Is Brand Paranoia Stifling Debate on Social Media?

More and more people enter the world of social media every day, each with their own thoughts, opinions and values. Surely this is a recipe for open debate? Perhaps not.


True, you see plenty of heated conversations on social media – people airing their views on a host of subjects, from television programmes to films, restaurants to products – but all too often they descend into arguments, instead of a proper debate.

Argument vs. Debate

Take the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 as an example. Social media was full of posts from both sides’ supporters, but in many cases these posts only contained campaign rhetoric, rather than hard facts, and frequently resulted in personal insults being thrown around.

When we talk about debate, we mean what you might have learned at school or university – two sides with structured, well-informed and well-supported arguments for or against a topic, which were presented and listened to respectfully, even if you didn’t agree with it.

Social media platforms seem to be set up perfectly for this to happen. Take the concept above, add in a global audience, all with different facts, figures and experiences, and you should have the recipe for quality, informative debate.

But this sort of debate is so seldom seen on social media. Why?

Personal and Professional Brand

The rapid growth of platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al., have enabled people to have a publicly visible account of their CVs and career histories, likes and dislikes, thoughts and opinions and pictures of their favourite things.

From a personal point of view, this is great. Our most meaningful social networking interactions happen within a group of friends, most of who will probably shares these interests in some way.

However, taken from a professional point of view, you have a diverse group of users and stakeholders, all of who have access to this public information, and who are able to link you as a person to all of these accounts.

Try as you might to remain anonymous, or limit your public exposure, as soon as you have a social media account, you are there for everyone to see. And in a professional sense, this means your peers, colleagues, managers, right up to the CEO and owner of the organisation.

Brand Paranoia

Like it or not, your public digital face represents your organisation. What you post, Tweet or share could potentially be attributed to both you and your employer. Even the ‘magic’ words, “My views are my own”, used as an attempt to separate individual and organisation may not stop people making the connection.

And there are plenty examples, like this one, of an employer taking a hard line if they think their brand is being misrepresented or negatively impacted by association.

The key here is brand. Whether it is personal brand, something that has taken on a much greater relevance in the digital world, or organisational brand, people are very (and rightly) concerned about how their brand is perceived by the public.

For organisations, it could mean the difference between retaining and losing customers. For individuals, it could damage their chances of landing their dream job, thanks to an errant post on a social network.

A friend recounted a story to me about how she had been contacted by a colleague regarding a post of hers that was “out of the norm”. It turned out it was her son who had posted, while logged into her account. No harm done, but an object lesson on the reach of social media.

Bringing Debate Back

However, I think this has all gone a bit too far. For sure, I would expect to be hauled over the coals by my manager if I insulted someone on Twitter, which was then associated back to the company.

But engaging in a real debate with one or more other parties, where an argument is built around facts, and everyone is treated fairly, where’s the harm in that?

Procurious has over 9000 members in its community, with another 20,000+ followers across its various platforms. The chances are high that not everyone will agree with me (even about this article), and that’s great.

We want to stimulate debate – it’s one of the best ways to learn and develop as a person and a professional. The Procurious Discussion forum is a great place to start, and everyone can get involved.

So the next time you see a point that someone has made on social media that you don’t agree with, and you can back up your opposing point, don’t shy away, post and start a dialogue. You never know what will come of it.