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Personal branding is experiencing a universal moment. We are seeing people from all walks of life building their visibility, promoting themselves both online and offline. Once reserved for those of us looking to monetize side gigs, personal branding has since become a mainstream endeavor. Research shows that people who are “able to discover their own points of competitive differentiation and creatively turn them into compelling narrative and imagery, while doing that strategically and socially-appropriately, have greater chances of professional success.” A personal brand can open doors to internal mobility, unlock new career opportunities and even lead to greater career satisfaction.
Employees from all walks of life are following the likes of Gary Vee to learn how to build their own personal brands and leverage social media effectively. And yet, many are fearful and hesitant. They are fearful not only of doing it wrong thus damaging their careers, but they are actually concerned that their pursuit of increased visibility will ring loud alarm bells across the HR team and the executive offices of the company that employs them. No surprise there! Disparaging language when discussing personal branding continues to prevail. Look at this BBC article which refers to personal branding as an act of “touting oneself,” in turn positioned as being at odds with company loyalty. Talk about being out of touch with modern reality.
Related: How to Understand Corporate Branding vs. Personal Branding for Success
The tension between personal branding and corporate fallout
Articles with their disparaging language aside, employers’ concerns can definitely be worthy of empathy. After all, employee-related scandals can easily go viral, whether it’s in the private or the public sectors. In the era of social media and our shared love for a juicy story with a dramatic plot twist, what an employee says or does can quickly come under scrutiny and even quicker cast a shadow on the employer and their reputation. As a result, organizations are crafting what they believe to be iron-clad social media policies, blocking access to social media platforms from office equipment and quite frankly employing some of the stringiest methods aimed at mitigating potential reputational risk.
This tension between personal branding and corporate fallout isn’t unique to the cubicles of corporate America. Even sectors that traditionally thrive on individual expression, such as the entertainment industry, are not immune to the challenges and pitfalls of personal branding.
Cue in the most recent Disney drama surrounding the Snow White remake of its age-old classic. News outlets and vloggers across the continent are sharing clips of the actor hired to play Snow White positing that her off-putting demeanor, unlikeable behavior and questionable statements are damaging the movie’s chances of box-office success. Here we’ve got an actor speaking her mind and freely expressing her opinions about the remake versus the original version, expressing her disdain for the original and feeling that she is doing her best to promote the remake. In her mind, she is likely simply sharing how wonderful the new version is going to be. Yet, as a result, Disney’s executives are predicted to be having emergency meetings to damage control. A clear case of a personal brand gone rogue!
Related: Why Investing in Reputation Management is Crucial for Your Business Strategy
So, what can we learn from this?
What policy can we draft as employers, or how can we make sure that our own personal brands are not blamed for the reputation crises of our employers?
The simple answer is this: We cannot.
You see, unless we condone the cancellation of the First Amendment right and believe that people must be censored for the greater good of their employers, these situations will continue to occur. But here are some tips to try and reduce the probability of this happening to you:
Hire for shared values and not only for skill: Assemble a team that resonates with your organization’s ethos. Their alignment with your values is key to ensuring their personal brand doesn’t diverge from your organizational identity. And when you are looking for a job, do the same: Look to join an organization that shares your values and will thus be likely to align with your actions and behaviors.
Be crystal clear with your brand positioning and your point of view, both as a corporate brand and through your personal brand: A well-defined brand narrative serves as a guiding star. When employees’ personal brands harmonize with your corporate identity, it’s a win-win. At the core of any brand — corporate or personal — lies a very clearly defined point of view.
Don’t fight your employees’ personal brand-building efforts, but rather invest in training them to do it right: Educate your team about the nuances of personal branding. With the right training, they can navigate the digital landscape adeptly, projecting their individuality while safeguarding your brand’s reputation.
Related: 7 Ways to Recover After a Reputation Crisis
Most reputation crises occur because of a faux pas. These can be reduced, or perhaps even avoided entirely, through media training for your higher visibility employees and social media training for your whole team. Personal branding is here to stay and, as an employer, you can derive a multitude of benefits from having high-profile employees. They can help attract higher-caliber hires to your organization, as well as high-ticket clients. You should embrace your team members’ visibility and derive the value but equip them to do it right and to avoid saying or doing something that can be damaging both to you and to them.
Personal branding is experiencing a universal moment, and it is not something we can curb. Let’s instead devise a strategy that will allow our employees’ personal narratives to unfold in harmony with our organizations’ tales, making for a story that captivates, rather than a subplot that becomes our demise.