No One Knows Who You Are

It’s funny how some people feel an online profile is the most important part of their career today. Building a business or a career based on an online reputation instead of an the actual product or service can only lead to difficulties.

As shocking as it may be to many big online influencers, a lot of people don’t know who they are. Even if they have heard their names, they don’t care about someone’s big blog or Instagram profile. I don’t care how big you are online — in your community or nationally — you have to assume no one knows who you are.

A nice online profile built around some subject matter expertise might get you a listen, but you still need to allay fears. Then once you get the sale you need to meet the promise you are building.

That’s why I found Gary Vaynerchuk’s post last week on personal branding versus old fashioned work ethic so refreshing. It got back to brass tacks: Do the work, refine your skills, then build the reputation.

I know someone who has a brilliant online persona, but person X takes credit for other people’s work and often throws them under the bus in the process. Every time I have seen Person X get an opportunity to excel as a star performer, he/she fails.

Too many Internet-based reputations are like the one built by Person X. These personal brands revolve around reciprocated sharing, social media talk and no walk. Is it any wonder social media experts and to a lesser extent marketing bloggers aren’t taken seriously in the CMO office?

Unsolicited Advice for Younger Professionals

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If you are eager to build your online profile to become successful, be careful. It can get you some opportunities, but success is built on fulfilling your commitment to customers. Make sure you are busting your ass on the back channel, too. You can’t afford to lose opportunities. Do the work, build things, prove yourself.

Further, yesterday’s successes don’t mean much to people. So in my mind, relying on a reputation for past works done is dangerous. It’s the current work that matters. We all have to work like no one knows who we are.

I don’t think people give a crap about what I did in the 2000s. That was a long time ago. The media have changed significantly since then. Any remaining hubris that I may carry doesn’t mean jack-shit if I can’t deliver TODAY. I need to kick ass on every new project like no one knows who I am. If I am not hungry enough to do that, then I can expect to struggle and at times to fail.

What about the effort you ask? Isn’t it too much?

I hear all sorts of things about work life balance, and God knows I put my family first and try to keep myself well-rested. But make no bones about it I hustle. Everyone who succeeds busts their butt and works hard. I drafted this on Friday night from 9:00-10:20 p.m. I edited it on Sunday night at roughly the same time. AFTER I fed my daughter, put her to bed, and AFTER I finished my client work. The promo came last.

No matter what, you can’t shortchange the work.

If I Could Start Social Over Again

Looking online at the top social media news articles, it is amazing how Facebook and Twitter still dominate conversations. Yet, if I could start over from scratch — I would not use Facebook and Twitter for both professional and personal online efforts.

I have been online in social networks for a long time now. These days when I speak on panels I am the old guy, which is a bit weird. There are others who have been around longer than me or who have walked the earth for many more days, but nevertheless history and legacy are a burden.

The past can prevent you from moving forward unless you make a conscientious decision to embrace change. Consider that online media giant AOL still has 2.3 million dial-up subscribers, yet their business is moving towards online video programming. AOL manages to innovate, but where would they be if they hadn’t been bold and moved towards online content as their primary offering with the acquisitions of Engadget, the Huffington Post and TechCrunch years ago?

The same could be said for how you invest time online. Today, because I have shifted much of my content production to photography, I spend more time on Flickr and 500 Pixels than I do Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Google+. When I do participate on those sites, more of ten than not it’s either for business or to post a picture.

I look at the interactions with my customer base, and believe in some instances that I am wasting my time. So given my customers, passions and the interaction, where would I start?

Separate the Person from the Business

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In the mid 2000s, everyone associated their personalities with their blogs. It was the age of personal brands, and like many others — in spite of my protests about personal branding as a movement — I weaved my personal social media activity and blogging for business together.

As a result, it was harder to scale prior companies, and my own personal adventures and missteps impacted business. Tenacity5 is different (I hope). I have a role as president, and while I am the front man, but it isn’t a personality vehicle. It is a business.

For example, T5 does not promote my personal projects. It is a brand that allows people to provide services, people that are more than me. As the company grows, this will be essential.

I increasingly try to create separation between the business and my interests. It is only on LinkedIn that I allow the two to completely merge, and largely because I see LinkedIn as a business only network.

