Guest post by Mark W. Schaefer (@markwschaefer)
I hate the term “personal branding.”
And yet, personal branding may be the salvation of corporate marketing.
Allow me to explain today why both statements are true!
For the past few years I’ve been immersed in the world of personal branding as I wrote my new book KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. I started the process by exploring what the experts thought it meant to build a brand — and what I found was pretty disappointing. I found a lot of hype like:
“If you can dream it, you can be it.”
“Find your passion, find your life.”
“Nothing is more important than hustle.”
In other words, there’s a lot of fluff out there, which is why I had always detested the word “personal branding.” It’s
It’s funny how some people feel an online profile is the most important part of their career today. Building a business or a career based on an online reputation instead of an the actual product or service can only lead to difficulties.
As shocking as it may to many big online influencers, a lot of people don’t know who they are. Even if they have heard their names, they don’t care about someone’s big blog or Instagram profile. I don’t care how big you are online — in your community or nationally — you have to assume no one knows who you are.
A nice online profile built around some subject matter expertise might get you a listen, but you still need to allay fears. Then once you get the sale you need to meet the promise you are building.
That’s why I found Gary Vaynerchuk’s post last week on personal branding versus old fashioned work ethic so refreshing. It got back to brass tacks: Do the work, refine your skills, then build the reputation.
I know someone who has a brilliant online persona, but person X takes credit for other people’s work and often throws them under the bus in the process. Every time I have seen Person X get an opportunity to excel as a star performer, he/she fails.
Too many Internet-based reputations are like the one built by Person X. These personal brands revolve around reciprocated sharing, social media talk and no walk. Is it any wonder social media experts and to a lesser extent marketing bloggers aren’t taken seriously in the CMO office?
Looking online at the top social media news articles, it is amazing how Facebook and Twitter still dominate conversations. Yet, if I could start over from scratch — I would not use Facebook and Twitter for both professional and personal online efforts.
I have been online in social networks for a long time now. These days when I speak on panels I am the old guy, which is a bit weird. There are others who have been around longer than me or who have walked the earth for many more days, but nevertheless history and legacy are a burden.
The past can prevent you from moving forward unless you make a conscientious decision to embrace change. Consider that online media giant AOL still has 2.3 million dial-up subscribers, yet their business is moving towards online video programming. AOL manages to innovate, but where would they be if they hadn’t been bold and moved towards online content as their primary offering with the acquisitions of Engadget, the Huffington Post and TechCrunch years ago?
The same could be said for how you invest time online. Today, because I have shifted much of my content production to photography, I spend more time on Flickr and 500 Pixels than I do Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Google+. When I do participate on those sites, more of ten than not it’s either for business or to post a picture.
I look at the interactions with my customer base, and believe in some instances that I am wasting my time. So given my customers, passions and the interaction, where would I start?
Separate the Person from the Business
In the mid 2000s, everyone associated their personalities with their blogs. It was the age of personal brands, and like many others — in spite of my protests about personal branding as a movement — I weaved my personal social media activity and blogging for business together.
As a result, it was harder to scale prior companies, and my own personal adventures and missteps impacted business. Tenacity5 is different (I hope). I have a role as president, and while I am the front man, but it isn’t a personality vehicle. It is a business.
For example, T5 does not promote my personal projects. It is a brand that allows people to provide services, people that are more than me. As the company grows, this will be essential.
I increasingly try to create separation between the business and my interests. It is only on LinkedIn that I allow the two to completely merge, and largely because I see LinkedIn as a business only network.
Facebook Is a Waste of Business Time… Sort of
I’ve blogged before about how Facebook is almost a zero-sum game for pure marketing posts. Analytics continues to reaffirm that when posts are marketing centric they fail. When they are personal, they tend to do well. Though I caught a lot of grief back then for not marketing on Facebook, I am no longer the only one experiencing this.
I feel like this is particularly true of marketing agencies. We are experimenting again with the Tenacity5 Media Facebook page, but I have sincere doubts. Unless your friends are all marketers or you have a serious ad budget, people don’t want to read crap about content marketing on Facebook. What Facebook is good for is my customers seeing photos, but I doubt they are hiring me because I post nice pics.
