Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Symbiotic or Parasitic: the intersection (collision?) of personal and corporate brands

As a long-time author and early adopter of social media, I remain fascinated by times when independent events seem to converge to shape a story that simply must be written. I'm sure that my fellow writers know exactly what I mean.

This is one of those times, and though the story may not be directly related to the technology issues I normally cover, I think it presents an important cautionary tale for individuals and companies alike. Let's just say that I'm putting my marketing hat back on for this one, since the central topic here is the value of a brand in the new era of social media.

Imagine that you've created a body of written work, let's say a blog, and you go online one day to see that the little author's bio you had posted for presentation alongside each article has been replaced with a description of somebody else. Or perhaps even several somebody "elses". In other words, your blog has been hijacked!

That is exactly what happened to me this past week. Apparently my former employer has decided to launch a new blog (with new authors) on top of the one I had created, leaving my old articles (61 in total) but deleting my bio. They were surprised that WordPress informed me of the work in progress. By the way, the word hijack is not mine, it's the description of the planned takeover that was given to me by the Marcomm Director who is overseeing this project. (Oh.. with a little smiley emoticon).

The explanation also included something about following a "social media ethos of maintaining long-tail availability". Worthy as that may be, I'm not sure what it has to do with deleting my bio... but there you go.

So this is where the convergence of events was interesting. More than one year ago, I created a presentation on Developing Your Personal Brand Through Blogging. At the time, I posted the slides here, which you can view by clicking on the link. The topic has proven to be very popular, and the slides have been viewed nearly two thousand times on SlideShare. Counselors advise job seekers that developing a personal brand is a key component of managing your career. A blog is an easy way to do that.

I had also posted the slides on my LinkedIn profile, using box.net, but that "long tail" had gone quiet for months so that I had forgotten that I made them available for download. What a coincidence then that I was notified of several new downloads in just the last week.

With many companies still just beginning to experiment with social media, the challenge of balancing personal versus corporate branding presents a whole new set of issues. This became a topic for discussion at this year's DesignCon in Santa Clara. My friend and social media guru Michael Brito, who was on that panel, has also touched on this topic in a video from a social media event that he has posted on his site: The intersection of personal and corporate brands. It was interesting to hear one of the panelists from Social Media Club say that it comes down to whether "you have a parasitic relationship with your business, or a symbiotic relationship". That goes both ways, for the corporation and the individual.

The dilemma is that while companies may see the value in using employees to promote the company brand through corporate blogs, those blogs are only of value when the individual is able to convey their personal credibility, knowledge and integrity... i.e. their personal brand. To encourage employee participation the relationship must be mutually beneficial, it must be symbiotic.

But what happens when the company and the individual separate, whether voluntarily or involuntarily? What to do with the blog? Shut it down, maintain it while hiding (or not) the fact that the author is no longer employed.. or something else, say a "hijacking"?

My opinion and experience is that internet content has a long life, so keeping the blog as it was makes sense as long as both parties are agreeable. That way, both the company and the individual continue to benefit from the value of the brand they created together. It's like the many articles I have published in online trade magazines. They live on with descriptions of my title/position as it was at the time the article was written. Of course, the value of maintaining could change if an individual goes on to represent a competitor, but even there the judgment shouldn't be too hasty.

So that brings me to the last coincidental piece that informs this posting. I read an article last week at Forbes online, titled "Keep Ex-Employees Brand Loyal, Making sure former employees remain fans can be good for a brand". I quote from the article by James Kelly:
The manner in which companies part ways with their employees has a potent and lasting effect on the former employee, employees who remain, and the brand.
I think it comes down to simple common sense, like the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. In the long run, nobody benefits by being a parasite.

Follow me on Twitter: MikeDemler

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