Personal brands and the observer effect

So this is something people talk about a lot online, particularly those guys who work in SM, Chris Brogan wrote on the subject back in 2007 and again in 2008 so I guess I am a little behind the curve then… Well no, I am not going to talk about how to build a personal brand as, to be honest, I am still figuring that out for myself and I am certainly no expert, however this is a trend I have noticed emerging: a lot of people are starting to see the value of their personal brands and this is beginning to affect the way they use social media and as such it will affect the way that brands monitor and engage with people online…

Firstly: we have all heard the horror stories, Virgin Atlantic sacking staff for comments made on Facebook but Tesco and DSGi have had similar issues, and this story went viral brilliantly back in 2008, so, today most people are not so stupid, most change their Facebook profile to private and carefully edit their friend lists and are well aware of what a potential employer (or current employer) may see online.

However 2010 is ushering in a whole new era of personal brand engagement across the social web: some people I know have already christened this year as “the year of engagement” (although many also christened 2009 in the same way!) So as consumers become increasingly aware that brands and corporations are monitoring social media and as they increasingly come into contact with brands in this space then we have to ask a serious question: with increasing awareness of how our personal brand can be affected by what we say online and an increasing awareness of brand presences in the digital space is the very act of brands monitoring social media going to effect the conversation?

Let us think back for a moment to that well-known scientific principle: the observer effect – the simple principle being that whether looking at sub atomic structures or human behaviour the very act of watching (or in the case of social media, listening) will affect the very thing you are watching (or conversation you are listening to)…

To give a real life example: I received some very poor service in a retail store recently, I wanted to flame that brand online to punish them and warn others, however I knew they were monitoring SM and I also knew that a large part of my role is business developement focused and that I would like to work with that brand, so I bit my proverbial tongue We could all imagine how some negative comments online picked up by a social media monitoring tool could seriously torpedo someones prospects in a sales pitch, or job interview! The impact of the observer effect will change dependant on the situation but the point is this, we change what we say when we know we are being watched, so this is going to present an interesting challenge for brands going forward, how do we overcome this effect?


3 responses to “Personal brands and the observer effect

  1. Hey Tom, like the post now that I’ve got to reading it… Additionally, I would say that it’s worth studying in detail what type of people AREN’T using social media so that a monitoring operation can know what their sample is.

    • Good point Andy and thanks for taking the time to comment. Tto take your idea further: we need to know who isn’t using SM but we also need to understand the demographics and qualities of those who are talking online and how that differs by media type (those who are discussing the brand on twitter may well be from a very different demographic to those in other social networks, on blogs or on sites like Mumsnet. – This all has an impact on the research value and conclusions drawn.

  2. Pingback: 1000heads :: The Word of Mouth People

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