In my mind Facebook is a place to post my photos, not to talk shop. And my photography hobby benefits greatly from it. Google+ is definitely in the same vein. People love photos and tech talk and not much else up there, at least in my feed.
I would say that Twitter, though not the most liked or popular network, is a primary driver for business traffic, so I would continue to invest in Twitter. I do find the conversations to be lacking personally.
Then I must admit — as much as it irks me a times — that LinkedIn has successfully become the place for B2B conversations. And a marketing agency is a B2B play. So from a business perspective, I see LinkedIn as important. So much so that we need to find ways to better engage there in the future.
I don’t think much of Instagram or Pinterest right now. The results have been fun at times, but I fail to see the value. I am keeping an open mind, though.
Today, I wouldn’t waste my time blogging as a primary business activity. In fact, for the most part I have slowed down significantly. I still post once a week here, mostly because I believe that a blog still has a role in my online life, even if it is for the fewer. But the topics are stream of conscious now. There is no editorial mission outside of what I think, and no real business goal outside of supporting personal projects.
Because you cannot succeed as a marketing blogger without these two necessary components: High quality posts that are clearly focused and a frequency of at least once if not twice a day. Without consistency, precision and excellence, the marketing blogger game is a loser. There are too many branded blogs and too many consultancies publishing for it to be as effective as it used to be. I do not have the wherewithal to commit the necessary resources to blog as a primary outreach mechanism today.
So, while it was a big deal back in the day, without the ability to commit the necessary resources, blogging is not a primary mechanism.
In the future, if Tenacity5 grows beyond 20 or 30 people I will recommit to daily content for the sector. Until then, there are other actions that yield more awareness, personal content (e.g. photos and books) that fares better than blogs, and marketing activities that are more profitable for the time investment.
What do you think? Sign up for the monthly marketing mash-up. You won’t find these tips on a blog!
Despite coming close to breaking my arm last week, I had an amazing time at xPotomac on Friday. If you haven’t been able to make it these last couple of years, you must put it on your calendar for 2015. Please?
Life is all about having the right attitude (even if you’re shivering through yet another polar vortex, bah humbug). And with more and more business relationships starting online, having an agreeable and pleasing personality is a must if you want to get ahead. This week’s roundup features seven posts from around the web that focus on being personable.
Why: Although the Internet allows us to connect quicker and better than ever before, some people abandon common courtesy once they’re behind their computer screens. Ken Mueller reminds us why the same rules that apply IRL community interactions should apply online.
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Several years have passed since the personal branding revolution took the Internet by storm. What have we learned? Are brands becoming more personable and have people become, well, more iconic?
Probably a little of both. However, we have also seen many examples of brands acting quite silly while they mime people, and the very public fallibility of the human condition.
At the crux of both extremes is the core definition of the general term brand. And yes, there are a ton of definitions. But usually, it comes down to selling: “Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product [as] distinct from those of other sellers.”
Like almost every marketing talking head, I have my own version, which I learned from Ellis Pines about 15 years ago. That is that brand is the expression of a promise from a company (or seller) to a customer. That brand is expressed visually, verbally and through customer experiences.
Let’s take a look at how the crossing of personality and brand has worked out for companies and people alike.
Brands Who Try to Be Like People
The smaller a company is, the easier one can associate the brand with a personality. Some brands do this better than others, for example Dell as a large brand and Georgetown Cupcake as a more well-known small brand.
More often than not the personality associated with the brand tends to be a founder, though we have seen exceptions. Flo, the fictional spokesperson for Progressive, has been a wildly successful example of infusing personality into a brand. However, none of us will actually do business with Flo. Other times, we have seen social media experts become the voice of the brand, at least on the interwebs.
However, this personal association doesn’t always turn out well for brands. For example, Kenneth Cole has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth (pun intended).
J.P. Morgan “got bloggy with it” and had a snarkpocalypse that to this day ranks as one of the top social media blunders ever.
Picking fun at corporate social media errors is a blood sport online. Inevitably, the errors find their genesis in very human mistakes, the errors of personality.
Some of this is common sense, but even the most rational people have their moments. This is the primary reason why brands tend to stay on business topic, and avoid the beaten path of personality quirks.
