The word “brand” is something we’re all too familiar with in marketing. When thinking of a brand, it’s generally tied to our clients, our own company, or the spokespeople that represent each. In an earlier post, Denise discussed employees and spokespeople in relation to brand, and this got me thinking about personal brands. Essentially, everyone is a brand and it’s up to each individual to represent his or hers in the best way. In the age of e-mail anonymity and screen names, we may not be paying enough attention to personal brands. Now, with the influx of social media usage, our personal brands require more attention than ever before. For years, we’ve all maintained two separate personal brands – one professional and one more casual. But with the social media revolution, those brands quickly blend together. Naturally, at an important business event or job interview we exhibit our professional brand. What about our day-to-day lives outside of work? Are we doing or saying things that could tarnish our personal brand? If you are thinking “No way” right now, that’s great…but are you sure?
Enter social media, the great little tool we use to reconnect and stay connected with each other. We share everything, from what we like to do in our spare time to what our belief system is – not necessarily a bad thing. Like the clothes we wear, these elements are part of our personal brand and need to be taken care of in a way similar to how we tend to a client’s brand.
There are an increasing number of instances where someone was fired for what they put on their social media pages. In one instance a Catholic schoolteacher was let go after answering a Facebook poll with the response “I don’t believe in God.” Another businessman faced embarrassment when his son – also a friend on Facebook – posted inappropriate language on his wall which then appeared for all the businessman’s friends, including business associates, to see. Still another employee forgot she friended her boss only to later rant on Facebook about how awful her job was and what a (fill in your expletive) her boss was. Needless to say, she isn’t stuck in that miserable job anymore. But the “offenses” can be less severe while still tarnishing brand image. For instance, one businessman became friends with customers. One evening, he decided to go out after work and posted to Facebook that he was headed to Hooters. Now even if he was there just for the wings, personal brand is affected. Some will say the simple solution is to not “friend” anyone at work. Fair enough. But how many of your Facebook friends are actually a real, close friend and not just your old summer camp buddy from 20 years ago? How many of you know who your friends are friends with, or how that circle may lead back to you? Even if you have a fairly secure page, something as simple as your profile photo can hurt your brand image. They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well imagine what a photo of you doing a keg stand says.
Another factor we have is the ‘like’ button going web-wide. The simple act of “liking” something will follow us throughout our travels on the web, staying quiet and forgotten until the worst possible time. And as long as Facebook keeps changing security settings to adapt to this, it is difficult to stay on top of what is being shared. Just remember, what you put on social media sites is basically the same as painting it on the outside of a building. The difference is, if you make a mistake – or error in judgment – you can’t cover it up with a fresh coat or some touch-up paint. When it’s on the web, it is essentially there, in some form, forever.
I am certainly not advocating against social media or “liking” sites, or even suggesting we should second-guess every online activity. “Like”, post and tweet things at will. It’s a part of modern society and you must engage or risk letting technology pass you by. My advice is simple. Just be aware of how your social media activities brand you. Start by taking a look at your Facebook page and evaluate if anything on the site would be detrimental to your professional brand image if your boss or business associates saw it. Perhaps the page simply needs a few quick tweaks to bring your brand into alignment. One last bit of advice: When you’re putting something out there with social media, whether it be a photo, comment or post, always ask yourself, “What would my mom, boss and/or future self think of this?” If you can honestly answer this question with, “They would approve,” then go for it.
Now to go change my profile picture…