Online branding in two flavors: Personal and company

The new reality is that one’s own brand can meld with that of the organization. How, then, do you keep them distinct—or make the most of the overlap?

Personal branding is in the air these days.

I’ve recently 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 nonprofit, 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 1 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? Besides, they should do that on their own time.

Here are a few thoughts on the perils—and the promise—of building a personal brand:

The transferrable asset

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

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

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 read 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 smartphones, too? Are you going to shake them down for that Sudoku puzzle book? There’s no way to keep people off social media. 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.

Want to get your employees involved and active online? Download our free guide: 6 steps to crafting an internal social media plan.

Consider these facts and figures:

The ultimate promise of reach

It used to be that 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 1 million followers on Google+ are going to buy 1 million record albums. Social media connections are merely weak relational links that open a door for you. Still, all things being equal, are you going to hire the musician/writer/speaker with 1,000 connections or 1 million connections?

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 the most effective company representatives show a human side.

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 news reports will be computer-generated. I have seen a computer-written blog post, as well as poetry and song lyrics written by a computer that were beautiful and profound.

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.

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

What are your thoughts about personal branding?

A version of this article first appeared on Mark Schaefer’s {grow}.

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