The start of the personal branding movement is often attributed to the article written in 1997 by Tom Peters for the Fast Company Magazine entitled “The Brand Called You”. However, personal branding is not a new concept and has been around for many years before Tom Peters’ famous article. In this article Heather Townsend, author of “The FT Guide To Business Networking’ and co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ explores the rise and importance of the personal branding movement, and how you can help your employees identify and utilise their personal brand to help strengthen your business brand.
Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by ‘Personal Branding’. Probably the best definition is Dan Schwabel’s, author of Me 2.0,
“Personal Branding: How we market ourselves to others”
What do you need to do as a company, to help your employees use their personal brand to strengthen your business brand?The reason why personal branding has come to the forefront of society and business is the impact Web 2.0, or more generally social media has had on the world. Before Web 2.0, as opposed to today, your opportunities to get the word out about your business was limited. In fact, apart from word-of-mouth campaigns, you were reliant on the media to help you get your message out. Your ability to get your business message into the media, i.e. in front of your target audience, was typically limited to the size of your advertising and PR budget.
As a consequence, it was the individuals with influence and budget who controlled, i.e. the marketing and external communications department, largely, the company brand, and how it was perceived by the outside world. Now, a company’s brand has always been the sum total of the employee’s personal brand. Because social media has truly given each individual a voice into the world, your employees personal brand and how they use it, has risen in prominence to companies. Whether you like it or not, all of your employees are constantly communicating to a global audience via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, blogging etc. As Paris Brown, the short-lived youth police commissioner for Kent, found out recently, how you communicate externally to the outside world via social media can have massive consequences on both your employees’ future career prospects but also the reputation of your company.
The question is, what do you need to do as a company to help your employees use their personal brand to strengthen your business brand?
Actually the answers are not that difficult. They are, not surprisingly, similar messages that big media-savvy companies, such as Procter & Gamble, have been drilling into their employees for decades.
The first thing you need to do is educate your employees to the role they play in your company’s success and the impact they can have with the way they treat customers and clients, and communicate to the outside world. As you will know, a company’s brand is not fixed in stone; and as many brand managers will tell you, it’s defined by the last touchpoint that a customer or client has with the brand. Employees need to know that their actions and how they communicate and behave, online and offline, will be seen as representative of your company’s brand as a whole. How are you helping them to behave and communicate in accordance with your company’s brand and values? Are you setting expectations at interview, induction and within ALL your company’s people policies and processes, not just your social media policy?
Although it doesn’t feel like it sometimes in this tough economic climate, but the recruitment process needs to be a two-way process. Just as you need to decide whether the potential hire is a good fit for your organisation, your potential hire needs to do the same due diligence. As your company brand is made up of the sum total of your employee’s personal brand, it makes sense to check during the recruitment process, that your potential new hire’s personal brand is closely aligned to the business brand.
Very often the reason why employees become disengaged with the company, or their career stalls is because there is a mismatch between the individual and company values, an important part of an individual’s personal brand. This disengagement can often lead to the employee delivering sub-standard client/customer service, or even voicing their frustration about the company on social media. The net effect of this disengagement is a reputation risk to your company’s brand. Helping an individual identify their own values and how this sets the tone for how they interact in the work-place is one of the core components of self-leadership – vital for good client/customer service. How are you helping employees through timely development options, understand who they are, how they ‘tick’, and how their talents can be best utilised in the workplace?
The professions, who largely sell their time for money, have known about the importance of a personal brand for a long time. After all, clients now rarely buy into the brand of the firm, but the personal brand of the advisor they want to work with. Many professional services firms have been helping their fee earners with their personal brand for years. However, the professions face a huge challenge marshalling all of their fee earner’s social media presence, particularly an individual’s Linkedin profile, so that it communicates the values and desired brand of the firm.
In summary, although the concept of personal branding isn’t new, the access to a global audience that social media has brought us, has changed the way our business externally communicates with the outside world. Companies, if they are to protect their brand reputation, need to wise up to the impact of their employees personal brand on the company as a whole.