Facebook Is a Waste of Business Time… Sort of

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I’ve blogged before about how Facebook is almost a zero-sum game for pure marketing posts. Analytics continues to reaffirm that when posts are marketing centric they fail. When they are personal, they tend to do well. Though I caught a lot of grief back then for not marketing on Facebook, I am no longer the only one experiencing this.

I feel like this is particularly true of marketing agencies. We are experimenting again with the Tenacity5 Media Facebook page, but I have sincere doubts. Unless your friends are all marketers or you have a serious ad budget, people don’t want to read crap about content marketing on Facebook. What Facebook is good for is my customers seeing photos, but I doubt they are hiring me because I post nice pics.

In my mind Facebook is a place to post my photos, not to talk shop. And my photography hobby benefits greatly from it. Google+ is definitely in the same vein. People love photos and tech talk and not much else up there, at least in my feed.

I would say that Twitter, though not the most liked or popular network, is a primary driver for business traffic, so I would continue to invest in Twitter. I do find the conversations to be lacking personally.

Then I must admit — as much as it irks me a times — that LinkedIn has successfully become the place for B2B conversations. And a marketing agency is a B2B play. So from a business perspective, I see LinkedIn as important. So much so that we need to find ways to better engage there in the future.

I don’t think much of Instagram or Pinterest right now. The results have been fun at times, but I fail to see the value. I am keeping an open mind, though.

Not Blogging

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Today, I wouldn’t waste my time blogging as a primary business activity. In fact, for the most part I have slowed down significantly. I still post once a week here, mostly because I believe that a blog still has a role in my online life, even if it is for the fewer. But the topics are stream of conscious now. There is no editorial mission outside of what I think, and no real business goal outside of supporting personal projects.

Why?

Because you cannot succeed as a marketing blogger without these two necessary components: High quality posts that are clearly focused and a frequency of at least once if not twice a day. Without consistency, precision and excellence, the marketing blogger game is a loser. There are too many branded blogs and too many consultancies publishing for it to be as effective as it used to be. I do not have the wherewithal to commit the necessary resources to blog as a primary outreach mechanism today.

So, while it was a big deal back in the day, without the ability to commit the necessary resources, blogging is not a primary mechanism.

In the future, if Tenacity5 grows beyond 20 or 30 people I will recommit to daily content for the sector. Until then, there are other actions that yield more awareness, personal content (e.g. photos and books) that fares better than blogs, and marketing activities that are more profitable for the time investment.

What do you think? Sign up for the monthly marketing mash-up. You won’t find these tips on a blog!

Become More Personable, Not a Person

Several years have passed since the personal branding revolution took the Internet by storm. What have we learned? Are brands becoming more personable and have people become, well, more iconic?

Probably a little of both. However, we have also seen many examples of brands acting quite silly while they mime people, and the very public fallibility of the human condition.

At the crux of both extremes is the core definition of the general term brand. And yes, there are a ton of definitions. But usually, it comes down to selling: “Brand is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product [as] distinct from those of other sellers.”

Like almost every marketing talking head, I have my own version, which I learned from Ellis Pines about 15 years ago. That is that brand is the expression of a promise from a company (or seller) to a customer. That brand is expressed visually, verbally and through customer experiences.

Let’s take a look at how the crossing of personality and brand has worked out for companies and people alike.

Brands Who Try to Be Like People

The smaller a company is, the easier one can associate the brand with a personality. Some brands do this better than others, for example Dell as a large brand and Georgetown Cupcake as a more well-known small brand.

More often than not the personality associated with the brand tends to be a founder, though we have seen exceptions. Flo, the fictional spokesperson for Progressive, has been a wildly successful example of infusing personality into a brand. However, none of us will actually do business with Flo. Other times, we have seen social media experts become the voice of the brand, at least on the interwebs.

However, this personal association doesn’t always turn out well for brands. For example, Kenneth Cole has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth (pun intended).

Chrysler experienced a social media f bomb.

J.P. Morgan “got bloggy with it” and had a snarkpocalypse that to this day ranks as one of the top social media blunders ever.

Picking fun at corporate social media errors is a blood sport online. Inevitably, the errors find their genesis in very human mistakes, the errors of personality.

Some of this is common sense, but even the most rational people have their moments. This is the primary reason why brands tend to stay on business topic, and avoid the beaten path of personality quirks.

