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Surviving Dangerous Personalities

When the social media revolution first impacted corporate communications, personality became the trademark of “hip” brands. Several years later, you see much less conversation about personality, and much more about valuable content.

Perhaps, enough brands have seen how a personality can impact it, positively and negatively. Brands have survived the personality boom in spite of its issues.

Attention doesn’t necessarily equate to ROI. And there’s nothing like watching a personality generate a ton of traction on your masthead and then depart, taking the equity with them.

Finally, we’ve seen outbursts and human errors tarnish brands. There is nothing quite like a spokesman who shoots an elephant on YouTube.

Of course, you could insist that people speak anonymously behind a handle, and just make the brand act like a personality. Then you can have this happen, too. No one to blame but the intern!

Surviving with the Many

It’s almost impossible to escape associating personalities with a brand today, even if it is just the CEO. All companies have employes, and more and more of them are encouraging employees to act on line on their behalf.

Most of these brands have realized safety exists in numbers. They use social media training and guidelines, as well as conduct policies to help employees on their way.

How do many voices outweigh the few? Beyond the multitude of brand advocates, the many good contributions stanch the impact of the few negative ones.

A parallel can be drawn between sponsored spokespersons and social media personalities. Both categories of spokespeople suffer from the inevitable foibles of being human.

Nike severed its relationship with the NFL’s Adrian Peterson after his misdemeanor plea last week, the fourth athlete Nike has cut ties with this year. The others were UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, fellow NFLer Ray Rice and sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

How does Nike maintain a good brand reputation in spite of working with athletes like these? It’s simple. Endorsement volume gives them a very strong roster of athletes whose collective good deeds far outweigh the negative actions of the few. Consider the acts of a Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant in the overall balance of Nike’s reputation.

Most brands cannot afford to hire multiple personalities. If they did, suffering the loss of a personal brand departure would be so much easier. But they do have many employees.

What does modern PR stand for? Brian Solis says its People and Relationships. Get his free e-book now!

When Things Do Go Wrong

Nike also makes it a public point to sever ties for bad behavior. I think this is critical. Nike has a clear barometer for its brand ambassadors’ behavior.

Most notably, Nike cut its ties with Lance Armstrong and LIVESTRONG in the wake of his doping scandal. It also cut MLB National League MVP Ryan Braun when he admitted to taking steroids.

When something goes wrong with a personality and a brand, severing ties makes sense. You don’t lose equity gained by that personality’s actions, rather you substantiate it. If the person has acted in such a reprehensible way then surely their community — your customers — are as outraged as you may be.

Are there any exceptions?

Only the few survive bad actions to stay on Nike’s roster, notably Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods. Clearly, Nike has the ability to measure when a brand investment is restorable. Both athletes have righted their respective ships, and healed their reputations as much as possible.

Just remember what happened to the NFL when it over-protected Ray Rice. You have to weigh the negative impact of harboring a tarnished personality.

What do you think?

Title image courtesy of Geoff Livingston. Other images are used under creative commons licenses and authored by Jason H. Smith and Lwp Kommunikacio.

About Geoff Livingston

Geoff is president and founder of Tenacity5 Media, a digital marketing agency that provides content marketing and social media services. A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored five books. Follow him @geoffliving.

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