Social Networking after a divorce – who gets the kids?

A little while ago both Tris Hussey and I went through a transition (my experience, Tris‘) in employment. It got me to thinking about all the time and energy I had put into developing my online social network. The biggest question is – in the divorce who gets custody of the network? Obviously, the question is a little flippant in that I was the one developing the relationships and the company can’t all of the sudden take custody of those relationships. But I wondered whether all the work I had done to try to promote our company through these different mediums would go for nought. So, I asked Tris for some help in understanding the ramifications of a social spokesperson leaving a company, and if there are ways that companies can guard against losing the relationships created by the spokesperson while at the company.

Tris, would you care to talk about your experience in transitioning from your previous gig, to your current one at b5 Media?

Actually this most recent transition from blognation to b5media isn’t my first for needing to re-arrange my connections. I had my big break-out in January-February of 2005 when I was a part of Qumana software. During the next year and a half I was often the face of Qumana, Lektora, and Q-Ads at conferences and the blogosphere. When I left Qumana who was I really? I was still a pro blogger. I still wrote on a number of blogs, but I wasn’t the “Qumana guy” anymore. Before blognation I dove in with both feet into One By One Media, where I was a partner. Again, another identity to manage, another social network of contacts. Then blognation.

That was a huge turning point for me. Blognation was the first time I really stepped out on my own as my own brand–I was the focus. I think bn, as we liked to call it, was a great way to move into my new role at b5media. I’m covering the Canadian Tech beat still, and as me, I’m also getting to work with the b5 bloggers as training manager. I can’t think of a better job. As for the transition, well it happened so quickly, so decisively that I think people just were able to quickly change gears and I remained “Tris who covers Canadian Tech and Web 2.0”.

For me the transition was somewhat disheartening in that it seems as though when I left the network came with me. As opposed to the Verizon commercial where this is a good thing, I would have liked to see the company reap the rewards of my efforts. Sure there was a halo effect and the brand definitely benefited from my actions. Looking forward I am not sure how someone will step in and keep the network engaged. I certainly don’t mean to be egotistical in thinking that no one can follow me. The issue is one of designing the programs to carry on. I know that I wasn’t forward thinking enough to put the necessary structure in place to continue after I was gone, but truth be told I have no idea what the heck that structure would look like.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that relationships are like any intellectual property you create while working at a company. They do not belong to the company. So for the company to exercise some sort of über-control of the social network would be unwise. But, it seems like there should be ways for the company to build the networks to allow the community to be fostered around the individual as well as the brand.

Tris, do you have any advice on how to build a social networking structure that benefits both the company and the individual?

From all my time the key has been to ensure that you are known for your own strengths and not just the product. My way to do that has been to speak and teach about social media and blogging but not getting into software much. A lot of sites are using Twitter to promote posts, but ones like Techcrunch, Mashable, and GigaOm sometimes blur the lines between a personal tweet and an auto-tweet. I decided that with b5 and MapleLeaf 2.0 I was going to just have one Twitter account. Sometimes there are posts, but most of the time the tweets are mine. From brain to fingers to keyboard. Though sometimes I think I skip the brain part. If you want to be known for more than your company, you have to make sure you show the other sides of yourself. I’ve always maintained a personal blog and will continue to do so. It’s going to be my voice and my stuff. It seems simple, but sometimes the temptation to pimp your employer there is huge-resist it. If you want it to be your voice, it has to stay that way.

From the advice others gave during the round-table discussion on The Great Social Experiment I undertook, it became clear that for companies to really take advantage of the benefits of social networking individuals have to be whole-heartedly engaged. And it must become a company culture. Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson provided some great commentary on the experiment saying that the more people in the company are engaged in communities of interest, finding groups that pertain to their specific lifestyle or hobby, the more trusted that person becomes within that community and becomes an expert. So, when there is a fit between an announcement from the company and that community (and the key here is that it has to be a natural fit and not a forced one) the individual can push out the announcement and add value to the community. Moreover, instilling a culture of social networking within the company enables not one spokesperson but many and diffuses the nature of one person responsible for the brand going forward within the network. If you funnel the activity right, you can create a structure where individual actions channel the activity to assets that can stay with the company – blogs, forums, communities on Facebook, etc.

In order to do this, however, companies have to give up the culture of hyper-control over the message. I talked to a marketing manager who commented that her company is afraid of getting involved in social networking because the top management wants to make sure that the message is sanctioned and that no information gets out before it is formally announced (if at all). Companies have to let go of this fear. If you have good employees trust them. The alternative is losing any voice in the conversations that are taking place. And make no mistake these conversations are happening right now in the nooks and crannies of social networks all over, and the volume will only increase.

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6 Responses

  1. Great post Jonathan! As a fellow blognation editor (Japan) I really was pleased with how you covered this event and the implications it has for business in the Social Media sphere.

    And Tris.. you done us proud. You really do define class.

  2. Robert,

    Thanks for the comment. And I would have to concur about Tris.

  3. […] online community. The best part is … it’s all 100% free! Check them out here: Join Hey Nielsen! Social Networking after a divorce – who gets the k… saved by 1 others     femalehokage bookmarked on 01/12/08 | […]

  4. great post came across it by accident.

  5. Looks like you’ve hit the ground running – well, jogging anyway – Jonathan. Every good wish for the next stage(s) of your career. Fascinating post and of course wherever he lands Tris still has that Superman suit on underneath 🙂

  6. Des,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Yeah, I hate running so jogging would be more like it ;).

    Maybe Tris will let me borrow his suit now the he is at b5????

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