Walking The Fine Line Of The Personal Brand

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

The exploration of your personal brand is quite a captivating experience. It is, after all, all about you. Human beings, by nature, prioritize themselves over others. Whether from an inherited survival of the fittest conditioning imperative in our ancient ancestors or just a matter of world perspective, we do think about ourselves on some scale of priority.

But therein lies a danger we must recognize. While your personal brand may well serve a valuable purpose for you and your company, separating and recognizing the best interests of those two entities is important. Regardless of how successful or influential our personal brand is, we need to be certain to keep our egos in check.

Deloitte’s recent Ethics & Workplace Survey shows 53 percent of employees say their social networking pages are not an employer’s concern. But 60 percent of executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organization online. Shockingly, one-third of employees surveyed NEVER considered what their boss or customers might think before posting material on the Internet.

Let’s say you’re a product development researcher for a toy company. You blog, participate in forums online and build a well-respected brand as a toy developer. Everyone knows you work for ABC Toys, but your opinion is clearly marked as your own in your online life. But the head of product development at ABC Toys is nervous that your authority in the industry can taint what competitors, suppliers, vendors and customers think about ABC Toys. Your opinions about processes, products of other companies and more are not opinions ABC Toys is comfortable having broadcast to the world.

You just continue to blog along, participating in communities and talking about what interests you, but your growing online presence starts to look like an ego play to ABC Toys. They start to wonder if you’re spending work time doing what you do. They are concerned you may be using your position to jockey for a promotion, or worse, a job with another company.

The communities you participate in will be severely disappointed in ABC Toys if you stop participating or when they find out ABC Toys has censored you a bit. So what’s the company to do?

I hear you yelling about personal rights and personal time and all that jazz. But if you put your company on a LinkedIn profile, you are connected to that company online. Thus, your funny Facebook photos, while not directly connected to your company, are connect-able to it. Your employer does have the right to hold you accountable for your online life.

At some point, we also have to admit that personal brand growth is intoxicating. For some people, it feeds a hungry ego. When motivated by ego, we often run awry. While most of us can and do keep that ego in check and aren’t motivated for wholly selfish reasons, our managers don’t always know what’s inside our heads and can assume too much.

But we should recognize that if personal branding or reputation management is so important in getting a job, it should also be considered important in keeping one. As such, those with or building strong personal brands need to take a few simple steps to ensure your employer doesn’t issue that awful ultimatum of stop or be fired.

  1. Bring Personal Branding Into HR Conversations When applying for a job, ask what the company stance is on employees blogging, whether you can identify as being with the company on your personal websites or in communications on social networks and blogs. Define the goals of your personal brand with Human Resources or your hiring manager and discuss them. If you’re already in your job, go have those conversations now and establish some comfortable parameters.

    You may also want to establish some goals for your personal brand tied to company success, then negotiate personal rewards for achieving them. For instance, agree with your boss that for every new business lead or conversion generated by your audience’s outreach to you online, you get a bonus. Perhaps you can set a lofty goal with the reward being a raise or promotion.

  2. Decide How Much/Little You Want To Affiliate With Your Company

    Identifying yourself as a blogger who works at company X can certainly help build your personal brand as you borrow a bit of company equity to attract respect and readers. But your ideas are what will make you relevant to your audience in the long term. If you want to be strongly affiliated with your company, sell the benefits of an influential personal brand to your boss. Explain to them how your influence can be used to drive website traffic, solicit customer feedback and even be a social media outpost for a company that might be afraid to toe those waters.

    But make sure you’re prepared to give up a bit of control of what you can and cannot do or say. There’s no such thing as a gray area here. If you identify yourself with your company, the company has the right to protect their reputation and investment in you. And if you disagree, they’ll likely stop sending you a paycheck.

  3. Educate Your Boss & Co-Workers On Personal Branding

    Strong personal brands can quickly lead to interesting inter-office angst. Your fellow employees may be jealous you’ve gotten some cyber-blessing they don’t have (because they don’t know to ask) or frustrated you’re getting attention, promotions and the like by, “playing on the Internet.” Your boss and those co-workers may also start to develop some concerns you’re spending too much time working on your personal presence online and not doing what you were hired for.

    The only way to get around the office politics is to proactively teach people the benefits of a strong personal brand and show them how to do it. Do keep in mind, however, you need to show them the company’s benefits of a personal brand first. If you make it part of the department’s business objectives, they’re more apt to see the merit and no longer think you’re just goofing off online all the time.

  4. Do An Ego Check

    Every so often, you just need to step back and ask yourself, “Am I working for the company or am I working for me?” If you want to keep your job, you should continually take steps to ensure you are pushing forward the agreed upon company messages, goals or objectives. If you’ve drawn a distinction between the two (company and individual) with your boss, then ask how much time you’re spending on your personal brand during work hours. If it’s more than what your boss or company is comfortable with, cut back.

Certainly, in an ideal world, all our personal brands would be so successful we wouldn’t need to work for someone else. But reality is a much different picture. As strong as we agree the building of personal brands is a relevant and necessary endeavor, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our employers have a right and should have a role in where, when and how we shape them.

A penny for your thoughts. The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).