Given the volatility of the human spirit, we’ve seen some epic persoanl brand meltdowns online in the blogosphere since personal branding became popular. Perhaps its best to use celebrity examples given the sensitive nature of bloggers.
Here are a few examples of how titanic personal brands fall when a personality commits seriously negative acts:
You can go on forever with these. Romances, temper tantrums, employee meltdowns, etc., all combat the sales promise of various personalities’ branding efforts.
The problem with creating a finite brand promise associated with a person remains the human spirit. People change. They evolve for good or bad (so do brands, but rarely at the rate of individual people). They make mistakes. This inevitably contrasts against the personal brand.
Career change? Awesome, but that doesn’t match the brand. Good luck porting that equity over.
From a corproate perspective, the social media era give companies the ability to empower employees to talk with customers directly. Interaction is the expression of the brand through an experience. This is how brands become personable.
However, snarky toothpaste is not a good interactive experience, per say. That’s just a marketing campaign through owned channels on social networks. It’s a different form of branding.
I’m a big fan of encouraging people to be people, to identify themselves as employees. It’s important for them to carefully note that their opinion does not represent the company’s. This is being personable, not adding legions of personal brands to corporate mastheads.
When it comes to infusing personalities into the brand itself, you are really talking about spokespeople. Spokespeople represent a PR or advertising campaign decision, and should be treated with the same filters as a formal messaging camapign, and not unbridled social media wonkiness.
On the individual personal brands side, I’ve been a long-time critic of the concept. Instead I coach people ito focus on their reputation based on performance and relationships. While considered synonymous with a personal branding, a reputation is more fluid and easier to apply to new endeavors and troubled situations.
An iconic brand that’s known for performance in one product area or service sector fails to have that kind of flexibility. When you create a finite promise, you often have to live with it. That’s a hard commitment to live up to for any individual.
While I have simply protested the personal brand movement in the past, it’s better to offer useful guidance to individuals. This is particularly true for artists and writers who often have no choice but to market creative products and ideas under their names.
Generally, I still believe personal offerings work best when actual experiences deliver results, matched by positioning and look. This is different than a personal branding strategy which seeks to proliferate messaging using an architected image to win business.
Want proof? Everyone 35 and older knows what the Jimi Hendrix Experience had to offer, a hard psychedelic bluesy rock that no one has matched since. Other than overdose, I have no idea who Jimi Hendrix was.
That’s the difference between creating an experience based off a personality, and a personal brand strategy that seeks to create a famous person (at least in my mind).
Here are seven tips for personal experience marketing:
Building a branded experience to last extends beyond messaging. In the end, you have to judge brands, experiences and people by their actual product and/or actions.
From the public perspective this comes down to consistency and commitment. Yeah, you have to invest, go outbound, attract people to your experience, develop trust through responsible interactions, etc. But in the end, it’s the consistency of actions that builds influence and brand reputation over time.
With all content and outreach – regardless of medium – you want to your fans to think that you will be there when you are supposed to be.
Commit to serving your stakeholder groups with great music, art or writing, and deliver over and over again. They will come to trust and rely on you.
So, we’ve discussed this a bit, but nevertheless use your branding and marketing messages to promise what you actually deliver. Authentic positioning backed by action resonates well with customers, and drives word of mouth marketing.
Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. It’s the fastest way to create a bad reputation.
This does not mean delivering lame dry messages out of fear of overpromising. Rather, put your customer’s goggles on, and tell them about the best parts of your experience.
Not sure what to say? Look at the actions and results of your efforts. There-in lies the truth!
Also, note that if your experience changes — and most artists and writers evolve over time — this approach gives you more flexibility to adapt messaging than a personal branding strategy. Madonna is probably the most historically successful artist at evolving her image to meet her music’s experience.
3) Go Beyond Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
So much focus today in the blogosphere is on the hot social networks. As a personal marketer, these things are important, but you have to understand that social networking/validation is just part of the picture.
You also need to consider content, search and traditional marketing tactics. Here are three quick tips that will compliment your social marketing effort.
a) Have a centralized well designed web site with strong calls to action to convert customers off of social media. Hopefully, you are blogging/publishing so you have regular fresh content. Also make sure that the site points outbound to those social outposts so that people can engage in conversations and share your content where they most prefer.
b) Use Google+ to get content and ideas indexed into Google. Google definitely uses social validation via + to rank content, and you want people to find you. Five +1s are more valuable than 50 tweets in that sense.
c) Make sure all of your traditional media – album covers, flyers, brochures, t-shirts — has that URL on it so people can come back to the site and get into your online marketing cycle.
4) Monitor Conversations
Monitor conversations at least once a day. You can set up your monitoring dashboard to alert you as things happen.
Take advantage of free monitoring mechanisms such as Google Alerts, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook searches, etc.
It’s up to you if you want to go in more than once a day to comment. Certainly, entrepreneurial artists and writers have other pursuits, but you must do this at least once a day. Once a week would be a disaster if a series of negative unresponded to reviews came out.
Fans are your customer evangelists and you need them. You want to bend over backwards to serve them online. Without them, your work won’t make it.
Whether they like it or not is really a question of taste, but why alienate people by not listening to them and being present for feedback? To me positive or negative, being present wins them over, and hopefully garners more support for future efforts.
Rather than rehash the whole post, in a nutshell: Use photos to expand the experience; monitor and respond (already stated above); publicly reward your biggest fans; crowdsource aspects of your experiencelike t-shirt design, etc.; and, let fans be a part of the experience via comment walls, etc.
To me these tips are about rewarding and empowering community members with privileges, recognition and access. You can even create ambassadors within the network to serve as community managers. These deputized community members will be forever loyal to your effort.
Let people photograph and record your efforts (music, paintings, etc.). Be smart, the Grateful Dead were the first to do this, but many bands have caught on to the fact that letting people share their music experience creates fantastic word of mouth marketing.
Every show can be a word of mouth bomb in that market.
If you’re an artist, writer or photographer consider that the Tacoma Art Museum and Thomas Hawk have both successfully marketed their efforts by sharing pictures on Flickr and other social media.
As to not getting paid for the recordings, watermarked photos, writing etc. you know the quality will be less. I’d rather have four new customers than one locked down somewhat disgruntled person who can’t share their experience.
Don’t be an idiot like Prince and try to control it. Let people experience you, show how they like your work, and tell their friends.
It’s funny how much we talk about content frequency, retweet ratios, comments, etc. as key determinants of influence. What really matters in interactions with people, particularly as an idea or art creator, is consistency, as mentioned in our first tip.
When it comes to engaging people online, you need consistency, but you also need to give people something to talk about.
Who cares about Eddie Van Halen anymore? Is there anything exciting or surprising about this old (super talented) gunslinger? No. He doesn’t nurture the fan base anymore, he simply cashes in.
Applied, give people things to talk about. Outtakes, surprise appearances, contests. Make things fun.
I think Radiohead is one of the best musical acts at this. They really have their community wound tight around their metaphorical finger.
You can manufacture as much messaging as you want, but if your brand promise doesn’t meet the customer experience then your efforts will fail. Fast.
See, experienced marketers — and I mean marketers, not amateurs who conjure up imagery — know they need a great product or service. If their experience sucks, they will develop a bad reputation.
In fact, a strong branding campaign promoting a bad experience will only do the opposite, which is antagonize stakeholders who feel deceived. The experience defies the visual and verbal promises given to them.
One of my favorite influences in marketing, David Ogilvy said in Ogilvy on Advertising that a great ad campaign will do two things, make a great product sell, and make a poor one fail faster.
Let’s discuss what a manufactured representation of a brand really is. Boil down all of the visual branding hype, all of the industry personal brand jargon, and you get down to one simple thing: A promise from an organization/person to deliver an experience to its/their constituency.
Recent examples of brands who launched strong marketing campaigns with promises that didn’t meet the actual experience:
Image by Mr. Enjoy
You must be wondering if all of your marketing efforts are for naught at this point. They aren’t, but comprehend the importance of product marketing and development in the integrated marketing lifecycle.
Brands are communicated in three ways: Visually, verbally, and most importantly, through the actual experience of the constituent.
