Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Interview with Fortune Magazine: Building Your Personal Brand

The concept of establishing a personal brand existed long before the emergence of social media and the internet, but there's no question that online tools have made the process much easier. If you're on Facebook, have a blog or use Twitter, you are establishing your personal brand with every message. Career counselors advise job seekers to develop a strong personal brand, but it is important to also be aware of the potential pitfalls along the way.

If you are new to "personal branding" I recommend my presentation on Developing your personal brand through blogging as a starting point. You might also want to read my blog post - More on "Developing Your Personal Brand".

Businesses of all kinds now have no choice but to adopt social media in order to remain competitive. As more employees are now engaged in blogging or tweeting for their company, the intersection of the corporate brand and the personal brand has increasingly become a perilous area.

During a recent online Tweetup that I participated in (see The Impact of Social on the Analyst Industry), one of the comments that stood out for me was this:
the purpose of social media is to have conversations, and corporations don't have conversations... people do. 
It is vital for companies to have real, credible (and brandable) personalities who can conduct these conversations. Anonymous or ghost-written messaging is greatly diminished in value, in my opinion. The challenge then is to ensure that the intersection of the personal and corporate brands is mutually beneficial, i.e. symbiotic and not parasitic.

This is the subject that Fortune Magazine's Josh Hyatt tackled in Building your brand (and keeping your job), in the July 30 online edition of the magazine.  His lead-off sentence dives right into the parasitic or symbiotic issue:
Scott Monty's personal brand doesn't take a back seat to anyone else's -- not even that of Ford Motor Co., his employer. "I'm not somebody who can be accused of using Ford's brand to benefit my own," says Monty, the car giant's first global digital and multimedia communications manager. "If anything, the opposite is true."
This suggests a case where an individual brings the value of an established personal brand to his employer, potentially enhancing the company's brand. The opposite situation occurs as well. Social media provides new opportunities for companies to develop their employees, by encouraging them to communicate through their work.

I discovered that Josh was exploring this topic when he sent out a request for stories of workplace conflict arising from the use of social media.  (See Symbiotic or Parasitic: the intersection (collision?) of personal and corporate brands for more on my experience with a previous employer). He and I ended up talking for a couple hours over multiple phone calls. You can find his summary of those conversations in Case study No. 5: Be sensitive to changing priorities.

From my past experiences working with journalists, who typically spend much less time on a story than Josh Hyatt did, I expect that what goes to "press" can differ considerably from what I tried to convey. This can be due more to the editor than the writer, or my own lack of clarity, but it is always difficult to distill a long conversation into just a few paragraphs. Fortunately, I can use this social medium to clarify some of the points in the the published version of my Fortune Magazine interview.
Three years ago Mike Demler was a senior staff product marketing manager at Synopsys, a $1.3 billion maker of tools used to produce integrated circuits. When the company asked if anyone wanted to blog, Demler enthusiastically volunteered. The now 55-year-old had earned his MBA a year earlier, and decided that for his career and the company's strategy "it was critical for me to become a recognized expert."
As a former integrated circuit designer, as well as a published author of one engineering textbook, numerous trade press articles and conference presentations, my personal brand in this field was already long-established. One of the reasons I volunteered to become a corporate blogger was to lend the voice of my expertise, to establish some 'cred' with customers in an area that was not a company strength. In this regard I was perhaps in a somewhat similar situation to Mr. Monty at Ford. But companies often fail to understand how an employee's personal brand can work to their benefit.
... His direct manager told him that a VP said he "was wasting time blogging." Still, he carried on—often in his off-hours—partly because he had seen so many reorganizations in the past three years that he expected priorities to shift.

I could tell, from my conversations with him, that Josh was struggling to understand why I kept on blogging after my group's VP said it was a waste of time. The issue here is perhaps the challenge of working in a matrixed organization. In a matrix there are multiple lines of reporting, and multiple internal "customers" to satisfy.

My assignment as a corporate blogger began literally days before the fourth VP in three years took over the group.  While priority changes did occur, the real reason that I carried on blogging was because it was successful, and it fulfilled a commitment I had made. The launch of an online "community" and blogs was backed up by the top management of the company, above the level of the VP that criticized the effort, backed up by an extensive advertising campaign. Bloggers were treated like would-be celebrities at industry events, with a special booth to "meet the bloggers". So, there was a lot of positive feedback and encouragement along with the negativity.  Unfortunately, while many managers are typically involved with who is hired, it usually only takes one to lay someone off.

Summary lessons

The advice offered in the Fortune piece is "Be sensitive to changing priorities".  That is always good advice in a politically-charged corporate world, but here are a few things to think about specifically regarding the use of social media in your career:
  • Take care to keep your personal and professional social networks separate. This is easier said than done. For example - I have decided that friends are OK for Facebook, while colleagues are restricted to LinkedIn. It's tough, but I really try not to mix the two. (So, sorry if I didn't accept your friend request).
  • It should go without saying - Never criticize your employer online.
  • If you are going to employ social media in your job, don't do it unless the managers that signoff on your reviews, and can decide to lay you off, strongly endorse the activity.
  • Work with your social media teams to adopt policies and guidelines for best practices. Many companies are still learning on the run, but there is no point in re-learning lessons that others have already gone through.

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