With the growth of personal blogs, social media, and other online media, there has been a rapid rise in the number of individuals both within management, and the rank and file of organizations, who are building, and seeking to build, substantial online reputations. However, many companies aren’t necessarily looking at social media as a platform for individuals to build brands, but rather as a channel to reach more customers. The question is: what stance should companies take as it pertains to their employees building successful online presences? I believe it is important that employees are empowered to become advocates, but at the same time, the efforts and outcomes must support the needs of the brand. The biggest caveat is mixing personal branding with ego, which always defeats the real purpose of brand building efforts from a business standpoint.
While it seems fairly obvious that ego must definitely not be part of a company’s social business, or an individual’s personal branding, we see it happen all the time. Guy Kawasaki once said, “I wouldn’t call myself humble.” But after a particularly humbling experience, which he shares here, the former Apple evangelist, venture capitalist, and author has emerged as a true advocate of humility.”When you have this kind of perspective that you’ve arrived, that you have established a brand,” he says, “that’s a really slippery slope toward egomania.”
I can cite multiple instances where ego has surreptitiously made its way into branding efforts, ultimately corrupting the brand. I can point you to the cases of star CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, who have achieved cult status as far as branding is concerned, without undermining the success of their respective brands. But, these shining examples are not easy to replicate. On a more practical note, you need to maintain a delicate balance between your personal branding, and the success of the company you are representing.
Individual Brand Building vs. Achieving Company Goals
Today, customers are searching for the real face behind a brand. They are seeking the human touch. They want to know the brand they are going to be associated with. Employees lend this human side to a brand, which is why companies should encourage them to build their own persona and voice through blogs, social networks, and content sharing sites.
But, for individuals dipping their toes into the pool of personal branding for the first time, it’s really important to understand what is it that they hope to achieve through it. When employees are representing their organization through digital channels, it’s more likely that they are acting as a mouthpiece to deliver the voice of the organization. In fact, strong personal brands are needed to strengthen the corporate brand. Somewhere along the way, more precisely, when a personal brand starts to capture attention and is talked about, the problem of ego surfaces.
The problem is more visible in the case of high profile business executives. Since it’s easy for anyone to become self-absorbed in the course of sharing, informing, educating, and interacting these high-profile figures are at serious risk. They don’t flinch from sharing their personal stories, be they significant, or trivial. There’s a fine line between narcissism, and a genuine desire to help a company drive their thoughts, ideas, and messages forward. When the true purpose of personal branding is forgotten and it becomes a self-promotion campaign, the company gains little or no value. I think people who are seeking personal branding to leverage enterprise success should master the art of great storytelling, minus the brag. Only when that happens, can they be viewed as true advocates for their organizations.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com on 1/27/2015.