Wells Fargo has Chastity, Sateen, Haila, Kimarie, Jay, and Ruby. These are the six official faces of Wells Fargo presented on the Ask_WellsFargo page on Twitter. Comcast famously has Frank Eliason attending to the ComcastCares account, joined now by Doug, Bill, Bonnie and six other Comcasters, responding to concerns in the ever growing Twitter channel.

It has become a much recommended best practice for companies to use real names with real faces in Twitter accounts of companies. Social Media are supposed to be about people, after all? (By the way, have you ever tried to get real names or an email address from call center reps?). So these are the faces of the company – for the Twitter world at least? Dispensing support in doses of 140 characters.

What about the other faces? Wells Fargo has over 250,000 employees. Comcast employs about 100,000 people. Thousands of them are on Facebook, having identified Comcast as their employer. Over 20,000 current Comcasters can be found on LinkedIn. Over 60,000 employees of Wells Fargo are on LinkedIn, many with pictures. That’s a lot of faces. By identifying their employer, they are faces of the company as well. Not to everyone, but to someone in their social network. No surprise, I have a few Wells Fargo connections in my direct network. Another 500 are just one link away. Let’s say I have a question about Wells Fargo or banking in general, I may reach to one of these connected faces in the network, rather than to Chastity, Sateen and co (who I don’t have a network intro to).

The proliferation of social networks has made corporations more into “companies of faces”. As I discover on Facebook that the brother of a member of my sailing crew works at Comcast, he has become a face of Comcast, at least to me. What see him doing or saying – online or offline – will be somehow connected – in the back of my mind – to the company he works for. If I ever have a question about Comcast, there is a good chance that I may approach him.

This is not to say that we all have to be “on”, representing the company which employs us at all times. However, companies appear not have fully grasped the implications of being a company of faces. Many organizations spend a lot of energy on getting their members on internal networks. In many Enterprise 2.0 projects, adoption success is measured by the percentage of employees who set up their profile, ideally with a picture. Rightfully so, as many improvements on internal collaboration depend on active members in such networks. In the meantime, the same employees have already active profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, interacting with former classmates and fellow members of their PTA. This fact is not lost on many companies. HR departments issue policies and guidelines for how employees should conduct themselves in the world of social media.

In applying traditional PR and customer service approaches to social media, most companies have focused on a few faces of the company, not yet grasping the potential that they are now a more visible company of faces. Yes, policies and guidelines may be useful. However, the image of a bank may not be shaped by people who stick to corporate persona, but by a banker who I see as extraordinarily friendly and amazingly helpful in my online of offline communities.

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