Marketing your employee brand: risk management rationale

There is no such thing as a permanent job anymore. This, and the increasing mobility of employees and employment, added to the rise of social media, means there is no choice involved in whether to invest effort or not into building our personal employee brand. In addition to achieving excellent outcomes in our full-time job, it’s simply a question of how much time we invest into personal employee branding and how it manifests itself.

Working on personal employee brand

Personal employee brand building is especially necessary for those us who work in fields such as marketing and public relations. Let’s face it, if you can’t do a half-decent job of delivering both an ‘employee product’ and marketing the product then, really, can you be entrusted to effectively fulfil a marketing role at all?

And there is little difference between a permanent role (which has no defined end to the employment arrangement) and a contracted role (which does have a defined end to employment).

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This is because any role can be made redundant at any time and this can be done with much less friction and turmoil than was the case even ten years ago. Unions have less say over these matters than they once did and the increasing commercial focus of government organisations is becoming increasingly prevalent. An outcome of this is a diminishing of the ‘jobs for life’ mindset.

What this means, therefore, is that apart from doing an excellent job in your current role, there is a strong argument to be doing at least some proactive and ongoing, even if relatively low level, marketing of your employee brand. Because the sad truth is, your job could vanish when you least expect it.

I believe this is less likely to happen to those who are perceived as doing an excellent job, but it can still happen. Just look at the resources sector in Australia. Because of its recent downturn, companies have made dramatic changes to their businesses which have resulted in contracts being curtailed and, hence, job losses – including high performers.

Building up the personal employee brand is therefore both a reputation building and risk management exercise.

Which leads us to the question of, as an employee (and not a consultant or business owner who is seeking new clients) just what proactive personal employee brand building activity should we engage in? And how much?

Personal employee brand building activity

Jeff Bullas, as usual, has plenty of valuable advice as to building your personal brand. For what it’s worth, here is what I think everyone should be doing on at least a relatively frequent basis, employees included, and especially those working in a public relations or marketing-related field.

Firstly, make sure your profile has its act together on LinkedIn.

Do I really need to say more? There is plenty of useful information on this topic available. LinkedIn is the number one professional networking platform and if you aren’t taking it seriously then I suggest you aren’t taking your career seriously.

Secondly, undertake activity on LinkedIn. Share some good articles/posts through LinkedIn, adding some useful observations, rather than simply sharing. Participate in some professional group discussions.

Thirdly, if you do not have a blog, write one post (it doesn’t have to be long) expressing an opinion on a topic related to your profession on the LinkedIn blogging platform. You can even analyse some other posts or articles. If you can’t manage one a month, then try for one every two months to start with.

And finally, once you start developing this content, which should based on your expertise and interests, over time you develop your own thought leadership positioning. And after that occurs, you can consider the variety of other means of developing your personal branding such as getting articles in the media and speaking at conferences.

Holy Trinity of public relations applied to personal employee branding

The Holy Trinity of Public Relations is constituted of three elements, which can be applied as much to personal employee branding as any other marketing activity:

  • Strategic alliances
  • 3rd party credibility
  • Thought leadership.

You can create strategic alliances in your job by collaborating effectively with those outside of your work’s business unit. It’s salutary to remember that even in-house employees have clients.

This is partially related to internal organisational politics (tis simply the way the world works…sigh), because you want to position yourself well for internal as well as external opportunities (i.e. making friends and influencing people).

Creating positive perceptions of yourself amongst colleagues who work outside your business unit gives you 3rd party credibility and enhances perceptions of you to your target audiences. If you are posting useful and insightful information on platforms such as LinkedIn, this will also enhance your credibility amongst recruiters and others within your industry, which may include potential future bosses or those who they work with.

Undertaking this activity provides visible evidence to your prospective employer of your thinking, the effort you are investing into taking the time to think and articulate it and your proficiency in social media. By implication, it also illustrates your familiarity with the important notions of inbound and content marketing.

You will also find, over time, credible professionals will engage online with you (and even spread word of your insights and competence), providing further 3rd party credibility. If you wish, you will also be welcomed in contributing your own content to fellow professionals’ blogs (more 3PC!).

Thought leadership content illustrates your thoughtfulness and helps differentiate you from your potential competition in a new role. Of course, you should also illustrate this thoughtfulness in your assigned role and the  value you can add outside of your role’s specific requirements. A variation on this is the leadership and mentoring you can provide to others who do not report to you and may or may not work within your specific business unit

Risk and reward in personal employee branding activity

There is a risk that by investing in your personal employee branding your employer, and perhaps future potential employers, are going to think you are either being dazzled by your own reflection or are more focused on the marketing of your employee product than the product itself (i.e. the work you are paid to do in your role).