Thus one of market research’s primary goals is to sift through internal and external perceptions to comprehend a factual offering from the stakeholder’s perspective.
The facts are the cornerstone of a brand message. Taken into context with the constituency’s needs and wants, competitor offerings, recent market trends, and yes, bad spin that already exists, and you have all of the elements necessary to forge a brand.
Not everyone has the luxury of working with a great product. This means if your product or service is lacking, you have work to do inside the house.
Good companies will acknowledge flaws and work to correct them. Some don’t succeed.
Others won’t even try, and you may have to live with that. This is a challenge everyone who has more than five years of experience understands.
As the line between social media and privacy continues to erode, I often think about these words by Gabriel García Márquez, “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” Sometimes in social media, we intentionally or often, unintentionally, blur the lines between who we are (outward facing), who we are (introspectively), and who we want to be.
A recent example of such a mistake is when former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner accidentally published a direct message as a live Tweet. Suddenly, his public, private and secret lives were one and unfortunately (or fortunately) his once separated worlds were introduced to one another with devastating effect. With reference to Dr. Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters, we must be careful not to cross the streams.
This happens every day. Whether we admit it or not, the truth is that just like in real life, our actions and words that we share online affect how people see us. It’s the discrepancy in how others see us and how we see ourselves that begins to create the potential for confusion and conflict online that ultimately affects the value of our digital persona or brand. And, this is why Facebook’s more “open” Open Graph launched at the recent f8 event is something you and 800 million other people need to think deeply about before the new Facebook Timeline is unveiled.
Ignorance is Bliss Until It’s Not
Dave Winer published a post that is reverberating through the web and the hacker/developer communities. His title says everything, “Facebook is scaring me.”
Dave’s perspective is honest and it represents the type of thinking that will benefit most Facebook users…
“Every time they make a change, people get angry. I’ve never myself been angry because I have always assumed everything I post to Facebook is public. That the act of putting something there, a link, picture, mini-essay, is itself a public act. This time, however, they’re doing something that I think is really scary, and virus-like. What clued me in was an article on ReadWriteWeb that says that just reading an article on their site may create an announcement on Facebook.”
To be clear, what Facebook is introducing will profoundly change and improve the experience of social networking. Mark Zuckerberg refers to this as “frictionless sharing” which encourages “real-time serendipity.” But with social media comes great responsibility and it is now up to each one of us to be incredibly aware of what we interact with online as it may trigger an automated update to your social graph. Let’s take a minute to review what exactly the new Facebook Open Graph will and will not do.
First, Facebook observed that asking people to manually Like, Share, or Comment on content requires an extra step that actually inhibits sharing and interaction. Rather than introduce changes to the buttons, it will simply change the technical framework for apps within Facebook so that rather than requiring you to click to share, comment or express sentiment, the app automatically broadcasts a status update for you. For example, with the new Facebook and Spotify integration, simply listening to music automagically updates my News Feed (eventually my timeline). Depending on how much interaction it triggers, that activity may also show up in your News Feed.
At f8, the Washington Post introduced Social Reader, an app that produces a custom “Front Page” based on what I read and what my friends are reading in the app. If I stay on a story for longer than say 30 seconds, an update is sent to my stream alerting my social graph as to what currently has my attention.
Apps will be based on action verbs to entice those who follow you to follow suit. Soon your timeline will be rich with words including…
Andy Samberg on stage at f8 impersonating Mark Zuckerberg
Learn and Teach
Before you panic, the sky isn’t falling. The new Facebook isn’t monitoring and broadcasting your actions simply by logging in. People will not leave Facebook en masse. At the heart of the matter, we are talking about a new class of intelligent apps based on the revamped Open Graph platform where developers can integrate sharing into your interaction. As you install each app, you MUST explicitly give it permission to update your Timeline. No app can update your Timeline without your unequivocal consent. The better apps will of course offer transparency in how exactly your Timeline will be updated and why it is advantageous for you to do so.
This is where things get serious. Just because you opt-in doesn’t mean that your mindful of all you do within these apps and what’s shared with everyone while you’re caught up in each moment. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Here, it’s looking forward that counts and a new mindset is absolutely necessary as we begin to navigate the new Facebook EGOsystem. Without a thoughtful approach, it’s now easier than ever before to share actions or content without intending to do so. Think about it for a moment, your actions will speak as loud or louder than your words as each contribute to a semblance of who you are.