People Who Try to Be Like Brands

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Image by Billy Hulbert

Given the volatility of the human spirit, we’ve seen some epic persoanl brand meltdowns online in the blogosphere since personal branding became popular. Perhaps its best to use celebrity examples given the sensitive nature of bloggers.

Here are a few examples of how titanic personal brands fall when a personality commits seriously negative acts:

Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace was capped by a horrific two night return of the Oprah show. $500 million raised to benefit cancer research could not help Lance’s personal brand.

Alex Rodriguez’s best attempts at polishing his personal image backfired as MLB took him to task in the this decade’s edition of the steroid scandal.

Lindsay Lohan began the destruction of a Disneyified personal brand with her first court appearance in 2009. Consistently arrested, Lindsay continues to bury herself.

On the political personal brand stage, there’s no better example of a personal brand screw up than Anthony Weiner’s sexting fiasco on Twitter.

You can go on forever with these. Romances, temper tantrums, employee meltdowns, etc., all combat the sales promise of various personalities’ branding efforts.

The problem with creating a finite brand promise associated with a person remains the human spirit. People change. They evolve for good or bad (so do brands, but rarely at the rate of individual people). They make mistakes. This inevitably contrasts against the personal brand.

Career change? Awesome, but that doesn’t match the brand. Good luck porting that equity over.

Conclusion

From a corproate perspective, the social media era give companies the ability to empower employees to talk with customers directly. Interaction is the expression of the brand through an experience. This is how brands become personable.

However, snarky toothpaste is not a good interactive experience, per say. That’s just a marketing campaign through owned channels on social networks. It’s a different form of branding.

I’m a big fan of encouraging people to be people, to identify themselves as employees. It’s important for them to carefully note that their opinion does not represent the company’s. This is being personable, not adding legions of personal brands to corporate mastheads.

When it comes to infusing personalities into the brand itself, you are really talking about spokespeople. Spokespeople represent a PR or advertising campaign decision, and should be treated with the same filters as a formal messaging camapign, and not unbridled social media wonkiness.

On the individual personal brands side, I’ve been a long-time critic of the concept. Instead I coach people ito focus on their reputation based on performance and relationships. While considered synonymous with a personal branding, a reputation is more fluid and easier to apply to new endeavors and troubled situations.

An iconic brand that’s known for performance in one product area or service sector fails to have that kind of flexibility. When you create a finite promise, you often have to live with it. That’s a hard commitment to live up to for any individual.

What do you think?

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog.

7 Branded Experience Marketing Tips for Artists and Writers

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Jimi Hendrix Image by jbhthescots

Music biz marketer Corey Biggs interviewed me five times for the book to help artists brand and market themselves.

Based on those interviews, I have accumulated several branded experience marketing tips.

While I have simply protested the personal brand movement in the past, it’s better to offer useful guidance to individuals. This is particularly true for artists and writers who often have no choice but to market creative products and ideas under their names.

Continue reading “7 Branded Experience Marketing Tips for Artists and Writers”

The Age of Authenticity Washing

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Two x Two Faces by J.D. Hancock

There have been a couple of recent posts acknowledging the decline of authenticity on the social web. In reality, authenticity as it was preached in the mid 2000s for all intents and purposes is a lost art. Today, we have formulaic gestures, and acts and boasts of authenticity instead of people being people.

Authenticity washing is abound. Whether it’s a demonstration of flair, declarations of being the real thing, and even protests of being flawed, one has to wonder what we’re seeing. Many people claim to be nice in the social media blogosphere while they curse out their peers in emails or police contrarian opinions through flash mobs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. To say more would not be mindful. The real behavior is nothing worse than the scandals we see played out in the media, and is simply a demonstration of the human condition. But what we are told is not authentic.

There are a few reasons for this decline in authenticity. One is the over-commercialization of the social web. The second is the rise of the personal brand movement. No matter how many personal branders claim reputation based on actions, the practice encourages putting forth a contrived image to the marketplace. In the end, authenticity has declined because people are afraid of looking bad. Courage — the ability to act in the face of fear — has and will always be at a premium.

So the authenticity washing will continue. There is no formula for being authentic, folks. Authenticity is simply being you, good and bad and everything in between. Be you.

In the end, talk is cheap on the social web. Actions are not. Watch what people do, not what they claim.

What do you think about the state of authenticity on the social web?