Power of Personal Branding in Social Media Part 1

Written by a Master's Student of the Lund University School of Economics and Management

Internet emergence of Web 2.0 has tremendously empowered individuals by providing the tools for successful personal branding. The advantage of Web 2.0 is that no longer the knowledge of complex coding language is necessary, this provided anyone with the opportunity can generate their own content online, upload their pictures or videos and directly share it in virtual world. (Labrecque, Markos and Milne, 2011). The information that people generate online leaves a digital footprint that indirectly results in personal branding.  (Lampel and Bhalla 2007; Madden et al. 2007 cited in Labrecque, Markos and Milne, 2011). As such, social media has become an essential tool through which people express and present themselves and learn about others (Vazire, Gosling 2004 cited in Labrecque, Markos and Milne, 2011). Because of its massive power to reach, connect and communicate the message to a huge number of people in a very short amount of time, social media has become one of the strongest personal branding platforms.  Arguably one of the most prominent examples for the power of social media is Justin Bieber, who at the age of 12 became a YouTube sensation (justinbieberzone, 2015) that led him beyond social media popularity to an astonishing pop star carrier.          

The Justin Bieber example is only one of the few success stories, but are we observing an era of personal branding online? What does personal branding from theoretical perspective mean and how is social media linked to this phenomenon? What are opportunities of personal branding in social media and what are possible threats? These and a few more aspects will be answered in the following blog post.

What is personal branding?

The concept of personal branding can be explained when individuals and their careers are managed as if they were brands, this typically includes guarantee of their performance, specific design, and taglines for achievement. (Lair, Sullivan & Cheney, 2015) The term “personal branding” was first discussed by Tom Peters in 1997, when in his article in FastCompany he provocatively stated: “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You” (Peters 1997, p.83 cited in Shepherd, 2005). Peters also calls personal branding a “sign of distinction”. He points out that for personal branding it is important to maintain a true self, he advises not to change your own personality by trying to adapt to market needs. “Work with what you’ve got! … And make it special.” (Peters 1999 cited in Shepherd, 2005).

Similarly Chris Brogan (n.p. cited in Harris & Rae, 2011) describes the attributes of strong personal branding as a combination of “reputation, trust, attention and execution:  “A personal brand gives you the ability to stand out in a sea of similar products. In essence, you’re marketing yourself as something different than the rest of the pack.”  Effectively managing personal brands means that you are able to influence what other people think of you. In todays digital world having a strong personal brand becomes an essential key to success (Rampersad, 2008). Some of the worlds most successful people such as: “Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates, for example” use personal branding as their positioning strategy (Rampersad, 2008, p. 34). It is extremely, important to be aware that every one of us has his/her own personal brand and, therefore, manages it accordingly by being strategic, consistent and effective. The reason for this is that the messages you send to others affects how people perceive you (Rampersad, 2008).

If you want to have a strong personal brand it has to be authentic, it must reflect your genuine characteristics, and it should reflect your personal values and strengths. Personal brand shout distinct your brand from others and feature your unique talent. If you brand yourself organically in an authentic way your personal brand will bring value to others and will be well understood and strongly positioned (Rampersad, 2008).

Summarizing main success drivers for personal branding from the theory reviewed above:

-       Manage your personal brand as if you are the CEO of your own company

-       Have a clear brand strategy for yourself

-       Be authentic and do not copy anyone else

-       Reflect your personal values

-       Work with your strengths and make them special

-       Do not change your individuality in order to adapt to market needs

Question: What are opportunities and threats of personal branding in social media?

The most distinct benefit of personal branding in social media is that it uses a low cost platform that enables to reach an extensive number of people (Dutta, 2010). Secondly, personal branding on social media provides an opportunity to engage and interact with a broad public. Thirdly, social media provides the opportunity to learn instantly by understanding the feedback from users (Dutta, 2010).

It is hard to imagine today’s leadership without social media. The beauty of this is that almost everyone is on some kind of social media platform, from everyday people to the largest companies to presidents of entire countries. The largest social media platform is Facebook and by the number of Facebook users every seventh person on the planet has a virtual identity or Facebook account. (Facebook Statistics, n.d.).  Facebook shares, YouTube views, Instagram likes and Twitter re-tweets are the new metrics of the success of your message. The more likes, shares and views you have, the more successful your message is. This provides a perfect opportunity to understand what people you are engaging with like and by reading the comments you can understand their attitude. At the same time it can also appear as a great threat to a personal brand, since everyone can become a co-creator of your own brand by providing not only feedback, but also negative opinions and dissatisfaction, which might be damaging for your reputation.

Another threat for personal branding on social media is that the digital footprint is long lasting and far-reaching. The difference between what you are saying in the real life and in the virtual world is that everything you communicate online is documented; therefore it might not be possible to be erased. Mistakes in the social media environment can weigh much heavier- when wrongly interpreted. Social media comments can damage a personal brand to the extent that an entire career might be in danger. For example, during the recent social media scandal when a communications director for a Republican congressman, Elizabeth Lauten, expressed her opinion on her personal Facebook account. She commented on the looks and attitude of president Obama’s daughters during one of his public appearances by saying such things as: "try showing a little class" (Lavender, 2015). This created a social media storm, during which a large number of people asked for the communication director’s resignation. In order to express their dissatisfaction with her statements people dedicated a Facebook page to it and created an online petition  #fireElizabethLauten for her resignation (Breitman, 2015). This damaged her personal brand and reputation in such a way that under the pressure of social media she was forced to resign. This incident might even have long lasting consequences for her future career.

If you are interested in what opportunities social media presents to individuals for creating personal brands, read second post. There I will illustrate three personal branding examples – everyday people who been able to turn their hobbies in to successful businesses and built strong personal brands.