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Balance Your Personal and Corporate Branding

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There seems to be a new emphasis on personal branding, especially as it pertains to achieving a balance with the corporate brand.

If you work for a company, should you focus on personal branding or keep the corporate brand at the forefront?

LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY

I worked for a small company where I was given the task of carrying out social media and other online marketing initiatives. I had already built something of a personal brand, thanks in part to my books and long-term engagement in both the blog and social media spheres.

While I maintained the brand's Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as blogged on the company website, in an attempt to leverage the social capital I had built, I made references to the company from my personal Twitter account and blog.

I also made repeated efforts to get other members of the company more engaged in social media, the rationale being that if several of us were tweeting, blogging, posting on Facebook, etc., over time it would help to strengthen the corporate brand within those circles.

However, I was never able to successfully get the company to make that transition. That's not to fault the company mind you. It testified to the fact everyone already had a job to do---and tweeting wasn't part of the job description. The end result was that my personal brand continued to rise, but at the expense of the company itself.

STRIKE A DELICATE BALANCE

Dan Schawbel, who one could argue knows more about personal branding that just about anybody, had this to say in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek post:

"If you're an employee, start considering what brand you need to build and why. By focusing entirely on your personal brand, you become unemployable. No company wants a selfish worker who isn't concerned with the business's results. On the other hand, if you concentrate solely on your company's brand, you make yourself vulnerable: If the company dies, you die with it."

My motive was not to be selfish in nature, but the end result was that it made more sense for me to step away from the company and continue leveraging my personal brand rather than stay in the fold. And that's what I did.

What Schawbel is suggesting is that a balance be struck, a balance that can often be delicate and tenuous. It takes diligent effort on both the part of the employee and company to make it work in a way that benefits both.

GUIDELINES FOR EMPLOYERS

I think the onus for ensuring that employees maintain a healthy balance lies with the company. Here are some guidelines companies should adhere to:

1. Have an employee social media engagement policy in place.  This is not merely to prevent employees from giving away proprietary information or saying something that would embarrass or misrepresent the brand. It's also for the purpose of ensuring the personal brand does not override the corporate.

2. Don't make social media engagement the job of one person. I've come to believe that social media is more a function and less a role. That means the burden gets shouldered by more than one person who carries a special designation as social media director.

That's not to suggest you shouldn't have someone serving that role. It is to recognize their job is more internal than external. Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company's head of social media, will tell you his job is as much about serving as a catalyst for creating a more transparent, socially responsive organization as it is tweeting or blogging on Ford's behalf.

To cite his blog, "[Scott] is a strategic advisor on all social media activities across the company, from blogger relations to marketing support, customer service to internal communications and more, as social media is being integrated into many facets of Ford business."

3. Encourage employee participation within social media. For example,take  Microsoft, who has thousands of employees who blog, tweet, and engage in other forms of social networking on behalf of the company, often informally, but always with the company's blessing.

4. Provide media channels that foster employee engagement.  Zappos has its own Twitter aggregation channel. Microsoft has sites that aggregate employee posts. Any number of companies have blogs where multiple employees post on a regular basis.

5. Tie the person together with the brand. Inside social media circles, people relate to other people better than to brands. In that case, follow Dell's example and tie the person to the brand.

Most Daily Fix readers follow (or at least know of) Richard Binhammer, famously known as richardatdell on Twitter. To me, that's a perfect way to keep the personal and corporate brand in check.

(I know I'm citing some of the most well-known examples, but don't allow their popularity diminish the value of the principles being taught.)

GUIDELINES FOR EMPLOYEES

1. Respect the brand. Don't use company time to promote your personal brand. Remember that you are receiving a paycheck. Work for it. If there are social media engagement guidelines in place, respect those as well.

2. Make every effort to promote the company. Whenever possible, make references to the company, it's products and services, and do so in a manner that will reflect well on you and your company. I'm not suggesting you become a company shill. Be genuinely enthusiastic. If you love your work and the company you work for, that shouldn't be difficult.

Remember the adage: If you don't have anything good to say, then say nothing at all. It really comes down to a matter of plain common sense.

3. Encourage other employees to do the same. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of being the sole voice of the company within social media, start a campaign to get others involved.