Indeed, privacy as we knew it is dead. It is now something that we have to learn and teach. Your privacy settings in Facebook are yours to manage. But, to do so takes initiative and an understanding that like your credit score, what you share online requires definition and reinforcement. Remember, what works against us also works for us. We’re essentially adding a layer of thoughtfulness in our social networking to better tell our story and also enjoy the stories of others.
As mentors, parents, teachers, and good social denizens, it’s up to us to help another while taking responsibility for what we do and say online. At the end of the day, we can’t blame Facebook or developers when those whom we care about change how they see us.
For brands and developers that embrace frictionless sharing to trigger real-time serendipity, please remember that your long-term success is based on our experiences and the impressions we share with others. Your marketing, product description, opt-in message, and the verbs that you choose to represent out activity, each represent an opportunity for transparency and education. Brands, it may also be time to update your social media policy and also send an alert on how Frictionless Sharing affects engagement.
The future of social networking is indeed rooted in shared experiences and in the end, we earn the attention, engagement, relationships, and relevance we earn. Everything starts with understanding everything about the power of newfound social sharing that lays before us.
There have been a couple of recentposts acknowledging the decline of authenticity on the social web. In reality, authenticity as it was preached in the mid 2000s for all intents and purposes is a lost art. Today, we have formulaic gestures, and acts and boasts of authenticity instead of people being people.
Authenticity washing is abound. Whether it’s a demonstration of flair, declarations of being the real thing, and even protests of being flawed, one has to wonder what we’re seeing. Many people claim to be nice in the social media blogosphere while they curse out their peers in emails or police contrarian opinions through flash mobs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. To say more would not be mindful. The real behavior is nothing worse than the scandals we see played out in the media, and is simply a demonstration of the human condition. But what we are told is not authentic.
There are a few reasons for this decline in authenticity. One is the over-commercialization of the social web. The second is the rise of the personal brand movement. No matter how many personal branders claim reputation based on actions, the practice encourages putting forth a contrived image to the marketplace. In the end, authenticity has declined because people are afraid of looking bad. Courage — the ability to act in the face of fear — has and will always be at a premium.
So the authenticity washing will continue. There is no formula for being authentic, folks. Authenticity is simply being you, good and bad and everything in between. Be you.
In the end, talk is cheap on the social web. Actions are not. Watch what people do, not what they claim.
What do you think about the state of authenticity on the social web?
Here is my deck from the CIPR Summer Social session that I ran last night at the CIPR in Russell Square on personal reputation and how to get ahead, and hired, in social media.
There are three components of personal brand: your work; your personal network; and increasingly your online footprint. The session last night focused on the latter two and explored how you can use social technology to build your network and online profile.
Why is it that we as an industry wants brands to become people and people to become brands? This manifests itself with a corporate brand online talking like a human being, but without identifying the people behind the communications. It seems like a disaster waiting to happen. When brands act like people — cursing, drinking, or making bad jokes — we pounce on them. We’re mortified for they have betrayed the behavioral norms that we expect of trusted brands.
To think that people, um, that is brands would do such things. The outrage is a result of expectations that supersede the human condition. Brands that act like people inevitably stumble.
Of course, asking people to act like brands only creates the opposite issue. Fake, shiny plastic people. Yay! But let’s not get mired in the ills of personal branding (which apparently is something our European counterparts like to make fun of when discussing American social media).
The problem with the personality conundrum is that transposing roles fails. The reality is that a brand is created by humans for humans. The brand fulfills a means to interact for a promised purpose (in theory) between people within the branded entity, and other people in or outside the organization. It is a very narrow type of communication limited to the business of the brand.
Why confuse the issue in the name of social media? There’s an old saying that half measures avail us nothing. In trying to be human, brands want to add personality to their brand palette, but in reality brands are just marketing vehicles, not people.
Personality can best be seen in a company by using the brand to highlight people within the entity. Afterall, organizations are made of and led by people. Some of the more consistent efforts online like GM Blogs and Bank of America‘s Twitter customer service take this approach, showcasing the voices behind the brand.
