Personal branding continues to advance

personal branding is the thingPoynter asks this week, “How important is your brand?” It’s the thing that really matters today and a question about which I’ve been writing for many years. Jason Fry’s question is based on the reality that people read articles these days or watch videos, not sections of newspapers or TV newscasts.

The age of the individual brand was inevitable, a natural consequence of the way digital media has remade our reading habits. In print, columns have a home on a section front or on the opinion page, but online the basic unit of reader consumption isn’t the section or page, but an article — or a video or podcast.

Jason is absolutely right, and the world of individual brands is far different than the one traditional media has known all these years. The reason media companies don’t go down this path is a fear that by empowering their employees, they lose control of them. That’s understandable but of questionable leadership logic in the new world. Fry also offers “four questions to consider that might help you fix the value of your own brand against that of your institution:”

  1. Are you someone’s habit?
  2. Where is the value of your stuff accruing?
  3. Does the institutional brand mean more to you than you think?
  4. How hard are you prepared to work?

Fry notes that the issues for traditional media companies are trickier and offers “four ways to build better bonds between your institutional brand and those valuable but potentially irksome individual brands:”

  1. Identify your most valuable individual brands (and take care of them).
  2. Turn centrifugal force into centripetal (tending to move toward a center) force, or at least balance them.
  3. Make your individual brands into institutional gateways.
  4. Get really good at building brands.

Jason has some really good advice here, but there’s much more. As traditional media companies, we tend to use applications such as Twitter and Facebook to “broadcast” notifications to our followers. That’s missing the point, and personal branding is a big part of how and why.

George Siemens, Founder and President of the research lab Complexive Systems Inc., published an interesting story on, among other things, the reasons people tweet. Notice that it is almost entirely about personal branding:

a) to express agreement
b) to express outrage
c) humour
d) social grooming (I have an iPad, I met person X today, I went for a run, I ate fruit for breakfast)
e) self-promote
f) raise awareness – general information sharing about topics that might be relevant for network members

As institutions, Twitter is one of the ways we tell people to come look at our content, but people don’t follow institutions, not really. They follow people, and so reporters, anchors, anybody that uses Twitter, must realize that the application is more a personal branding mechanism that you think and that we should all be using it accordingly.

Jason Fry’s Poynter article rightly points out that media companies should “get really good at building brands.” I strongly second that recommendation, even if it may seem like we’re setting ourselves up for future problems. The winners tomorrow will be those who aggregate the winning personal brands in the community, and the sooner we get to working WITH that, the more secure we are for our tomorrows.

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