Editor’s note: The challenge remains, so we updated this article from a couple of years ago.
You and your co-workers have personal brands.
Your employer has a corporate or business brand.
But how do the two work in harmony? Should they? Should people closely connect their personal brand to their employer? Does improving your personal brand now appear as though you don’t expect your current role to last? Should companies actively encourage their employees to use content marketing, including social media, to talk about the company?
Christian Crumlish, former director of consumer experience at AOL and founder of Design in Product, once outlined the concerns of the employer – they don’t want to make star employees visible and expose them to poaching from competitors, and they are concerned those star employees will outshine the corporate brand.
While those fears may still exist at some companies, discouraging or banning employees from talking about their employers publicly isn’t realistic given the billions active on social media now.
“It’s not only possible – but highly advantageous – to leverage the power of personal brands in conjunction with (or instead of) the central corporate brand,” Jayson DeMers wrote as a Forbes contributor.
As Jayson explains, telling your corporate brand stories through a personal brand (i.e., your employee) allows for more trust with the audience, a distinct voice, a difference from your competitors, an extended reach, and lasting power.
Nurturing employees’ personal brands also is an attractive selling component in recruiting as it indicates the company cares about developing the people who work for it.
And employers still worried their employees will take off for greener pastures should turn their focus to the positives. Sure, some may leave the company, but that will happen with or without support for their personal branding efforts. And if the company helped nurture their personal brand, they may attain positions at other brands that could benefit their previous employer or, at a minimum, they will speak well of the company.
Consider the example of Hallie Warner. She spent years developing her personal brand around her professional identity as chief of staff at Adam Hergenrother Companies. “I use the corporate brand and story to share my own,” she says.
At one point, she launched her own professional blog and was invited, along with her boss, to speak at the Behind Every Leader conference. “These branding efforts have put me on the map as an expert for executive assistants and other chiefs of staff, and administrative professionals,” Hallie explains.
Overall, supporting employees’ personal development is good for business. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 report reveals that more people (54%) find information very or extremely credible when it comes from a “regular employee” rather than from the CEO (47%) or board of directors (44%). A corporate technical expert ranks the highest at 68%.
Prospective employees also want their future employers to let them make a difference. In the same Edelman report, 73% say they expect the company to let them shape the future of society.
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What should the company do?
If you want your employees (and their personal brands) to boost your corporate brand, you must be strategic. Here are a few essential steps.
1. Set easy-to-follow, practical guidelines
Sure, you must protect the brand, especially if it’s a publicly traded company, from employees disclosing proprietary or confidential information. Just don’t use that as a reason to go overboard with restrictions in your social media policy.
Check out this employee social media policy from Intel:
- Disclose your relationship to Intel.
- Protect Intel.
- Use common sense when posting.
Trust is the necessary ingredient. As Intel writes: “What do our policies mean? They mean that we trust you. We bring smart people into the Intel family and we expect you to make smart decisions. This means that you are both the person in the best position to tell the world why Intel is such an amazing place to be and the person best suited to protect Intel from harm.”
TIP: Post your employee social media guidelines online to be transparent internally and externally. If a problem arises, you can easily reference and link to it when you address the issue.
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2. Don’t restrict at-work access to social media websites
In some workplaces, employees are unable to access Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., because of restrictions enforced by IT-related controls. But for employees to grow their personal brand in concert with the corporate brand, they must be trusted enough to have access to social media during their workday. Otherwise, they will build their personal brands without the corporate brand (or worse, with negativity toward their employer).
TIP: Apply this principle to all employees. Picking only those who the company wants to elevate its brand will alienate the other employees (who also are on social media and now more likely to talk negatively about their employer).
TIP: As a marketer, you likely don’t have the ability to set companywide policy. Get your HR leaders involved in the process. Persuade them using credible resources they’re familiar with, such as this comprehensive toolkit on workplace use of social media from the Society for Human Resource Management.
3. Make it easy and attractive for employees to tell your brand’s stories
Allowing employees to talk about the brand on social is a first step. Encouraging them to tell the brand story is next. Offer employees an opportunity to suggest ideas or get involved in other ways in the content you’re creating and sharing. Tell the stories they think should be told.
Share your editorial calendar with employees so they can know what you’re writing about and when. Send a weekly update with suggested tweets or posts referencing your content to all employees and ask them to share.
4. Recognize employees who contribute to the corporate brand’s content marketing
Monitor those people who choose to be active supporters of the brand’s storytelling. Recognize those individuals whose contributions lead to the most shares, most retweets, most conversions (whatever measurement you choose). Acknowledge their work in a company email or newsletter. Send a handwritten note thanking them for their contributions.
What should the employee do?
“If you want to succeed in the workplace, you need a well-defined personal brand that supports the company’s mission,” says Dan Schawbel, a Monster contributor.
Though some jobs may not require a well-developed personal brand, many do. Jake Solyst focuses his personal Twitter profile on his employers. This year, he took on the role of web content specialist for the Alliance for Chesapeake Bay. His Twitter bio focuses on that role and includes a link to the alliance’s handle.
When he worked as a content specialist for marketing agency, idfive, he included the Twitter handle and URL to the company blog, which featured many of his articles. He participated in weekly Twitter chats and shared his thoughts on supplemental reading related to their client’s industries.
As he explained: “It’s important to be more than a marketer, but a marketer with a passion for and an understanding of the ideas, services, and people we’re promoting,” he says.
How can you build your personal brand that also works for your employer’s brand? Here are some steps to help accomplish that.
1. Know your company’s mission and your mission
Dan’s advice about a well-defined personal brand being essential for workplace success is good, but to do that you need to know your company’s mission. You also need to understand your personal mission or purpose. What are the goals for your personal branding effort? How do those goals fit with your company’s purpose?
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2. Build your personal brand in concert with your employer’s brand
Don’t become a shill for your employer, hawking every product or even every piece of news or story from the company. That won’t win you anything. And don’t ignore your employer in your content – that won’t win you any fans at your company. Strike a balance, incorporating relevant company content when appropriate and ensuring that you share your own and others’ content too.
3. Raise your profile in your industry
Create or share content around topics and interests specific to your industry and your role or department.
Mike Orr, CEO and co-founder of Grapevine6, advises going beyond retweets and shares. “Personalize it with comments that reflect your point of view/brand,” he says. “The extra effort it takes to add your personal voice is how people create authentic engagement that builds their unique brand identity.”
And don’t forget to look beyond digital media. Investigate speaking engagements at industry-related or community-based events.
4. Reach out proactively to your company
Check regularly with key stakeholders to learn about what’s happening within the company, what they’re hearing about in the industry, and to discover new research being conducted. Consider this group an invaluable editorial advisory board for potential ideas to write about or share.
Inform your supervisors and executives of your personal branding efforts that they may not be aware of. For example, tell them about a speaking opportunity you’re doing at a community meeting or let them know about your blog.
5. Think before you post
While this advice has always been appropriate to consider, it’s all the more relevant today – before you post, consider all the implications. Is it something that reflects your personal brand? What about your employer’s brand? Could it be misinterpreted or misunderstood? Are you willing to accept the possible repercussions personally and professionally?
It’s really about both
The question of personal brand vs. corporate brand can’t be an either-or option. A personal brand is intrinsically tied to the employer brand and vice versa. Both are critical to each other’s success. Understanding that is the first step, embracing it through proactive policies and promotion is the next. Then both employees and employers have a better one-two branding punch.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute