Personal Branding And Companies: A Symbiotic Relationship

I’ve written some detailed thoughts previously on the rise of personal branding,  and the importance of building career security, not job security.

Jeremiah Owyang, Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing recently brought up the topic again in a fantastic post:  How Companies Respond to the Risks of Personal Brands.  Go read it if you haven’t – both the post and ensuing discussion offer good insight from some incredibly intelligent people.

From the post:

Some companies are wary of personal brands
Last week, I spoke to a social media strategist as a very large consumer packaged goods company, he expressed to me over this client call (called an inquiry) that he was concerned about employees getting too popular due to their personal brands and as a result, getting pulled right out of the company.

The topic is worth thinking about further, as in the future more dedicated professionals, especially those in media, marketing and PR industries will gain greater interest in carving out a name for themselves using social communications tools as they discover the value and opportunity afforded.

Jeremiah’s post did a great job of discussing the issue of someone rising to popularity through their work as a representative of a brand within social media.  Something he touched on, but what I would like to focus on further is the trend of people like:

Matt Dickman – Vice President, Digital Marketing at Fleishman-Hillard
Noah Brier – head of planning and strategy at the Barbarian Group
Eric Friedman – analyst, Union Square Ventures
Louis Gray – corporate marketing at BlueArc
Sarah Evansdirector of communications at Elgin Community College
David Armano – VP of Experience Design with Critical Mass
Steve Rubel – SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital

These are all popular bloggers/social media influencers, however they do not blog for their companies or even to bring in business.  Rather, they blog to contribute to an independent discourse on their personal perspectives for their industries and passions of choice.

A risk Jeremiah listed was:

The now popular employee is likely to get poached: Perhaps a common concern I hears is that competitors can easily identify the stars, and hire away these folks along with their market reputation and google juice.

All of these people listed above are popular in the social media space, quoted by traditional media and other bloggers as expert sources and their material is well read by countless professionals.  It would also be naive of us to ignore the fact that yes, competitors can easily identify these people as stars.

This may be a concern for some, however I am guessing all of the companies listed above view it as an asset to their organization to have a team member on staff so dedicated to their industry.

These people work on their personal reputation on their own time, and so it is a slightly different situation than those using company time to build a personal brand.  However, there is no reason your company and someone with a strong personal brand can’t create a symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone.

The value of having a team member like this at your business is obvious, and includes (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Having the company name tied directly to a thought leader.
  • Links, endorsements and referral traffic for your company.
  • Lots of organic PR (as one example reporters stumble-upon bloggers for quotes frequently and your company name will get tagged to them).
  • Visibility in places your company otherwise couldn’t reach, such as deep within social media.
  • An indirect entry point to your company through each blog post written (all content serves as a potential extension of these companies – as truly interested parties digging deeper will quickly learn who they work for).
  • A mine for potential new clients.
  • Top of mind for your company on the author’s subscribers/fans.
  • Speaking opportunities where they are tagged not just as a blogger, but to their position with your company.
  • The web is by far the most important communications channel and only continues to further permeate all aspects of life.  Having an influencer (or several) on your team affords huge advantages over the competition.

In my experience, people working hard on their personal brand will work equally hard and take a personal stake in elevating the companies they are with.  Rising waters raise all boats, and while all of these people definitely have built incredible reputations for themselves, they are equally dedicated to their work for their company.

What I didn’t mention is something obvious when you read through their sites:  these people are also clear stand outs amongst their peers.  They take the time each day to share their ideas, passions and inspirations with the world.  Tying your company to a person like this is a smart move and a great way to position your company as a leader, find new business and make new connections.

So the questions we’re left with are:

What can a company do to keep a popular person with a strong personal brand from leaving?

What can you do to attract someone like this to your team if you don’t have one?

All other things being equal, (the person is getting work they find compelling and motivating, they are being empowered, not micromanaged, positive work environment, etc.) the more of the following you can provide to someone with a strong personal brand, the more attractive working for your company will be:

  • Ability to share projects and successes publicly, when appropriate.
  • Freedom to pursue PR opportunities that benefit both themselves and your company.
  • Freedom to tag their name/brand to your company, and vice-versa in a public format.
  • Trust that they will represent the company well.
  • Trust that the company will represent them well.
  • Create cross-pollination opportunities:  such as allowing the person to add a link to their blog on their company email signature, and concurrently adding the company name and a link on their blog.
  • Not pushing them to use their networks to promote every single project (especially if the person comes in with a network already built) and the realization that if they do promote it, they will clearly let their network know they are promoting a client.
  • Actually read their sites and comment to them personally on things you thought compelling.
  • Link to them on your company’s website.
  • Not worrying that they will get too popular – smart people won’t leave you purely for more money if you offer a great work environment.

Conclusion:

In media, marketing and communications industries, the lines are slowly blurring for many between their personal and professional lives.  It is a complex space, but we know this much for sure:  there is nothing to be gained by fighting or creating restrictions for those who wish to develop their personal brand (or personal reputation) and a world to be gained by embracing each other.  If you try to limit someone’s growth as an individual, you’ll merely drive them away from working with you and they’ll find a company that is more accepting.

What else do you see as vital to keeping individuals like this on your team or attracting them to work with your company in the first place?

Related posts from The Future Buzz

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