It’s time to get serious about personal branding

Time to stand outAustralian futurist Ross Dawson predicts that newspapers will be irrelevant in Australia by 2022 but that journalism is undergoing a form of rebirth. He goes on to make some specific predictions, but one caught my attention:

The reputation of individual journalists will drive audiences. Many journalists, most leading experts in their fields, will still be employed in Australia, with public reputation measures guiding audiences on how much to trust their work.

This thinking is showing up increasingly in writings by observers about the future of the news business, and it’s something I’ve been saying for years. A New York Magazine article comparing the troubles of newspapers to the troubles of the adult entertainment industry concludes with a similar thought for the New York Times: focus on their talent.

They should work harder at establishing their talent as brands — not the editorialists, like they did with Times Select; you can get opinion anywhere — but the people whose work has actual value: the reporters. Like a good talent manager, the Times could nurture and advise these reporters, guide their careers, and manage all of their creative output. They wouldn’t just publish their stories, they’d also publish their books, book them on speaking engagements, broker their movie deals — and offer them lucrative contracts in exchange. The Times already has the best talent, and it’s possible people will pay for it.

In today’s hyperconnected, social media-driven world, people follow people, not institutional brands. Moreover, the net reach via Facebook, for example, of the staff of any news organization can and should exceed that of the organization itself, because people follow certain individuals but not others. In Spartanburg, SC, WSPA-TV anchor Amy Wood garners more Facebook fans than the station’s Facebook page altogether. She works at it, but so should everybody, because people follow people!

In my 2008 essay, Your Personal Brand, I offered ten things that people can do to strengthen their personal brands. Now that the concept is becoming more mainstream, I thought it would be appropriate to republish them here:

  1. Blossom where you’re planted, because it leaves a good taste in the mouths of your co-workers and impacts your reputation. For young people especially, this includes your network, because one’s network at that age often includes people you work with.
  2. Build a database of customers and people of influence. Let technology do the heavy-lifting here, but these are the people who spread your reputation beyond your own reach. Get to know them. Remember them. Help them. Stay in contact with them. This strengthens your brand.
  3. Spread the brands of others in your network, for it’s the best way to motivate people to spread yours. Go to them as a customer, and let the shop owner know what you think. Help that person be the best they can be at their gift or chosen field.
  4. Make personal business cards with your brand and spread them everywhere. Advertise yourself with people in person and online. Talk about what you do. Share your experiences and maybe even provide tips as part of your social networking. Everything you do, especially if it’s negative, reflects on your brand.
  5. Be a good person, not an ass. People are watching, and the last thing you ever want to do is prove yourself a jerk through your behavior while your intentions tell you you’re really a good guy.
  6. Get comfortable with yourself, even if it takes professional help. People intuitively recognize self-destructive or self-centered behavior, and it’s a huge turn-off. If you use, for example, your Facebook page to constantly gripe about this or that, your brand will be that of a complainer and someone who enjoys life atop the old pity pot. You can’t control what people think of you, but you can choose not to give them ammunition with which to interpret your brand as negative.
  7. When someone asks for your help, offer it freely, for Life loves a cheerful giver, and your brand will continue to grow. This is also a hedge against those bad days (that everyone has) that contain bad behavior. People will know that’s out of character and cut you some slack.
  8. Devote some time each day to the study of your craft, and this is especially true for young people. You don’t have to pretend to be an expert when you really are one.
  9. Don’t be afraid to be human. Nobody’s perfect, although we all seem to think that we should be. Get off your own back, and soon you’ll find it easy to get off the backs of others. You will make mistakes, sometimes pretty big ones. When they happen, admit them, turn the page, and move on. Tolerate your own imperfections and you’ll discover how easy it is to tolerate the imperfections of others, and that is a good brand characteristic.
  10. Be teachable and stay teachable, no matter how much (you think) you know. Run, don’t walk, to those who can teach you and help grow your brand. Seek out such people and invest your time, for it will pay dividends beyond what you can imagine today.

Personal brands ARE the future of journalism, and that includes those outside the mainstream who are practicing the craft as bloggers. Individuals will become experts in some niche and sell that expertise to those who need or want it, either as independent contractors or employees. My guess it will be more the former than the latter, for once people taste the freedom of being on their own, it’s hard to go back.

This, of course, will set in motion a whole series of issues relating to the craft of journalism, but that will be fine. Meanwhile, advancing your personal brand should be high on the list of any professional journalist’s daily chores.

(Originally published in this week’s AR&D Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

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