Branding is About Trust Not Control
Posted by Allison Fine on November 23, 2009
I have had several conversations recently with nonprofit staffers that have been eerily similar. These staffers want to help turn their organizations outwards and engage in more conversations using social media. But they are blocked by their senior communications and development who are afraid that their brands will be diminished or harmed by all of this activity happening by people other than themselves “out there.”
I have struggled for a long time with the notion of nonprofits “branding” their organizations. It is one of the concepts that we borrowed in whole from the for profit sector — whether it fit or not.
The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), otherwise known by smarty pants like me as the Association of Associations, distributes a monthly newsletter. One recent article starts with this sentence, “Your brand is your most valuable asset.” Put that way it makes perfect sense that opening up the brand on social media channels would feel unacceptable. It would be like taking the Declaration of Independence out from behind glass at the National Archives and passing it around person-to-person on the national mall.
Let’s say that an organization’s brand is the compilation of all of it’s good assets: mission, services, reputation, values and performance. In some instances, the brand is venerable and iconic, think about the Girl Scouts and the American Cancer Society. But what is about these brands, or about the notion of brands, that makes social media use unacceptable?
The struggle is about the intersection of control and trust that the leadership of too many nonprofit organizations are struggling with right now. Here’s the argument. Staffers and volunteers on social media channels like Facebook cannot be counted on to talk about our organization in a way that won’t do harm to the perception by people that we are trustworthy and reliable and valuable. And the people out there can’t be trusted to participate in these conversations in civil, constructive ways.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When organizations use social media to have conversations with their networks they are building real relationships with people. Those relationships are built on trust. Everything that a nonprofit organization needs to accomplish happens because their community trusts them. They trust them to use their donation well, provide quality services, treat their own staff and their community members with dignity and respect.
The reaction of senior staff to their fear of harming the brand by engaging with social media is astounding for their lack of trust that it reveals. They don’t trust that their networks that have their best interests at heart to engage in conversations about their services. Any criticism, in their minds, will damage their brands. When the opposite is true, criticism usually comes from people who care enough about an organization to voice a concern. And it is an opening for a constructive conservation about what the organization can do better or differently. Shying away from criticism doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, it just means the organization isn’t listening to it.
But even more than not trusting those strangers out there, the concern about losing control of the brand is illustrative of the lack of trust that senior staffers have of their own staff. If you don’t trust your own people to talk about your organization then why aren’t you training and supporting them? And, again, just because you haven’t sanctioned the conversations of staff, again, doesn’t mean that they’re not happening out there.
Moreover, not engaging and building relationships because for fear of losing control leaves organization sitting alone behind their locked doors talking to, well, no one. It’s hard to imagine social change happening that way.
C’mon, development and communications folks, let your brand out for a conversation with people who care about your organization!
This entry was posted on November 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: ASAE, Brands, losing control. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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