be upfront about it in your profile – let people know you get support so you can keep great information flowing. If you use a regular set of contributors, it’s nice to actually let people see who they are; just as you might do with a big company brand, create a webpage to introduce your contributors to your fans/audience and explain where (which social media profiles) and how (jokes, videos, memes, etc) they are likely to contribute. Then, if possible, reserve one social media platform (Twitter, for example) where only you contribute.
Remember, social media is about building relationships and making personal connections – and reinforcing brand loyalty. Honesty and openness is certainly part of the foundation of a good relationship. Even so, you certainly do not have to reveal that you get occasional outsourced support. Just be aware that should your fans strongly associate your content with your personal brand and then one day find out it’s not really you behind that social media profile…well, your fans may start distrusting you, your brand, and your message.
About the Author
Shannon Belew specializes in online marketing and social media strategy & and is the author of the best selling book, “Starting an Online Business For Dummies All-in-One” and the soon to be released, “The Art of Social Selling.” She is founder of OnlineMarketingToGo.com.