The Organizational Dangers of Personal Brands

Zimmerman Congratulated After Homer

Lots of people talk about their personal brands online and how they are important to social media. Beyond the obvious self centered narcissism and the off-center marketing theory behind this pop ethos, organizations needs to be wary of personal brands harpooning their social media efforts.

The dangers range from the obvious to the experienced-based hidden results of personal brands. Here are some of the top ones I’ve seen:

This creates a tension for companies; the need to embrace personality and conversation into their online communications versus controlling and stifling individual voices (mistake). The reality is that leaning more towards enabling freedom of expression is always the right path, but at the same time protecting the company with savvy communications guidelines and human resource approaches are also in order.


From an HR and capacity perspective, particularly with smaller organizations, I believe in team social media approaches. Ironically, the week after the personality dominated Lebron James, Dwayne Wade & Chris Bosh teaming, it’s important to note that online you will always have individuals propelling brands into the spotlight.

However, the best corporate social media strategies offer teams of people interacting on the Internet. Consider some of the biggest winners so far: Dell and the Humane Society. All of these social media efforts feature teams of voices. Some personalities naturally rise to the top. They are your star (Lionel Menchaca comes to mind), and every winning team has stars.

Yet the truth of the matter is they are still team players, and they intentionally focus on building a greater whole rather a personal brand. Further, individual team members are allowed and empowered to excel as well.

Community Centric Management

Beyond team approaches, the purpose of social media should be fostering community. In that sense, social media efforts for great brands foster the community and its efforts, not the individual personal brand. When it becomes about the personal brand and what they are doing, a community becomes rudderless from an organizational standpoint.

One of the best personality laden brands that does this is the LIVESTRONG community, which has the obvious Lance, LIVESTRONG CEO Doug Ulman and community manager Brooke Mcmillan. Yet, when it comes to LIVESTRONG social media it’s really about the community and that’s clear from tool to tool, from Gowalla to the blog.

The best way to manage community expectations versus personal branding (beyond hiring well) is well structured social media guidelines. These guidelines should be community centric in their approach, and communications staffers who are versed or will be using social media tools should be on-boarded (meaning a meeting to discuss the organization’s approaches to online media).

13 thoughts on “The Organizational Dangers of Personal Brands

  1. Geoff & Drew – A thought-provoking blog post.

    A strong corporate brand and personal brand can coexist peacefully. How? By being clear about both brands internally and externally. Working at a company with a strong brand can actually help an individual build theirs – in a “guilty by association” kind of way.

    An employee who is clear on their own strengths and goals and works with those intentions in mind can help to build a corporate brand. Not by competing for the limelight but by continually reinforcing the corporate brand (Ex: Look at Zappos social media approach).

    Building ones’ personal brand is done little by little each day. It’s not necessarily an external show of who you are. It’s especially in the little things, behind closed doors that matters.

  2. Oh, Geoff. There is so much I could say on this subject from personal experience… On second thought, there’s so much I *can’t* say on this subject. My better judgment prevails, as usual.

    So I guess I’ll just stick with, “YES. Absolutely, yes. Unequivocally, yes.”

    Building a social media program on one person’s “personal brand” is building a house of cards. Eventually, it’s going to tumble, and it’s *hard damn work* rebuilding things, because you have to overcome the “we got burned” stigma.

    You can’t just do the fundamentals well (which is hard enough). You have to be amazing and above reproach.

    Thanks for this post.

  3. Good post Geoff. I’ve actually seen this happen at places. I wouldn’t completely pass the blame on the sole individual building the digital brand of the company but maybe holding the organization as a whole accountable as well. If that person is socially savvy enough, it’s up to them to communicate the importance of making social media a “team sport” to the organization and institute change in that regard.

    However, what if the organization refuses to learn the team concept? Is it possible for a personal brand and an organizational brand to peacefully co-exist?

    This post echoed thoughts that have been tucked away in my mind for some time now. Thanks for this.

  4. Rachel: well said. Good points for personal/corporate brand co-existence. Your points are actions I’ve tried to embark on working with my current employer. Thanks for the response!

  5. Rachel: Frankly, I don’t believe in personal brands. I believe in personal reputation. A brand is something completely different. When I hear someone tell me their personal brand can co-exist with a company, I sense an over-developed sense of self importance.

  6. I do believe personal brands exist, but largely as part of the entertainment industry. Martha Stewart is a personal brand–it’s a legitimate brand based on an individual’s personal mark.

    “Brand” equates much more directly to the word “product” than to “reputation.” (Which is what I think Geoff is driving at).

    Copyblogger is an information product with a recognizable brand in web marketing circles. Brian Clark and Sonia Simone have solid reputations as a marketers in those same circles. But Brian has capably passed off editorial responsibility for Copyblogger to Sonia, and she could do the same, and the product would still retain value as an asset, as long as quality remains consistent.

    I’ve seen too many examples where a person becomes the product, and a person doesn’t scale.

  7. Geoff, very valid argument and I hope you’re having a great summer. I believe everything comes down to the individual personality and goal alignment. If you’re obsessed with your company, and share similar goals, then you’ll act differently than if you’re looking to start a company in the near future.

  8. Hm.
    Well, yes, those are all dangers. Equally, having the “giant faceless brand” has it’s own dangers – whereas “personal brands” (ugh I hate that term) can also have some upsides (see Lee Ioccoca & Chrysler 1980’s for example.)
    It’s a thought-provoking article though Geoff – as usual! :) Thanks.


  9. Geoff: Thanks for the post, and for the mention within it. I agree with Dan’s comment. Individual personality and goal alignment is an important factor.

    For me personally, it’s been pretty straightforward really. Back in 2006, it was clear that social media (and Dell’s role within it) was much bigger than me as an individual. In those early days, though the team was small, there were still folks I could count on.

    Without the work those people have done (and continue to do), there’s no way we would have been as successful as we’ve been on the social media front.

    I’ve been fortunate to have that support from the beginning. I’m also fortunate that my skill set aligns with the needs of the job pretty closely. Sometimes a little luck never hurts. :)

    Thanks again Geoff, hope you’re doing well.


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