Blurring Brand Lines: 4 questions to assess how your social media behavior impacts your company reputation

Rudyard Kipling wrote that famous line, “And never the twain shall meet” when describing the East and West. However, in today’s hyper-intertwined digital world, if the dividing line isn’t East and West­–but your personal brand and professional brand–then the twain have indeed met.

You can no longer claim absolution when you write a line on your Twitter profile that reads “opinions are my own.” Of course, they are. They’re opinions. But that doesn’t deliver you diplomatic immunity from the reality that those opinions will inevitably also be viewed as the opinions of your company. We all know the cautionary tale of how content you post online can come back to haunt you years, even decades later, as the former communications chief for Boeing learned recently. Another extreme example of this occurred last month when the Founder and CEO of CrossFit stepped down after widespread backlash following his posting of racist comments on his personal Twitter account.

Now more than ever, what you say or do in venues (both physical and virtual) away from your company is directly associated with the brand and reputation of your company. This is perhaps even more pronounced when the company is a startup, where you are selling a vision, a set of values and, most importantly, a leader or leadership team capable of bringing that vision to fruition.

In the same way employers vet potential employees’ by scouring their online presence, potential investors, partners, employees, customers and the media will do the same with you as a founder or an employee of a startup.

Let’s try a little exercise. Scan your social media accounts and reflect on your activity. Then, ask yourself these three questions:

  • When I post, share or like content on my personal social media accounts, I consider how it might reflect on my company’s brand.
    • Always, I recognize my actions and words have direct relevance
    • Sometimes, I gotta get a zinger in there
    • Never, I just let my feelings go freestyle all over social media
  • My social media activity ______ the culture, vision and values of my company.
    • Reinforces
    • Conflicts with
    • Might create confusion about
  • I’d be ______ if a potential investor or customer reviewed by social media activity.
    • Thrilled (and proud)
    • Meh (hopefully they’ll be able to see through the online bluster)
    • Terrified (if the prolific cat memes are the worst they uncover, we’ll dodge a big bullet)
  • True or False: I care about the impact of my social media presence on my company and my professional future?  

The fourth question is about impact, because you must recognize the impact of your social media activity on your business and professional aspirations. As much as you might hope to keep your personal social channels separate from your company’s reputation and brand, it’s nearly impossible to do so in today’s digital world. That certainly doesn’t mean you need to be sterile or boring or one-dimensional, however. We’d advocate for the opposite, actually.

Your company is a huge part of who you are. But it’s not ALL of who you are, at least we hope for your sake, it’s not. There are your other passions, perhaps family, friends, hobbies, volunteering interests, etc. Social media can be an excellent platform for sharing your personality.  Also it’s worth noting that some investors– like, say SoftBank– love personality+ CEOs. It doesn’t always work out, however. Approach your social media with eyes wide open.

Remember: People follow leaders, more than they follow companies. Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s Twitter following surpasses 6.3 million, T-Mobile’s Twitter following is less than 1.5 million. Your social channels are some of the most powerful platforms you have to lead, listen, connect and build trust. If we can help you map out a strategy here, we’d love to lend a hand.

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