Personal Branding: Building a Parachute or an Escape Hatch?

I just read a very interesting article this last week by Mark Glaser, called Personal Branding Becomes a Necessity in Digital Age. In it, Glaser builds a strong case for employees taking time to build their own personal brands even while building their empoyers' brands.

The first example he cites is that of Scot Karp, director of digital media for Atlantic Magazine, who was chosen as one of the 40 most influential people in publishing. He was not selected because of his work for Atlantic, but because of his own personal blog, Publishing 2.0, in which he writes about how technology is changing the publishing industry.

According to Karp:
"My blog became resume, business card, references, network all in one," Karp told me. "I would go to conferences, meet people, and find they already 'knew' me through my blog -- an odd but useful form of micro-celebrity."

There is no doubt that having a quality blog - or for that matter even a Facebook page, a Google Profile or a site to post your portfolio of work - is an essential tool in an age in which job security is a figment of one's imagination. The more content, or body of work, one can make available online, the more security one can create.

I call these sites "Basecamps" because they are like owning a personal piece of online real estate. Such a place can (and should) supercede a resume because they are mini-libraries of one's work, knowledge and ideas. They can demonstrate to prospective employers or clients that you are an expert in a certain niche.

But just as importantly, these basecamps are places in which you can build a following. They are networking springboards that give you entrance into the most exclusive clubs in your field.

But can one build a personal brand without detracting from your employer's brand?

As you might imagine, opinons on this question vary. Some organizations are threatened by an employee blogging about their industry, specifically when the firm's name is mentioned from time to time.

The fear is that the personal brand might overshadow the company's brand. Or worse, that the employee will build a personal brand at the expense of the company's brand.

Another fear is that the employee is building their escape from the company rather than a parachute in case something disrupts the company or the individual's careeer.

The reality is that the more a person builds a personal brand, the more options they have. Which to some organizations is perceived as a threat. These are companies who still rely on the sweatshop mentality that likes it better when an employee cannot leave and find better opportunities elsewhere.

That is not to say there are not some very enlightened firms out there as well. Some of these realize that having high profile people on the team adds to the organization's own profile.

Professional services firms like law firms have long embraced having their partners mentioned in their industry's directory, such as Martindale Hubbell which profiles top lawyers along with mentions of their published articles in the field.

But in the end, it is up to the employee to establish the game plan and ground rules for building a personal brand:
  • NOT building a personal brand is NOT an option. Relying on one employer to see your career through to retirement is a particularly painful form of career suicide.
  • Become an expert in some area of your work. The more knowledge and ideas you have, the more valuable you are to your employer.
  • Demonstrate that expertise with a blog, or at least some other type of basecamp.
  • Build a following. Use tools like Twitter and other social media to get the word out about each new bog post, each time you speak to a group or each time your name is mentioned in the media.
  • Don't expose your company's dirty laundry. Don't use your platform as a way to vent about company policy or your idiotic boss. It won't help your brand and it could only makes you look small. Not to mention the fact that it could wreck your career.
  • Use your blog as a basis to form contacts in your industry. Interview other experts, and cite articles in industry trade publications.
  • Build up your own company whenever you can. Without being a shill, find ways to make your firm look good whenever you can.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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