4. Recognize when you get "too big for your britches." Invariably, there will be those whose personal brand takes precedence over the corporate. In those cases, it may be best for that person to do what I did and move on. Perhaps a healthier tack is to recognize the person's achievement, celebrate it, and use the person as a spokesperson or evangelist, not dissimilar to what Microsoft did with Robert Scoble.

There is a way to make this a win-win situation for both the employee and the company, but it takes patient effort, a genuine desire to evolve the cooperate culture to one characterized by transparency, and a willingness to experiment with different approaches in order to find one that works.

What do you think? Should corporations be open to employee's building a personal brand? What advice would you give to a company, or to an employee? Can you cite some examples of companies you feel have done a good job in this respect? Feel free to weigh in with a comment.


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Paul Chaney is "The Social Media Handyman" and the author of The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media (www.thedigitalhandshake.com). Reach him via pchaney@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • by Angela Hausman Thu Jun 10, 2010 via blog

    Social media helps to build a brand and the more people from the company engaged in social media, the more they are engaged with their target market. This helps to build community, which affects the brand, but doesn't build the brand. That's because so much more goes into a brand. There are tangible elements such as price and product quality, there are customer perceptions such as product suitability and customer service, there is social responsibility, including accounts about the company and its brand that are sent through all types of media, including social ones.

    Hence, having a social presence will help build the brand, but there's a lot more to it.

  • by 40deuce Thu Jun 10, 2010 via blog

    This is a great article Paul and came at a perfect time in my life.
    I just started a new job in which I will be representing a company online among other places. The company brought me in because of my personal brand that I've been building online over the past couple of years. I've been thinking a lot about how I was going to balance my new work with my own personal brand.
    I came to sort of the same conclusion that you outlined here; to keep being myself, but to bring my company into the mix whenever I can.
    Thanks for this.

  • by online branding blog Thu Jun 10, 2010 via blog

    Employees can also consider that even though they don't know if they'll be at the same company in a few years, online branding for a company presents an opportunity for them to contribute, and have a positive impact on their own personal branding.

  • by Paul Chaney Thu Jun 10, 2010 via blog

    Thanks for clarifying and amplifying all that goes into building a brand, Angela. Social does have a place, but as you suggest, much more goes into it.

  • by Paul Chaney Thu Jun 10, 2010 via blog

    I'm glad you found it helpful. Learn from my mistakes so you don't repeat them.

  • by Anne Egros Sun Jun 13, 2010 via blog

    Hi Paul,

    It is very well articulated and I am going to use this to:

    1-help my clients understand what is a personal brand,
    2-Convince them why they should work on their values, purpose and vision
    3-If they are job seekers, how to search for companies that share same values
    4-If they are employed to become a champion and an brand evangelist for their company because it is in their own interest

    Thanks for sharing
    Anne

  • by Paul Chaney Sun Jun 13, 2010 via blog

    Very true. It can be a good fit for both.

  • by Paul Chaney Sun Jun 13, 2010 via blog

    That's great Anne. Thank you for sharing as well.

  • by Dan Schawbel Mon Jun 14, 2010 via blog

    Paul, great advice and thanks for reading my article.

  • by Paul Chaney Mon Jun 14, 2010 via blog

    Thanks for writing it Dan. Credit goes to you for bringing personal branding to the forefront.

  • by Nettie Hartsock Tue Jun 15, 2010 via blog

    Paul

    This is a great article! Really insightful and I think personal branding is very important in the long run to be aware of and to foster. And it's always a balance to be aware of in terms of companies you work on behalf of as well. I always try to respect that part of it as well even through usage of my social media outlets.

    Nettie

  • by Paul Chaney Tue Jun 15, 2010 via blog

    As Miyagi said, "Balance, Danielsan, balance...Balance is key. Balance good...Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home." :-)

  • by John Barnett Wed Jun 16, 2010 via blog

    Exceptional article and inspired me to pass along within my company and write my own post on social media as a team sport. Credited your post both in name and link. I hope my folks will take it to heart.

  • by Paul Chaney Wed Jun 16, 2010 via blog

    That's great John. I'm hopeful others will follow your lead. Thanks for the attribution too. Much appreciated.

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