Myth 5: “Twitter is a tool for egomaniacs to tell people what they had for breakfast.”
CEOs tweet to give their company a more “human” face. Jobseekers use Twitter to see who’s hiring and get a better idea of the “personality” behind the corporation. Twitter helps turn your corporation into a living entity for prospects to connect with.
Warning: a bit of a historical and philosophical detour, first
Famously, and to some infamously, corporations were awarded “person” status under United States law. As told in the Left-oriented film The Corporation (starting at about the 4:55 mark of the clip), corporations entered their modern American form via the power of the liberties affirmed of freed black slaves (“persons”) in 14th Amendment, in a series of court interpretations that ended up granting legal “person” status to corporate legal entities. Not only were freed slaves afforded the protection as persons, so were now corporations under the same reasoning. In a sense one could say, and perhaps by some coincidence, one form of the national economic engine (the cheap labor of slaves) was replaced by another (shareholder protected assembled business interests, betting on the future) under the rational of a single amendment. The film makes a bold attempt to leverage this personhood metaphor and legal fact into a trope: that corporations in all their artificiality are actually “psychopathic” persons, persons with absolutely no moral fiber or social value, no interest in anything other that of shareholder revenues…the kind of person that you really wouldn’t want in your community. Chomsky, who is one of the more famous/controversial forwarders of this view, traces this concept of corporate rights philosophically to Neo-Hegelianism. As a Spinozist social media ethicist (is that what I am?), I have a stake in this philosophical corporate inheritance, but I come to different conclusions than this group. Spinoza was perhaps the originator of corporatism, certainly as it appeared to Hegel, and in fact lived in the city of the rise of the international power of European corporations the Dutch Golden Age, at first as a business man running his family import business, then as a craftsman who sold his lenses, and then perhaps even as a mathematician of insurance actuaries (as a few of his collaborators were). This is to say, as a Spinozist, I have a slight appreciation for the “personhood” issue of corporations.
Okay, back to social media and the friendly corporation
Let’s take as our starting point the Chomsky extreme that corporations are at bottom and essence only greedy, soulless entities looking to churn out as much profit for shareholders has inhumanly possible, not caring how much destruction, or crushed lives they leave in their wake. Monsters of consumption and death. Spinoza does have an answer for this picture that I will not go into – and I certainly resist arguments of ideology – but it largely consists in the notion that informed greed actually leads you toward caring more and more about what you are affecting, and what is affecting you, not the opposite. But let’s start at the psychopath and begin thinking about Twitter (or blogging), for corporate entities. Why do they have such a hard time figuring out what to put in their Twitter accounts and blog posts? It is because there is a culture, a culture of pursuit that makes people engaged in business feel that the ONLY thing they should be thinking about, worrying about, is profit. And that public relations somehow consists in tricking others that this is not the case.
The interesting thing about social media is that in social media genuine interest in others or subjects is a little hard to fake. It is exhausting pretending to a be a real human being if you aren’t one. Social media is made up of thousands of tiny communications, most of them truncated conversations, that are so minute, so fleeting, you can’t really fake the investment in any effective manner. That is why Google search is giving so much weight to social media lately, its inherent limitation of fakeability. You HAVE to find a passion, and a human ballast to all your social media communications, or they simply will not grow and take root. You have to care (at least a little).
So I’m going to grant that perhaps historically corporations indeed did have something of this churning, impersonal, consumptive, deceptive element. Its selfishness has been built into the Law, and the rise of broadcast media indeed allowed them the liberties of controlling their public image through large scale campaigns, hiding motives behind slogans and images that you can’t easily forget. I’m going to grant that. There is a lot to talk about because corporate history is not just a story about Ford or IBM, but let’s leave that as base or a tendency within corporate behavior. What is interesting is how social media is forcing corporations (and business entities of every sort) to responds AS PERSONS to people. It’s not just that they have to pretend to be people, but rather more that the persons within business have to connect their real lives, their real affective lives, to the “living entity” (as the Lone Wolf blog post talks about) of the business itself. The “stuff” of business is becoming personal.
Perhaps the Age of the a-Social Corporation has ended and a new Age of the Corporation has begun. I’m not saying that corporations are inherently benign. I’m saying that they are becoming more affectively connected to all of us, and that this will be having an effect on corporate culture itself.
Why is it so hard to blog or tweet as a business?
It may be because we aren’t used to letting our businesses be an expression of who we are. The craftsman ideal, the notion that what we build and how we build it is a direct expression of our character, is the only way forward for business social media. An interesting thing happens when this is perspective is adopted. We begin to feel that we are responsible for what happens “out there”. It’s not just our peers who judge our successes by industry standards, but in fact everyone we effect. There is a kind of ethical straightening that occurs when we are what we tweet or blog ourselves as business, when or what we ate (?), what fills our mind in an off-hour, what news peaks our interest is important to what we sell or produce.