Ivory Tower or Sea Sponge?

When I first learned about social media in 2010 at a CanadaHelps conference, the keynote speaker said that, to survive in this new communications era, corporations would need to “un-fortress” themselves and transform into sea sponges – creatures that are flexible and allow ideas to flow freely.

Week 3’s readings on how social media’s big user lessons can inform our personal brand exercise has me in a bit of a quandary.  I work for a nationally-recognized, academic-style organization that has built a reputation for social policy research excellence over the last 24 years.  In 1992, staff hand-delivered printed copies of the organization’s papers directly into the hands of MPs and Senators.  By 2002, email blasts had replaced paper copies.

At that conference six years ago, one of my bosses suggested I start using social media to promote the organization’s ideas to a wider audience.  Trouble was, the principals’ schedules of work and appearances were so heavy that they couldn’t entertain the notion of the post-and-response cycle of social media.  I was on my own.

So I have worked to build a Twitter following of a few thousand and we continue to email regular announcements of new papers.  We’re still an ivory tower, but we have spongey tendencies.

 Brand “ME” needs a careful makeover

I take exception to Kavan Lee’s notion that people trust people more than corporations.  I’ve been on the other side of that statement:  People engage with me as a writer and researcher thanks to the name brand recognition built by my ivory tower-type employer.

Since my organization web publishes everything, my ‘brand’ is already out there.  Because my organization is so careful of its messaging, public appearances and political connections, I won’t be able to create a ‘new’ brand under my name.  Whatever I do release will need to align with my employers’ values.  This won’t be a problem.  I deeply admire and respect the efforts my organization has made to shape social policy in Canada.

One further wrinkle in my branding exercise is that my employer will undergo a significant shift in management at the end of 2017.  The good news is that I have a year to distinguish myself from my employer by defining my brand clearly and creating the links and networks I will need to continue to build my career.

Like the Avaya telecom example outlined by Jake Elliot (“5 Outstanding Media Campaigns”), I’ll listen and learn for a while.  Perhaps you as my classmates have some suggestions for how I can pick my way through this situation.  I’m all ears/sponge-parts!


2 thoughts on “Ivory Tower or Sea Sponge?

  1. Oh, to learn how to be “flexible and allow ideas to flow freely”! Not as easy as it sounds!! But I think you have lots of opportunity to distinguish yourself by seeking out communities of people who share your interests and concerns, either in your present social policy area or otherwise, and develop a personality/brand/following that will connect with the right audience.

    Listening and learning is always good, sponge-parts to the fore…

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