This, of course, requires a team approach with a greater depth of transparency which many brands haven’t become comfortable with yet… Teams are needed to counterbalance the negative effects that individual personal fame under a brand can have. Transparency is needed to trust people to identify themselves as a member of the organization. Rare is the brand management team that’s willing to do the latter, afraid of the worst case scenarios of the human condition.
Yet, when these situations occur in real life, people don’t assume that madmen engage in workplace violence or white collar crimes on behalf of the brand! On the contrary, people understand that wayward employees are really just lost souls who have crossed that terrible line we all fear. That is the dark side of the human condition.
Brand managers who cannot understand this will never be able to circumnavigate the personality conundrum. Instead they will be mired in half measures, trying to infuse personality into their brand while controlling their employees. Then when the inevitable brand failure happens serious meetings will occur to create new policies and eradicate future human outbursts.
Let brands be brands, and let people be people. By using one to highlight the other, a brand can show the human side of its company, and protect itself. In the worst cases, the brand can simply state that an employee made an error (or worse), and apologize to or reassure stakeholders. It really is that easy.
Minimalistic forms of self-expression masquerade as a new information economy. Instead, it’s a new information democracy that represents the greatest era for self-expression in history. What we say, however, defines the value of the social economy and our place in it.
If we are defined by our actions and words, essentially the currencies we exchange, the question is, are we investing in our social capital or social arbitrage?
Everyone in life wants to be loved on a personal basis, and received well professionally. When feelings of inadequacy arise — self esteem — it’s natural to look for solutions to improve a sense of worth. The most disturbing (and the least talked about) aspect of the personal branding movement is the promise that it can increase self worth through the intentional manufacture of an image.
Personal branding remains a popular individual career and online promotion strategy (as evidenced by the top of the Blog Tree by Eloqua and Jess3) in spite of significant criticism from the marketing profession as well as many employers. When a solution for such a soul-touching problem arises, it’s bound to become popular. And in that sense, personal branding is an idea that preys on individual pain and suffering.
Personal brand leaders offer plenty of justifications for their tutelage. They get paid for it, and receive national attention. In this sense, because the theory preys on the weak and is inherently flawed, their actions exploit people who want more in their lives, and want an answer.
This type of exploitation — intentional or as an act of innocent zeal — is no different than the quick road to riches offered by the likes of Bernard Madoff and his Ponzi pyramid scheme. It’s not OK to say, “it’s just a job.” Taking advantage of people in this manner at a minimum lacks mindfulness and its worse can only be described as malevolent.
From a professional standpoint, that means stating what you want, going out and doing whatever it takes to get an opportunity to do that work and learning the craft. Then excel at the craft. Demonstrable experience (and a little luck) builds great careers. Presentation matters, but wearing a tie and understanding the nomenclature of a profession only provides an opportunity. Excellence in action preserves the opportunity and provides new ones.
Everyone wants to feel and do better. In 2011, let the marketplace and individuals turn its/their focus on substantive solutions that garner great opportunities and real experiences.
The Brandbuilder Sounds Off on Three Personal Brand Weaknesses
The concept of “personal branding” finds its roots in the ambitions that fuel the American dream, appealing to the masses of individuals who desperately want to “be somebody” and see in the socialization of media a chance to have their fantasy become a reality.
There once was a time when being somebody meant actually… well, being someone of note. People became well known because of something they did or because of the role they played in their culture. Heroes could enjoyed fame because they saved lives and accomplished feats of bravery. Kings and queens knew fame because their faces were printed on their state’s money and they basically owned everything. Musicians, authors and artists enjoyed fame because of their work. Scientists enjoyed fame because of their contributions to science and human advancement. Movie stars were famous because they were glamorous and often became vessels for cultural archetypes that societies need in order to function properly.
I could go on, but the point is this: Fame and notoriety once were the result of accomplishment and achievement, and for good reason. The same is true today, though a growing movement made up of “personal branding” experts would like to sell you on the notion that you don’t actually have to achieve anything to be famous, even if only a little bit. All you have to do is will yourself there and follow some simple steps – which you will find if you buy their book or attend their seminars.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Polishing your resume, having your shirts and suits tailored and having a professional online presence all matter. And I understand the need for “self help” books as much as the next guy, just so you can feel good about yourself while you clean up your act. But the problem with this “personal branding” thing is that it is essentially a lie.
