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After watching SAP’s programs for Social Media Week 2012 (in SAP’s Palo Alto office, Feburary 15), two significant lessons hit me:

  1. The need to humanize a brand
  2. Women seem much more adept at accomplishing this feat.

SAP CMO Jonathan Becher started the day with a presentation on social culture. He spoke of the importance of personalizing a brand via pictures and images. He explained the need to match who one wants to be and who one really is. He discussed this in relation to the importance of listening over talking.

Social media gurus Maggie Fox and Ray Wang joined him to both expand and substantiate his message. I have to say that Maggie epitomized his message of personalizing your brand. By the end of the day, I learned that Maggie liked to compare things to puppies, that she is Canadian, and that she respects her Mother’s opinion.

How Women are Changing the Business

Long before the event concluded, I realized what I was seeing: Most of the social media experts were women. I believe women lead in this arena because of their ability to turn professional related messages into personal messages by including examples from their life experiences, family and friends. Women love to share their knowledge and values with their families and friends, and they tend to turn to personal experiences to express them. Men are more likely to use business and analytical examples instead of sharing personal information.

I also think women have an advantage in social media because in general, they are known to be better listeners and tend to empathize more with the speaker. Women tend to understand things by seeing them in their world. In researching this idea, I found a relevant article by Courtney C. Radsch, published in The Huffington Post.  In it, Radsch explains “how women were using social and digital media to bring about positive change.” Social and digital media is not just an avenue for women in business but has also evolved into a vehicle for driving and enabling cultural change around gender issues, particularly in cultures where women have long lacked a public voice.

I like the way Maggie Fox stressed that we have to humanize ourselves regardless of our business versus personal life, and I think that stands to the core of what women are. I built my career over many years while simultaneously raising two wonderful children. During that time, I have repeatedly struggled to integrate my professional pursuits with the demands of being a Mom. These lines were often very blurred, causing each responsibility to bleed into another. I have often had to prioritize my family over my professional life and still find a way to forge on.

How to Balance the Person and the Profession

Another of Jonathan’s points that intrigued me was this challenge: How can an individual participate in social media without sharing too much personal information? I think this may be an issue that women do not fully consider when they reflect on who they are and how they share their experiences. Social media can make our personal and professional lives very transparent.  Take the example of the ongoing politics in America and the battle occurring right now over the presidential election.  In a recent post published in the Washington Post, author Krissah Thompson  explains that a new advertising campaign from the president’s reelection campaign focuses on the internet and is aimed at bringing Obama’s family front and center in his drive for reelection.  In this campaign, a portrait of the family is used (remember Jonathan speaking of the importance of images) to do just that, or as political scientist Andra Gillespie says “It’s a way to humanize them, and it’s also a way to signal youth and vitality”.

Other crucial points were also discussed, such as can a company claim ownership of its employees social reputations? A recent article in The New York Times – titled “A Dispute Over Who Owns a Twitter Account Goes to Court” – addressed this question invertedly: When we develop an online personality related to our professional life is it really ours? If I use a personal experience to help drive interest in one of my company’s products, does that experience become theirs? Where do we draw the line on blending life experiences into professional brands?

Social and digital media are impacting our world in ways we haven’t even begun to understand. Not only is social culture itself evolving, but a new wave of communications technology is continuously coming into the world and giving us unprecedented options, often complicating our lives while opening up realities we never knew existed. Despite such advancement, several questions remain: How personal can a corporate brand become? What does it mean to humanize a brand? Who ultimately owns it – the brander or the branded?

What are your thoughts?

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5 Comments

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  1. Natascha Thomson
    Leslie:

    amazed how well you summarized and added such great commentary and insight. Love your blog.

    I personally also really enjoyed Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable, as she was so direct about the challenges facing employees, especially through technology = how fast can we work before we break?

    Best,

    Natascha

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    1. Leslie Curtiss Post author
      Thank you so much for your comments; it is nice to know what people think when they read your blog.  I agree that Rachel was very insightful.  I liked her comments about respecting everyone’s opinion whether they agree or not, and that good relationships endure.

      Leslie

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  2. Mark Yolton
    Speaking of talented women in social media… The day started with a welcome from SAP’s GM of SAP Labs North America, Barbara Holzapfel. It continued with Maggie Fox, CEO/founder of Social Media Group on social culture and social content.  Social culture panel also included Maria Povoromo of Adobe, Becky Brown of Intel, Petra Neiger of Cisco, Shanee Ben-Zur of Nvidia, and Susan Etlinger of Altimeter. Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable presented on the social audience, and was joined on a panel by Kimarie Matthews of Wells Fargo and Deirdre Walsh of Jive Software. The “social technology” track included Lisa Joy Rosner of NetBase. Wow, what a roster of talented women. Of course, there were expert men participating at the event, too, but I was also struck by and happy with the preponderance of women on stage in positions of leadership and expertise.

    Regards,
    Mark Yolton

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    1. Leslie Curtiss Post author
      What an honor to have you read and post a comment to my blog.  You really have made my day!  And yes, I agree that the Men were not too bad either.  I am looking forward to the next Social Media Week.

      Best regards,

      Leslie

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  3. Tracy Gallery

    Leslie,

    Your insights provide me with some interesting aspects to noodle – especially how I, as a woman, can drive the human element in the work I do reaching potential applicants through Facebook and other social media.  Your question on brand is very relevant – my thoughts on this is a brand can be “personal” – meaning convey a message that connects with their customers, but the balance is having it be too tied to the individuals who are delivering the brand message.  For example, as I continue to build out our presence on Facebook with candidates, if I am the only one posting and responding to candidates, I become the voice of my company – I see that as a potential risk of candidates viewing my company as a reflection of me.

    I am looking forward to more of your posts – I really enjoyed reading this!

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