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Corporate Bloggers and the Rise of the Accidental Spokesperson

In the world of public relations, a spokesperson can sometimes seem like the most important element of any campaign.  Though I don’t quite understand some of my colleagues necessity to always propose a celebrity in this spokesperson role, I do understand the very real need to establish credibility and a spokesperson can be a great way to do that.  One interesting situation that the rise of social media is bringing up, however, is the increasingly common phenomenon of the accidental spokesperson.  These are the individuals that are working for an organization and blogging, but are not considered official spokespersons.  Most of the time, they don’t have any media training and that combination is a situation PR teams at most corporations spend a long time trying to avoid.  Having "regular" employees thrust into the role of spokespersons can result in everything from small mishaps to large scale missteps.  Every PR pro has a ready story of horror to share if you ask about what happens when you get inexperienced and unauthorized employees speaking intentionally or unintentionally on a company’s behalf.

It’s no wonder many corporate PR teams view blogs with a mixture of distrust and fear.  Particularly when it comes to dealing with employee bloggers.  The real difficulty, however, comes when one or more of these employee bloggers starts developing a following.  As their audience rises, so does the importance of their unofficial role as a spokesperson.  In effect, they become an accidental spokesperson.  Robert Scoble is probably the highest profile example of this phenomenon during the time that he was at Microsoft.  Steve Rubel during his time with Cooper Katz seemed to have a similar situation (though now at Edelman he is far more "official" as a company mouthpiece).  I suspect that a survey of business bloggers in a variety of industries would turn up hundreds of bloggers that fit this category of accidental spokespersons.  As more bloggers focus on building their microbrands – the question of how their professional profile merges with their personal one will continue to be a challenge for bloggers and communications teams alike.  Some bloggers will likely resist their roles as accidental spokespersons for the organizations they work for, while others will embrace it.  Either way, it seems a phenomenon that will only continue to happen more frequently, and most corporate PR teams would be wise to develop a strategy for embracing and leveraging bloggers in this role.  This is an opportunity to build on, not something to be afraid of.

4 thoughts on “Corporate Bloggers and the Rise of the Accidental Spokesperson”

  1. Yup, I relate to this in a big way. It’s an interesting phenomenon. My company (Digitas) has been supportive of my personal blogging efforts, but as I get more noteriety outside of the organization especially with mainstream press coverage—there is always the need to balance the company needs with the individuals’.

    This is especially the case if blogging isn’t part of the job description as is the case with me. I’ve got a full plate outside of producing content on the blog. Communication and transparency seems to work best in my scenerio. Communicating with internal PR folks, letting them know if I’m going to be speaking somewhere etc and checking in with them before writing about certain topics.

    I agree—there will probably be a rise in the number of “accidental spokepeople” as opposed to a decrease. But in reality, when you work for a company—you are a spokesperson. Becoming a successful blogger who works for a company just makes you more visable/aware of the importance and distinction.

    Nice post. Your stuff here is consistantly good.

    Reply
  2. I absolutely agree with David on “But in reality, when you work for a company—you are a spokesperson. Becoming a successful blogger who works for a company just makes you more visable/aware of the importance and distinction.”

    Earlier, employees would maybe make some casual comment at a crowded bar about her/his company…now she/he can do so loudly and “on the record” on a blog.

    Bigger reach, bigger responsibility.

    Reply

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