The Big Risk for Corporate Trust Agents

cookies What if you made an amazing product that people loved, and could recognize by the name alone? They knew your packaging. They knew the promise of what you offered, and they were lining up to buy it. And then, what if you moved on from that product and that brand, and had to start again?

That’s the basic story of Wally Amos and Famous Amos cookies, but it might also be the story of corporate trust agents. We build relationships with these people who are representative of a company’s brand in our eyes. We’re in line for their cookies, but suddenly, they’ve got to start again with a new cookie company. Let’s talk about how that cookie might possible crumble.

Recent Moves

Charlene Li rose to prominence while working at Forrester. Her blog was there. Her presence on the web was there. When she left to go solo, this required a bit of brand extraction, or divorce, where she had to rebuild her own presence on the web to redirect interested parties to her new little plot of web real estate.

The same happened with Gia Lyons, former cool hunter from IBM, who ran off to join the Jive circus. Her presence was entangled with her corporate brand, and this meant that she had to do a little shuffling to put it all together again outside of the entity. I believe this will be more of a point to consider in coming years.

Closer to Home

My own blog has been mine since day one. When I worked with Jeff Pulver, it was still my blog. With CrossTech Media, this is my blog. They might ask me to be mindful of our company and occasionally post information germane to my business, but that’s expected. I’m their guy. Why wouldn’t they want that of me? And I love writing about the work we’re doing, like the New Marketing Summit (plug plug).

But the blog is mine. It’s my shingle. It’s where I conduct my business. Most of this business is on behalf of my organization. I’m grateful to have a company to work with, and both CrossTech Media now and Pulvermedia before supported this stance.

Best in Show

Some trust agents are already doing this well. Robert Scoble has moved his blog along from Microsoft to PodTech to FastCompany with limited scarring. Of these, FastCompany did a lot of makeover work for Robert, but hey, it’s still his site and I’m sure it’s all still his decision at the end of the day.

Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester maintains his own blog presence, though he writes pretty frequently along Forrester lines. Louis Gray is his own man on the web. Superstar Steve Rubel keeps his brand though we all know he’s Edelman’s engine. It’s a balance where, in all cases, they are mindful of their position in the communities they serve, but also respectful of their employers.

That last point bears repeating. They are respectful of their employers. This includes making sure we do our work, that we deliver value while sharing a brand, and that we keep our motives in perspective. The business we do on behalf of our company must be the driver so long as it’s our primary salary source. Anything else is not fair, not responsible, and not sustainable in the longer term.

The Risk

But now, let’s shift back to the risk. If you are the company’s cool hunter, if you are the social media rockstar, if you are the person touching the community the most, remember that jobs are not and never will be jobs for life any more. As much as people tell me this (and you and I talked about it at Blog World Expo, mister), it’s just not the kind of business environment where anyone’s getting a company tattoo these days.

To that end, consider how your world will change when you shift roles. What happens if you go solo? How do you go from being Frank Eliason from Comcast to being Frank from Best Buy? (Because if I were a major company in the US or elsewhere, I’d be doing my damnedest to hire Frank away.) How might you stake out your own little place on the web where you can be you with or without your company badge?

And business leaders, how can you protect from the other direction in this world of the half-owned brand? Are you in the business of developing a deep bench of talent? Have you thought about succession plans for your “faces and voices” people? What happens when your community manager, someone like current superstar Connie Bensen gets a better offer, and you’ve lost one of your competitive advantages?

In my company, the answer was to start a process to reach out to some of the other social media up and comers in the space. I’ve been working on that for a little while now, and I love the idea. It means that, as a strategist, I’ve started to protect my company from a risk. But have you thought that through for YOUR company?

How is this working for your situation?

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Photo credit, scubadive67

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