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.