Personal brand or company brand? The new realities of life online

By Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant

It seems like in recent weeks I’ve been deluged with questions like this:

  •         I cover the news. I’m not supposed to be part of the news story so how do I build a personal brand?
  •         I work for a non-profit and I am essentially the face of the organization. I want to build awareness for what we do but my interests are so eclectic. Am I a personal brand or a company brand?
  •         I’m a musician and I have more than a million followers on Google+. I thought I would be able to monetize this audience but nothing has happened. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen when you build a brand?
  •         I don’t want my employees to build a brand on social media. What happens if they get more popular than the product? And besides, they should do that on their own time.

So it appears personal branding is in the air these days! Here are a few thoughts on the perils and promise of building a personal brand.

The transferable asset

I believe it is an imperative for everybody to work on their online presence and networking, even if you are happily employed. Why? If everything goes upside down, this is the only asset you have today that is transferable!

In today’s legal environment, you probably can’t take your customers, your ideas, your software or anything else with you if your employment would end. But, you can take your online friends with you.

I cannot tell you how many people I know got new jobs from their online connections. Here are some ideas on how to build a strong personal brand and a few more on self-promotion.

Employers, set your people free

I recently saw a stat that 50 percent of employers still block employees from the Internet. The main reason is they don’t want them wasting time on stuff like Farmville and Grumpy Cat.

Are you going to collect their smart phones too? Are you going to shake them down for that Sudoku puzzle book?

Look, there is no way to keep people off social media, and at the same time there are powerful BENEFITS to setting your people free:

  1. The other day, I was facing a puzzling marketing problem. I had worked on the thing for four days and was at a dead end. I posted the problem on Facebook and had the solution in 10 minutes. I will bet on the productivity of a connected employee versus a non-connected employee every time.
  2. Letting employees enjoy a social media break is a quiet, low-cost way to give them a way to relax and refresh.
  3. Today, access to social media isn’t just a way to waste time, it is place to learn new skills and connect with inspiring new ideas.
  4. Finally, what about the potential power of creating an employee advocacy network? Establishing a “social organization” is a long-term aspirational goal for many companies, but there’s no reason you can’t ask enthusiastic employees to help spread interesting, relevant content on their social networks. The amplification effect can be significant—much greater than traditional distribution through the logo-infused company sites.

Dell is a good example of an employer promoting personal branding. Theirsocial media policy states, “Be Nice, Have Fun and Connect… Social Media is a place to have conversations and build connections, whether you’re doing it for Dell or for yourself.”

The ultimate promise of reach

It used to be, you would get a book contract or a record deal and the publisher would help you build an audience. Today, it’s the other way around. You must HAVE the audience before you ever have a shot at that deal … or maybe even a job.

Now, that does not mean your one million followers on Google+ are going to buy one million record albums. These social media connections are merely weak relational links that open a door for you. But let’s face it … all things being equal, are you going to hire the musician/writer/speaker with 1,000 connections or 1 million connections?

Now … should you be concerned about building the brand for your company or yourself? Why not a bit of both? You will be a boring personality indeed if all you do is post about your company. Why not add a human face and post about your travels, the music you love, and the interesting ideas and people you’re connecting with?

Certainly there is a balance but I think the most effective company representatives are people, too.

Why personal branding is more important than ever

We are on the cusp of a scary time for content creators. Perhaps a cataclysmic time.

Last year, for the first time in history, a computer-generated news story ran in the Los Angeles Times. By 2020, it is projected that 75 percent of the news will be computer-generated. I have seen poetry and song lyrics written by a computer that were beautiful and profound. I have seen a computer-written blog post.

The point is, a lot of jobs are vulnerable out there, but the one thing they can’t take away is the fans that we earn through our brand. Those fans are not going to love a computer, but they may just love you and consume your content because it is YOU.

So, in almost any profession, it makes sense to extend your reach and build your connections by patiently building your online presence.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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