“Corporations are not people”: Well, Yeah, But…

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Just a quick thought in re: the quote above. I don’t want to get into the political dispute here that is the burden of Ms. Warren’s remarks, although I do happen to agree with them from that POV. But I think it’s (also) interesting to consider these words from the perspective of Social Media, and the oft-repeated imprecation that we, working in corporations, working in brands, must reveal our and our companies’ humanity. To wit, WE in companies are not faceless, soulless corporate drones, and neither, consequently, are our companies necessarily either faceless or soulless.

When I led my company’s first fearless foray onto Twitter — 2009? — it was in the context of our sponsorship of the Big East Basketball Tournament. (Hey, you take what you’re given, you know.) I dispatched five of our guys and gals to the courts to tweet about the goings on during and around the games and the arenas. They were pictured on Twitter; they had real faces, and real names, and quite unique editorial perspectives and tweeting styles. They didn’t talk about life insurance; they didn’t reference the golden dome on Madison Avenue, nor our peerless products. But they did represent New York Life, and they represented it admirably in their irrepressible individuality and personalities. They were human, and in their (obvious) humanity they rendered the company’s humanity as well.

No, we don’t run this country for corporations — and we do, or we should, run it for people. But it is people who, uh, people those corporations. (Well, maybe not the lawyers and Compliance “people”…) Tournament over, we adopted a corporate rather than basketball feed but one that was obviously powered by real people with real personalities and could never be labeled soulless. There is a real sense in which, yes, corporations are people.

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7 Responses to “Corporations are not people”: Well, Yeah, But…

  1. Barry Rabkin says:

    Yes, we do run – or should run – this country for people. That is because – sorry about my “political response” this country was founded on three values each of which is focused on individuals: individual freedom, individual liberty, and individual responsibility.

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  2. Bridget says:

    Ken – I think this is why we feel so frustrated and angry when a company does us wrong. We know “the corporation” is made up of people – individuals – but Policy or Rules or Legal or something not human connects with us (individuals) and it’s bad. So, yes, the front line us made up of people- but there’s an army ‘back there’ that sets the boundaries of what they can do – and that’s not a person. Sadly.

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  3. While corporations consist of people, I think one must also consider intent. Sending people to Basketball Tournament was a marketing play, an investment made by the company to try to create some sort of affinity with consumers and to earn more money. The other people there were at the tournament to enjoy the game, to bond with friends and to cheer on their team.

    That is also the difference between “people” when they are just people and “people” when they are part of corporations. My friends are not my friends because they want to extract money from me and earn a profit on it, but for the people working at corporations, I am not a person but a prospect, consumer, target, lead. People who are my friends want what’s best for me; people who are part of corporations want a larger share of my wallet, to increase my spend and to enhance my lifetime value to their bottom line.

    I often think people can forget that corporations are owned by and staffed by people, so I don’t disagree with your overall point. That said, the reasons why brand organic content reach is trending toward zero while my friends’ content still appears (and is desired) in my news feed is the vital difference between people whose intent is friendship and people whose intent is to earn money from me.

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    • khittel says:

      Wow, a rather cynical response, Augie. Do you really think that the only intent of corporations is “to earn money” from you? Maybe I was spoiled working for a mutual insurance company, but I don’t think that that “intent” was really what the company was essentially about, not at all. It simply does not comport with the company’s essentially socially-salubrious mission of insuring individuals and families against financial angst, if not disaster.

      I suppose you could — somewhat cynically? — say that I drank the Kool-Aid, and if by that you mean to ignore the essential corporate structure and mission of mutuality — mutuality based ultimately on sharing and collaboration — well, then I’m guilty as charged. But, thanks, you just gave me good assignment to blog.

      Mutuality aside, are there no corporations you admire beyond or in spite of their apparently singular intent of convincing you to turn over your money?

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  4. Barry Rabkin says:

    Ken – I think the issues of “admired companies” is fodder for another blog. Personally, I admire USAA, Apple, and IBM.

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    • khittel says:

      Agree. It would certainly be interesting to see which companies people admire — and why — and how conflicted they might still be about it. Let me give this some thought.

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