I think it’s a risk worth taking, but it might be worth having a chat with your boss about this at an appropriate time. Not all employers are comfortable with the digital age and the onus this is placing on all of us to invest some effort into our personal employee brands.

Also, at the end of the day, we exist in a competitive environment. Yes, do a great job of what you are being paid to do in your full time role, but you have competition waiting for you when you go for that next role.

The contest for that role doesn’t start when you identify the opportunity.  By then it may be too late. It has already started. Feeling ready?

What is your view on the risks of undertaking or not undertaking personal employee branding activity outside of specifically doing the job you are paid to do? Do you think it’s more necessary to undertake this sort of activity now than it was, say, five or ten years ago? Is all the advice on undertaking personal employee brand building a bit overwhelming and are you unsure of just what sort of effort, if any, to invest into it?

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Social media is death to dialogue (and public relations)

One of the great fallacies of social media is that it is a boon to dialogic communication (sic) and interactivity and, hence, public relations*. In actuality, it is characterised more by the viral compounding multiplication factor, which manifests itself through replicated sharing with minimal or no value adding.

Tsunami of fatuous social media information

This, essentially, defines social media as primarily a broadcast medium, rather than an interactive one. So instead of communicating WITH each other through social media, we are using it to communicate AT each other.

*Public relations cannot work unless there is dialogue embedded within it. Dialogue is fundamental to at least two key characteristics of PR. It provides the best possible means of:

  • understanding stakeholders’ positions on issues
  • manifesting empathy towards stakeholders (though of course behavioural change by the organisation illustrates the best sort of empathy-in-action!).

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So while social media should be a boon to enabling dialogue (and hence public relations) to be effectively implemented, it very often simply isn’t up to the task. Two reasons for social media evolving in this way could be:

  • the harnessing of social media by commercial interests as a means of marketing products and services (i.e. to sell stuff)
  • society’s predilection for using it as a means to brain dump inane chatter, thus clogging up the communication channel with so much junk people have, often, become inured to it as a credible means of gaining information and communicating WITH people.

Social media for cretinous commentary

It can be argued that simply by RTing ,sharing et al, online posted content is being injected with the sharer’s credibility and imprimatur, but that is still not the same as contributing to the dialogue. And it’s a very long bow indeed to pontificate that it’s remotely value-adding, either.

While we all are known to some degree for our position on certain issues, with this stance ostensibly casting a shadow or veil over the content which is being shared, without the value of explication this will rarely offer sufficient clarity on the sharer’s stance, especially to those who are more than one step of ‘separation’ from the person who originally e-articulated the content.

Social media is the lazy person’s means of making something known, too. A simple RTing means, ‘I don’t have to think much or add value as I’m letting the initial content do the intellectual heavy lifting’; I’ll just (hopefully) look smart through association. God knows I’ve been guilty of this myself often enough. And generally this just adds to the information noise out in the e-ther.

I raise my e-glass to the power of less!

Raillery as the missing e-ingredient

I say: forget the cursory upload or sharing of content which does not have value-adding integrated.

To echo the stupendously wonderful Robert Dessaix, we want raillery (light hearted criticism) to enliven the e-cosmos. Criticism can be negative, positive or neither – simply analytical and observational.

But raillery is analysis which makes you smile through its gentle teasing and play. I’d like to think it’s one of Australians’ better national characteristics.

Social media as Narcissus’s ‘mirror’

Another failure of social media is encapsulated in a further non-social media-specific observation of Dessaix’s, that of individuals within western civilisation’s tendency say what they think as a sort of “angry narcissism”, with people “locked within an endless loop of self- reflection”. E-narcissism anyone?

This is a good description of how social media is used as a mechanism through which tsunamis of fatuous, self absorbed information are paraded like trophies, when even to describe this information as the emperor’s new clothes is to overestimate its utility and resonance.
Dessaix classes this as “conversation avoidance”. Hardly the dialogic platform social media is meant to exemplify.
Dessaix has further implied, if not the death, then the traducing of the term ‘friendship’ by social media. Facebook, I cast the stone at thee. Facebook, the evil home of ‘friending’. where vague acquaintances are elevated to friends. The commoditisation of friendship.  Can social media go any lower?

Further, most social media-driven ‘additional’ commenting (hardly value-adding!) on the initial content is facile and/or solipsistic. Marginal, at best, from an interactivity and dialogue perspective.

Clearly, there will be resistance to some aspects of this social media rant! What are your thoughts? Have I underestimated the current value of social media to corporate communication/public relations? is social media more interactive than broadcast, as I define it to be in this post? Can you give examples to illustrate your point (which, clearly, I haven’t!)

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Does business exploit employees’ social media real estate?

