Last week, Comcast's Twitter man Frank Eliason (better known as @comcastcares) announced that he would be leaving his post at the nation's biggest cable provider for a similar social media job at Citigroup. As @comcastcares Frank not only played an instrumental role in his company's social media turnaround, and driving a real world shift in brand perception -- we also gave social media gadflies one of the first concrete examples of how big business could use Twitter (or more generally real-time interactions) to deliver tangible benefits for its customers.
For many in the social media space, and I'd suspect many of the customers Frank and his team helped with just-in-time Twitter support, Frank and Comcast were practically synonymous. And now -- to my knowledge at least -- he is the first of his kind to leave the company with which he has become social-media-connected-at-the-hip.
Frank will no doubt do great things at Citi, but the real question is: What does this move mean for Comcast?
From a business perspective, it seems as if Frank and Comcast have it under control (Frank's vision is that his team will step in and man the stream). But here the real question isn't whether the business can hack it at customer care 2.0; it's whether (in @comcastcares) Frank Eliason has built up a corporate asset or simply a personal brand.
My thinking: Frank has built a balanced brand. And I think the idea of the balanced brand is a key concept for social businesses.
OK, so what is a balanced brand?
It's one part business, one part human, and (done right) 100% sustainable long after the humans move on to be replaced by other humans.
We're all familiar with the traditional notion of brand (a corporate thing that, right or wrong, typically comes to life through logos, slogans, taglines and the like) and -- thanks to the interwebz -- most are familiar with the concept of the personal brand (a human thing that some celebrate, others denigrate and the rest of us realize is something that we all possess to one degree or another whether we cultivate it or not. In other words: you are what you is.) The idea of the balanced brand argues that the one and the other don't necessarily serve conflicting goals -- in fact, the can work in tandem for the benefit of both the business and the people in the business.
A balanced brand, as the term implies, strikes the right (wait for it...) balance between the corporate and the human. It's a balance that effectively gives a company a friendly face and familiar voice, but doesn't sacrifice the underlying business drivers in the process.
Err too far toward the personal and the individual becomes so inextricably linked with the company's social presence that a departure can be devastating.
Err to far toward the corporate and what's the point, really? This is where you see companies turning to social as just another branding channel, another way of pushing promotions, or some other marketing 1.0 retrofit of web 2.0 tools.
Stick pretty close to the gooey center and you've got it just right. A social media reverse-mullet of sorts (but in a good way) that is personal in the front and business in the back.
I have no illusions that this idea is earth shattering. It's interesting (to me at least) but to be frank (pun intended, I suppose) it should be common sense. Fortunately, unlike in the early days of social and even in many of today's social missteps, it's starting to become common practice.
Clearly, Frank hasn't built the only balanced brand in social business. Dell's Lionel Menchaca comes to mind, as do the thousands of real people offering twitterati electronics advice as Best Buy's Twelpforce (the tweets may come from the corporate account, but each is "signed" with the employee's personal handle as well.) In these cases, the consumer is well aware they're dealing with a real person but it's also amply clear that the real person is speaking as a representative of the company that keeps them.
Of course, for every positive example there are plenty of negatives -- the people who use their company's social presences as their personal pulpits (the people who give personal branding a bad name, and likely give themselves bad names in the process); the companies who are so stiff and faceless in social that they'd be better off investing in bigger banner buys (the companies that that people may not hate, but companies that simply can't relate).
As usual, my half-baked thinking will be better with your more fully baked thinking. What do you think? Useful concept? Total BS? Let those comments rip.