Personal Branding: Why Leaders Should Take It Seriously

I recently ran a workshop called the Personal Brand Lab at a digital marketing conference – SMX West – in San Jose.  While the SEO and Social Media workshops were jam-packed with attendees, just four people had signed up, and we had one no-show.  Reflecting on this poor turn out with the organizers of the event, we deduced that the reason was employers would rather pay for their employees to hone their skills to help the company, rather than help themselves develop their personal brands.

This set of circumstances inspired me to write this because I know from incoming enquiries and my website analytics, that professionals understand the need and want to improve their personal brands – and in doing so, have their expertise and wisdom become more discoverable, shareable and memorable.

It’s many of the leaders that don’t quite get it yet, and here are some reasons why they should:

Employees Are Your Best Advocates

While influencer marketing is becoming more and more of a successful channel for brands, what leaders are forgetting is that those influencers have exceptional personal brands.

According to Nielsen, just 15% of what a brand says is believed by consumers, whereas 90% of us will trust the word of a friend, family member or peer.  Encouraging employee advocacy through their personal brands can increase exposure and trust in whatever you have to say or sell, and having a positive social media policy will go a long way to achieving that.

When I talk to business leaders about this, I explain that they should encourage their employees to become influencers within their niche, and they get it.  As a leader you can’t be everywhere and all things to all people.  Encourage your teams to become mini-evangelists and it will pay dividends.

LinkedIn Is A Powerhouse

LinkedIn should no longer be feared as the place where your employees go to seek a new job.  Yes, it’s still used for recruitment, but it’s also a gold mine of knowledge and engagement where your employees can learn from each other and express themselves, through publishing content and updates that reflect well on your company at the same time.

According to LinkedIn, their audience visits from over 200 countries, and 70% of their 414 million users are outside of the US.  Pretty big numbers if everyone is talking about work.  Add these numbers to Facebook or Twitter’s user base, and you have a huge opportunity – not only to reach a critical mass of people with ideas and news about your company, but also to encourage feedback and sentiment through individuals within your organization, as well as through your regular social listening channels.

Authenticity Is Paramount

If I had a dollar for every executive who wants to be seen as a thought-leader in their industry, or recent graduate who wants to be an instant expert in their field, I’d be able to challenge Donald Trump for the Presidency.  OK not quite – but if there is one thing I’ve learned in helping people with their personal brands, it’s that being true to yourself, your professional experience and your abilities is crucial to growing your brand. The key to success is through authenticity, a proven track record and the ability to have empathy and listen to your audience, as well as broadcast your message.

Too often I see vacuous attempts at personal branding that smack of PR people behind a curtain trying to fashion an image for their charges that falls flat through worthless hyperbole and hot air.

People are people, and they want to see (and they want to feel) personality.  That’s why I encourage professionals to think about their social ratio.  Mine is 60/40.  Sixty percent of what I talk about on social networks is of a professional nature – AKA work stuff – and forty percent is of a personal nature.  It’s my opinion that people would rather see a glimpse of personality and life beyond work than just hearing about your job or industry opinions in a silo.

As the line between our work and our personal lives becomes increasingly blurred thanks to the increase in the use of digital media, devices, flexible working policies and the gig economy, so the absence of much personality or character starts to stick out as boring and out of touch.

The Future Of Personal Branding

With the arrival of virtual reality on a more affordable scale with companies like Facebook and Microsoft creating technology for the living room, imagine a world where you could be in more than one place at once.

Virtual assistant technology like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon Echo’s Alexa know more and more about our personal AND professional needs and preferences.  With this, I can see a world where a platform can know so much about us – what we know, what we want, how we think and how we work – that there could be a time when we show up to meetings or answer emails as a virtual representation of ourselves.

Now I know that possibility is a little way out there, but if it is a possibility, now is the time to start crafting the personal brand we want machines to learn from, so when the time comes that digital representation of ourselves is as accurate and authentic as it can be.

No longer a nice-to-have, personal branding is essential to any professional trying to make their way in the world. Company leaders need to embrace the magnificent opportunity digital and social media presents them, their employees and their businesses to become more discoverable, shareable and memorable.  People are any company’s best asset.  Now’s the time to encourage them to up their game.

This article originally appeared in the Social Media Special Edition of Brand Quarterly,
produced in association with Sysomos – click HERE to read the full issue