Using personal social media profiles to promote content for businesses potentially means compromising, and diminishing, who you are as an individual human being – it can be dehumanising. This issue is likely to become an increasingly vexed one for not just professional marketers and public relations professionals, but for any employee of, and/or consultant to, an organisation.

Business pressuring employees for social media sharing

Is there anything wrong with a business asking its employees to use their personal social media real estate to promote a product, service or business? The easy answer is no, because it’s just asking. There is no need to actually undertake the social media sharing/commenting requested.

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But that ignores three factors:

  • Merely by asking, some people will feel pressured to undertake the social media sharing
  • Many people on social media tend to be fairly non-disciplined when it comes to sharing/liking/RTing etc, so the business is on to a ‘winner’ by asking its employees to undertake this activity at all
  • What if the organisation monitors what employees/consultants actually share and then use non-cooperation against the individual? Big brother stuff.

You think the Big Brother approach doesn’t happen? Seriously? If so, I think you’re being hopelessly romantic and/or naive. Even if it doesn’t happen very often, it remains an approach which a business can take if it wishes.

The moral dimension of Craig Pearce (me) asking for social media shares

I ask in my blog posts and on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn for people to share my posts, hoping it increases readership and the perceived credibility of my blog and, by extension, myself. I do this for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a bit of sport/fun to see subscriber numbers to my blog increase and for social media shares to go up
  • It might lead to increased and better quality work opportunities
  • It helps raise awareness of what I like to think are interesting and valuable thoughts on PR, corporate communication and marketing
  • It will hopefully lead to greater engagement on the blog and get people adding value to thought leadership I have written.

So if I can ask for social media sharing to take place, why shouldn’t businesses?

It’s a good question. And I’m not sure if I have a good answer!

The morality of business asking for social media sharing

I tend to think of facebook as a purely personal platform. LinkedIn I think of as being purely professional. And Twitter is a bit of a mixed bag, but mainly professional.

The upshot of this being I think it fine for business to ask for shares on an employee’s LinkedIn platform, and also on Twitter, but not on facebook. This is a purely personal perspective and millions will probably disagree.

And a good reason for disagreeing is that we have, really, become promiscuous sharers on social media. For many people the line between keeping information personal on social media is about as non-existent as the line which exists regarding shouting out personal information on mobile phones in public places (but don’t get me started on that one…).

There are three approaches I think businesses should apply as a default when seeking employee shares on their social media real estate:

  • Make it a hard and fast written policy that no monitoring of employees sharing of business news/imperatives on social media platforms will be held against them, unless the sharing contains comment which compromises the organisation in some way or is unlawful
  • It should also be policy that a lack of social media sharing about the business will never be held against the employee
  • Be non-pushy in the asking of shares on employees’ social media platforms. I would be putting it something like this: ‘Please consider sharing news of XYZ on one of your social media platforms such as LinkedIn….etc’

And I would certainly be prioritising the asking of shares on business-oriented social media platforms, not personal/social-oriented ones, the reason for which seems self-evident.

Not least of which there is less risk of employees thinking the business is infringing in their personal space – which will impact on employee perceptions towards the business, how much they admire the business and, crucially, their productivity and how long they work at the business. Increased employee turnover is, in particular, a massive cost which a business does not want to increase.

Advantages for employees in business-driven social media sharing

In the context of a platform such as LinkedIn, I think there are a number of common sense advantages to employees agreeing to share news of their business on LinkedIn:

  • As LinkedIn is a very visible window into the history, attitude and ‘soul’ of you as a professional, sharing – and commenting positively – on an employer’s news indicates you are a supporter of the company you work for – this is, patently, going to be perceived as being a good thing
  • If the news is relevant to the employee’s actual professional line of work, it could help them learn something about the topic being discussed through other people’s comments and/or information sharing, thereby potentially becoming more adept at their profession.
  • By promoting an employer on LinkedIn, it will probably help in some way to the business increasing its brand equity and enhancing its reputation. This will contribute in some way to the longevity and potentially even income of the business, making it a more secure long term employer of the individual.

Personal choice and personal credibility on social media

At the end of the day, of course people have the right to choose what they do and don’t share on social media. What they share and how they comment on the shares tells us a lot about the sort of person they are.

Personally, I am mystified why people would want to share something related to fast food products, FMCG products or anything with an obvious and in-your-face commercial focus.

On the other hand, I totally get social media shares on activity related to the arts, culture, politics, social issues and sport. Yes, there are plenty of cultural and sport ‘products’ out there, so my delineation between these and FMCG, for instance, is a personal and, perhaps, spurious one!

What do you think about this discussion? Do you share news of your employer on social media? if so, which platforms do you think are appropriate to do this on? Where do you draw the line in platforms to use for business purposes and the kind of news you will share on your employer or other businesses on social media? Have you ever been offended or felt compromised by being asked by your employer to share news of it on social media?

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