For one, it promises something it cannot deliver: We are people, not brands. Unless you are Sir Richard Branson, Bill Clinton or Tom Cruise, you are not a brand, no matter how many times some consultant tells you that you are. You are not trademarked. You have no trade dress. You do not have a team of copywriters, attorneys, designers and marketing professionals crafting your every move. Ask yourself this: What are your brand attributes? Can you sell koozies with your face on them? Do you have a tag line? You are a person, not a brand. Be yourself. You can’t be anything else without bending the truth anyway.
If you want to earn respect and notoriety, turn your attention away from yourself. Go cure cancer. Go write the great American novel. Start a charity and work to put roofs over people’s heads. When it comes to building a reputation, the kind of self-serving digital navel-gazing encouraged by personal branding gurus is precisely the opposite of what you should be doing.
Second, if you aren’t that smart, interesting or even knowledgeable about your topic, all the blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates and YouTube videos in the world, all of the speaking gigs at conferences and events, and all the self-published e-books won’t change the fact that you aren’t that smart, interesting or knowledgeable. Lousy content doesn’t magically turn into gold just because you have built a “personal brand.” Along the same vein, calling yourself an “award-winning expert” if you in fact are not doesn’t actually make you an award-winning expert, no matter how much your personal branding guru insists that it does.
Third, the “personal branding” industry preys on the desperate and the gullible. It is no surprise that it shifted into high gear as soon as millions of people in the US started losing their jobs. What really fuels personal branding isn’t ego or vanity. The real culprits are necessity and despair. Why do people really fall for personal branding schemes? Is it because they are happily employed? Is it because they are happy with their careers or their bank account? Do you think that Steve Jobs and James Cameron worry about their personal brands? No. But Jack, a down the street neighbor who lost his job 14 months ago does. He buys all the books, attends all the seminars, takes all the online courses. There is no telling how many thousands of dollars he has spent on personal branding “thought leadership,” consulting and advice since then. Like snake oil to the ailing, personal branding promises career improvement and better opportunities to the disappointed and disenfranchised. In this, the personal branding industry reveals its true predatory nature.
If you need a better website, build a better website. If you need help cleaning up your CV, get help. If you have a book in you, write it. If you want to make a difference in the world, not just get praised for it, go make yourself helpful. If you want to be known as an expert in your field, don’t just talk about it – go be the best in that particular field. It really isn’t brain surgery. But if your strategy for getting ahead is to build a personal brand based on the teachings of some “expert” in… well, nothing, perhaps you should consider the benefit of adding this tag line to your personal brand: “Part owner of the Brooklyn Bridge.” Now wouldn’t that be an achievement.
That is all.
Trackbacks on this post are turned off. This post does not seek to generate in-bound links, instead it will hopefully inspire people to consider the ideas discussed in the context of their own efforts. Special thanks to Rich Becker for inspiring this post.
In a landmark discussion where traditional media meets social media, we find ourselves realizing just how much we have yet to learn and also define. This is indeed our time to influence how new media evolves and also how it affects who we are and how we communicate with one another.
The final installment in this series with Kate Couric, anchor and managing editor of the CBS EVENING NEWS WITH KATIE COURIC, takes us away from the discussion of social media’s impact on news and journalism and turns the focus to directly on you and me. Everything we do and say online defines our digital persona, which also casts shadows in the real world.
Here, two people simply discuss what they observe as human beings. From privacy to cyber-bullying to shaping online impressions, Katie and I bring to light the issues and opportunities facing parents, educators, children, peers, and who we are professionally.
As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”
Welcome to the (R)evolution, a new series that connects you to the people, trends, and ideas defining the future of business, marketing, and media.
Andrew Landini, Producer, Director, Lead Cameraman
Adam Eckenfelder, Audio Tech/Re-Recording Mixing
Jason Fairbrother, Cameraman
Special thanks to Erica Anderson (@ericaamerica) who helped bring us all together