Social Media Top 5: Personal Brand (Wait, Don’t Go)

I was thinking about the concept of “personal branding” quite a bit lately, thus this Social Media Top 5.

  • I was invited to speak at one of Dan Schawbel‘s Personal Branding events, therefore I must be (or have) a personal brand: I was actually flattered to be invited to participate in a panel on “Personal Brand @ Work.” I represented PR, while others were from HR, legal and finance points of view. Lots of people had questions about the legal perspective: who owns your social media profile? What if you leave a place where you have built up connections in your company’s name? I should probably worry about that more than I do, but I have worked for employers who are pretty understanding about the division of personal and professional brand. I think of it this way, and it didn’t come up enough; think of your social networking contacts as akin to your Rolodex. If you leave a job, do you take those contacts with you? You bet you do. It’s what you do with those contacts that matters– and restrictions may apply there due to non-competes and general ethics (of course, I’m not a lawyer).

UPDATE: My colleague, Jennifer Eastman, was at the “Personal Brand @ Work” event and blogged her impressions.

  • The “Personal Brand” concept is controversial. Just ask Dan Schawbel. He has built up a meta-personal brand around “Personal Brand,” and comes under criticism. Thick skin is required (look at this angry post- apparently “Personal Brand” requires narcissism. It doesn’t). One big critic of the “Personal Brand” concept, Geoff Livingston, has written some great posts on the topic. I realize that any arguments I had with Geoff were purely semantic. “Personal Brand” can be a really lousy term if you think of it (Geoff prefers to separate that concept from “Personal Reputation” – see this post for clarification). The point, as I see it– “Personal Brand” (or “reputation”) can be exploited and done clumsily. As I mentioned, the term itself is confusing, but I think the concept is important. I don’t like the term “personal flotation device” either, but you gotta have one.
  • Why do I even care about personal brand? Well, I seem to have stumbled upon the concept, simply by being me. Social media has accelerated how people can network and be known. The point is not to become famous, but to do things and present yourself in a way that you want people to see you. That’s my approach, and I feel I have cultivated a circle of peers who know what I’m about; that’s good enough. This is not to say you should create artifice; you can’t sustain something that is false (on the Social Internet, everyone will find out if you’re a dog, right?). But you can create an ideal. Wait, create is an awful word- you can represent your own ideal- how about that?
  • So what about that whole “Personal Branding @ Work” thing? Here’s the thing; the ownership of your social networking activity is something you need to work out with your employer- please communicate with them Chicago election-style, early and often. However, the approach of a personal brand or reputation at work for me has always been that I can enhance my employer’s brand by being smart, responsible and professional. Of course, my job involves communications and social media, and my activities (like this blog post) dovetail nicely with my actual work. Your situation may be different; but show your employer the value you provide because of your reputation (see, I’m sliding into this cooler Livingston-approved language).  If you are developing a persona that is at odds with or irrelevant to your career, is that really “personal brand?” I don’t know, so I guess that’s a good topic for discussion. I tend towards the career/networking side of the topic.
  • Did I mention narcissism? Everyone who creates some sort of notoriety in this social media world gets called a “narcissist” or some other nasty term (I’ve avoided that somehow. I got called an “angry nerd” once but that’s another story). Too bad. As I wrote above, you need a thick skin. From a  career perspective, a little self-promotion is OK. It’s also OK to be confident, and speak with authority, as long as it is tempered with actual humility and frequent generosity. Name-callers, how do you answer that? Are you being generous and humble too or are you just an ankle-biting ass (great, now I’m a name-caller)? Yes, concentrating on building your reputation does carry the risk of getting carried away and looking like a true idiot. Just, um, don’t.

So, I guess I fall on the side of liking the concept of personal brand, with reservations and caveats, and room for healthy argument.

In the weeks to come, I am sure to have much more on the topics of personal brand, networking and careers. There’s always something cool happening on this front.

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