When a business’ reputation is only as strong as its people, companies can gain an advantage by encouraging employees to make a name for themselves. It is becoming increasingly important for workers—everyone from entry level up the ladder to senior executives—to build their own personal brands.
Some executives may flinch at the idea. To some, it may seem counterintuitive for employees to spend time, and sometimes money, developing their own images rather than developing the corporate brand. But businesses that don’t empower workers to nurture their personal brands could lose customers and employees to competitors that do, experts say.
Personal branding helps business
“We trust people more than we trust brands, we engage with people more than we engage with brands,” says Ryan Erskine, senior brand strategist at New York City-based BrandYourself, which helps individuals cultivate their online image. “If you don’t get your employees involved on social media, you’re absolutely losing out to companies that do. Companies that encourage their employees to create and nurture their personal brands enjoy huge benefits.”
Brand messages shared by employees typically get 561 percent more reach than the same messages shared by the brand’s social media accounts, according to global marketing firm MSL Group. Additionally, brand messages are re-shared 24 times more often when an employee posts them than when the brand’s social media accounts do, the firm found.
In order to effectively wield that type of power—for themselves and their companies—employees need to spend time cultivating their personal brands, Erskine says.
In this “search-happy world,” he adds, anyone who recently has spoken to a client, networked, or interviewed for a job should assume they are being Googled. Most business is generated by referrals, and the first thing most people do once they get a referral is check it out online, he says.
“Someone somewhere is typing your name into that search box, and making a decision based on what they find,” he says.
Employees at all levels can benefit from devoting some time to honing their image, says William Arruda, founder of New York City-based Reach Personal Branding and author of the books “Career Distinction” and “Ditch. Dare. Do!”
“Personal branding is for everyone, regardless of title or seniority,” he says. The practice not only empowers employees to manage their own career, but also benefits the companies where they work. Brands that encourage employees to foster their own identities notice increased engagement, work performance, and retention, he adds.
Balance employee and company growth
There are potential drawbacks to encouraging personal branding, acknowledges Dorie Clark, CEO of Massachusetts-based Clark Strategic Communications and author of the books “Stand Out” and “Reinventing You.”
“Some companies are concerned that if an employee builds a strong personal brand, they’ll become more marketable and will be poached by competitors,” she says. “In truth, that’s a possibility. But the answer isn’t to keep employees down by mandating that they keep a low profile.”
The best companies, she says, want their employees to grow and thrive, and they recognize that a higher profile means that new clients will be attracted to their brand. Also, it’s the company’s job “to create a fulfilling corporate environment that your employees don’t want to leave, even if they had the choice.”
Even if an individual builds a strong reputation and subsequently leaves, that’s not all bad news for the employer, Arruda says. “Engagement and retention increase when companies allow their employees to build their brands. And even if they do leave, they remain brand ambassadors of the organization and may even return to the company in the future.”
3 ways for your personal brand to stand out
As the term “personal branding” suggests, the process should be guided largely by what resonates with employees on an individual basis. But experts agree on a few strategies that can help get started:
1. Determine what you have to offer: “You would never market a company before you had determined its goals, its unique value proposition, its target audience, etc.,” says Erskine. “The same is necessary for a personal brand.”
Before writing a first blog post or tweet, individuals should carefully consider their own competitive advantage in the marketplace. Doing so, he says, is essential to making sure a personal brand is genuine and successful.
The strongest personal brands are authentic ones, says Arruda, and not about self-indulgence or self-promotion.
“It’s not about you, it’s about how you deliver value to others,” he says. “So the second step, after you’re clear about your brand, is to identify your target audience—the people who need to know you. Only then can you start communicating your brand.”
2. Create content: Content is key to engaging an audience, and it can take many forms, says Clark. Individuals can post best practices they’ve discovered on a company’s internal social network, apply to give a presentation at an industry conference, or blog on their LinkedIn profile.
Social media also offer great venues for content, says Erskine, though it is important not to overdo it. For those new to creating content, he recommends aiming for a “sweet spot” between topics the audience is genuinely interested in, and where the individual’s experience can lend credibility and value.
“You want to distill your experience down to digestible pieces of content, whether audio, written, or video,” he says, so as not to overwhelm the audience.
Having content is only valuable to those who have diverse networks over which they can share it, Clark says. Many professionals mistakenly focus on making connections only with people at their company or in their field, she adds, but doing so can limit their exposure to new ideas and become problematic if they end up making a career change.
3. Be real and social: Social media provide the combined benefits of providing a platform capable of reaching millions of people, being easily found on search engines, and encouraging real interactions with other real people. For these reasons, Erskine suggests individuals secure their name on as many social networks as possible. Using one’s real name as a username is important, he adds, so that Google will associate the profiles as part of the individual’s online image. Otherwise, social media accounts may not show up during an online search.
Also, individuals should consider registering a website with their name in the domain. Doing so is “one of the strongest forms of online insurance,” he says. “You’ll consolidate all your most important information in one place, and prevent other people from taking this valuable piece of real estate away from you—or using it against you in the future.”
Some employees may feel stifled if their company limits or prohibits the use of social media, notes Clark, but there are other ways to stand out. “At a minimum, everyone can build robust brands through activities like serving on the board of directors of local professional associations, volunteering to lead internal committees at work, and sharing your knowledge and ideas on internal company social networks,” she says.