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Employee vs employer branding: Who owns that social media brand? – Part 2

Frew Murdoch

Last week, I spoke about how to strike the balance between employees' desire to express their personal brands on social media and the need to control company brand image and communication. Today, I'm going to address the following: If an employee has used company resources – e.g. work time, Internet bandwidth and intellectual property – to build their personal brand, does the company have claims to the employee's personal brand?

Most people believe they own their social media profiles and their employers have absolutely no claim to these. Under 'normal' circumstances, employees' social media accounts are theirs to do with as they please. But this is not always the case.

Imagine the following scenario.

You have an employee who has a social media profile which is relevant to your company.

For example, you're a management consulting business and your employee is a renowned thought leader on management consulting online.

This is a win-win scenario

As public opinion has evolved so has personal branding, which in turn has led to an increase in the use of organisational resources to build these brands. According to Whose Tweet is it anyway, forward-thinking companies invest in the advancement of their employees and many of those employees share their industry insights - with their social communities - which when considered valuable, leads to a win-win for both the company and the individual as both their audiences will grow.

But what happens when an employee uses company resources for personal promotion?

Here's an example:

Radio DJs are highly influential online. There's a well-known DJ – who has recently left one of the top radio stations – and he has taken his massive Twitter following of over 600 000 people with him.

Many radio DJs promote their personal Twitter handles on the air using the radio station's working hours to reach their huge audience. Although this benefits the company to some extent – by allowing listeners to Tweet music requests and interact with the DJs – it means that they gain a massive following online.

The problem arises when a high-profile DJ leaves to another radio station and takes his large following with him. The radio station has no control over the account with all the followers and so loses their top talent and a part of their audience.

What can be done?

Here are some lessons from Cerebra to help you govern the relationship between the personal and company brand:

1. If an employee's personal brand is built around a topic relevant to your business, he should be seen and behave as a company spokesperson - even on personal profiles. Any messages he publishes online need to complement the company's messages.

2. If an employee's personal brand is not relevant to the business, they may do as they please as long as they don't bad mouth the company.

3. If a social profiling opportunity was created by the business, the business must be the top priority and the individual second. If it was created by the individual first, then their profile can come first.

4. There is a reason it's called work. Work comes first no matter what. Using company resources – within reason - to build your brand is fine but it must come second to your work.

5. Don't be stupid. Anything you say and do online impacts on your business. Understand this and use common sense.

Frew Murdoch is the assistant editor of HR Pulse. She has a BA degree in communications and English and a passion for HR technology.

Christine Botha, co-author of 'Ethics in HR Management: A guide for HR professionals and line managers', had this to say:

"I stumbled across your review of our Ethics Guide published 28 June 2012 and wish to thank you for the positive and complimentary comments made – this was a lovely surprise and most rewarding. I will certainly pass this on to all co-authors of the Guide."