This blog post is an excerpt on personal branding from my forthcoming book Marketing 2.0, due out in June… (edited Book Published June 2009)
The term personal branding is relatively young, but the concept is nothing new. Before the advent of the social web and its many opportunities for personal branding we just called it our “reputation.” If you’re old enough to remember building your career before the Internet became social, our reputation followed us from job to job. We used personal referrals through the relationships we built to maintain our reputation. Our reputation was built by our achievements and the relationships we built throughout our career. Those relationships included our peers, bosses, subordinates, customers, trade association colleagues and people in our community. As we traveled around in our career our word of mouth reputation followed us through a chain of phone calls, and live conversations, not to mention old fashion letters of referrals.
Fast forward to 2009 and our reputation isn’t even called that anymore. Now it’s called our personal brand. There are real dangers in not understanding the concept of a personal brand and how to develop and manage one. There is also a danger for employers to attempt to thwart employees from building their personal brand. The truth is an employee who builds a good personal brand has two benefactors: him or herself and their employer.
To build your personal brand start by filling out your online profile on social networking sites including but not limited to Linkedin and Facebook. If you’re willing to devote the time to Twitter, then go there as well. If you’re willing to devote more time to it create a Flickr account with photos and a YouTube channel where you aggregate videos about your favorite topics.
It’s critical to understand one point though before you set out to build your personal brand. Whatever you put online stays online. And, your personal brand is you both professionally and personally. If you think you can build a personal brand about your 9 to 5 life and a separate personal brand about your evenings and weekends life, think again. The web has converged our lives into one platform.
How can you help your staff build their personal brand while also benefiting your organization? Start by embracing this concept because you will both benefit. Next, set out to build your own personal brand if you haven’t already. In most cases, whatever you do to build your personal brand you should encourage your staff to consider, though in their unique way. It’s important to know the area of expertise of your team members and encourage them to build personal brands around those strengths. Start with the basics described above by creating a footprint on the social web by getting them actively engaged in social networking sites. Make sure their profile is completed entirely. Upload a good picture of you that is current. Once you’ve filled out your profile you’re just getting started. Then, start connecting with people you know directly or indirectly. Use the Search feature to find people you used to work with or went to school with or are from your home town and connect with them. In LinkedIn you connect with others. In Facebook you friend others. In Twitter you follow others.
Chances are you’re already using at least one of these mentioned social web platforms. That’s great! But, are you building your personal brand with them and encouraging your staff to do the same? Perhaps, your staff has a head start on you and they’ve been bugging you to get started. You’ve resisted either because you thought it is for kids or because you think you don’t have the time. Well, Mr. or Ms. CEO, I’ve got news for you. Many of your peers are already there. Your absence is obvious. The train has left the station. Get on board!
Once you have your social profiles completed, how often do you upload content to your personal profile or to industry social sites? How often do you recommend others in your network? How often do you answer questions in online discussions? How often do you ask questions? How often do you check each of these platforms – once per month? Once per week? Daily? Hourly? In order to develop your personal brand you must be active in the online social platforms.
Here are some tips to consider in building your personal brand on the social web:
• Be visible: Stay active in which ever social web platform you choose to participate. When you are active you will be noticed more and you have more opportunity to engage with others.
• Be interesting: Whatever your subject matter expertise you probably have ideas to express. Think of creative ways to express your thoughts. Ask questions meant to get people thinking. Remember that often what is obvious to you is probably not so obvious to others. Don’t be shy about expressing your points and stimulating new conversations.
• Contribute: Similarly share your insights. We live in an economy where our content is our marketing. When you have good content to share, by all means share it! You’ll get recognized for it. Don’t be surprised if you get invited into more conversations, or invited to speak or write because you have contributed good content.
• Push the envelope: This one requires discretion especially if you are employed (as opposed to being self employed) or you are the CEO. You don’t want to create controversy which can have a negative impact on both you and your business. Using discretion you can be provocative and thought provoking with your ideas or methods of getting things done.
• Be real: This is critical. The social web is not a place to act or be someone you’re not. You may get away with it for a little while but not for too long.
• How do you want to be found? If you do a Google search on “personal branding” the number one listing (in early 2009) is a blog called Personal Branding Blog by Dan Shawbel. Develop your personal brand around something specific that you can use as your unique value proposition. Even if it doesn’t boil down to a single phrase like this example, you can still become known for something like “the gal you want to hire if you need to launch a new product in the (fill in the blank) industry.”
To promote your personal brand promote your presence on the web. Start with the simple tactics such as including links your social web profiles. If you have a blog, include graphic links to each of your social web profiles and invite people to connect to you.
Building your personal brand is too important to ignore. Businesses who understand the value of a personal brand do more than accept it, they embrace it. One of my favorite personal branding examples is Matt Cutts from Google. His personal brand is very recognizable to people in the Internet industry. Google benefits greatly from Cutts’ personal brand because he is so effective at conveying who he is as a person and as a Google engineer. Another good example is Scott Monty of the Ford Motor Company. Scott heads up social media at Ford. He is an active blogger and he is very active on Twitter. He delivers great content about Ford enhancing their reputation while he has built his own reputation as a social media strategist.
If it frightens you that your employees may leave once they develop their personal brand then I argue you have other problems to address. Such insecurity will fail you in an age of marketing on the social web. A strong personal brand will benefit you and your employees assuming other pieces of healthy employment are in place.
Personal branding is the new media version of reputation management. You can’t fight it. Embrace it for all its value. Personal branding does not have a line item in your marketing budget but it is a marketing asset. It takes time to develop and maintain. But, there is a strong argument for the opportunity cost of not allowing employees to develop a personal brand. One way or another they will do it. You may as well encourage them to do it in a mutually beneficial way.