You’ve got a little free time at work and you decide to tweet about topics of personal interest. Your witty quips, observations, and links to YouTube videos of your dog barking at the vacuum cleaner are all well and good, but what does your employer get out of it? And, of equal importance, how do you balance time promoting yourself and the company?
To find out, I asked Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of the forthcoming Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future. Dan knows a thing or 10 about managing competing priorities. He was able to parlay his day job into a personal branding empire. He is currently Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, founder of the syndicated Personal Branding Blog, publisher of Personal Branding Magazine, and a columnist with BusinessWeek. Recently, Dan was also named to the prestigious Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list.
You were able to position and promote yourself as a personal branding expert while working as an employee. How were you able to successfully strike a balance between your personal self interests and those of your company?
I started working for EMC Corporation, a top 10 technology company, in 2006. After working there for a year, I began writing about ten blog posts a week on PersonalBrandingBlog.com. Within six months, I had started Personal Branding Magazine, and several other properties out of sheer passion and curiosity. I never mentioned my work, in the personal branding field, to my employer because it was a hobby to me at the time, and I didn’t feel like it conflicted with my full-time job. Once Fast Company wrote about my six month personal branding journey on August 1st, 2007, my personal and professional lives converged. I was asked to speak at Google, and a Vice President at EMC hired me to be the first social media specialist for the company, a position I held for two years.
EMC viewed me as an asset and a resource in a field that was brand new to them. I was recruited internally at the company, so people knew what I was doing outside of work. During my two year term there, I was upfront with my management as to where I would be speaking, when my book was coming out, and some of the national media attention I was receiving. I always felt that this was important because if I didn’t tell them what was going on, they would be able to find out anyways with a single Google search or by reviewing my latest Facebook status update. My ability to get media attention helped position EMC as a thought leader in the social media space. They were also able to get up to speed rather quickly on blogging and social networks because it had been something I was successful at outside of work. As long as you create a win-win situation with your employer, and they give you permission, you shouldn’t have any issues.
As an employee who is also (purposefully or inadvertently) representing your employer, what are the most important factors you should consider when developing your social media personal branding strategy?
You have to start looking at the Internet as the global talent pool. You have to have an online presence, and therefore you have to manage it for the rest of your life if you want to stay active in the ever-growing pool of competition. Don’t work for an employer that won’t let you have your own Web site and social media profiles because it will close the doors to new opportunities and harm your career. When I first started my position at EMC, I made a few mistakes, without understanding their implications, such as tweeting something negative about a company that was one of EMC’s million clients. Also, you have to be careful about how you’re perceived in the workplace. I would set tweets to auto-post at different hours of the day because I wanted to maintain a presence, without using my personal account at work. Although, I wasn’t tending to my personal brand during work, employees saw the tweets and thought I was.
My recommendations are to sit down with your employer and talk about what you’re publishing online, and ask for certain guidelines, so you prevent future issues. You can also send your manager a few of your posts for verification. You should put a disclaimer on your blog, but understand that you’re still associated with the brand and can be laid off if you get too out of line. This has already happened to a CNN reporter and a Washington Post columnist was suspended for what he posted online. Use common sense when posting online and realize that anything you publish can be used against you now and in the future.
Does your strategy change based on your level within the organization?
The higher up you go in an organization, the more people will follow your behaviors online and offline. Regardless of your level in an organization, you need to cultivate an online brand and manage it. Years ago, it was only the executives and PR professionals that were the corporate spokespeople, but that has since changed. Everyone counts now, from the intern to the CEO.
Social media posts don’t include a “the views and opinions expressed aren’t necessarily those of staff or management.” As an employee, how much should your messaging align philosophically with your company’s “party line?”
It depends entirely on your own career goals. Are you an employee that is in the midst of starting a company or being a consultant? If so, then brand yourself according to that future career and business you want to develop. Otherwise, you should be your own PR person and ensure that your message isn’t completely different than your company’s. This is much easier when you’ve worked at a company for years and are fluent in the corporate messaging. If you’re brand new to a company, then you should seek mentorship or an adviser that can help you. The last thing you want to do is get fired because you were careless.
What steps can you take to make sure your personal branding social media strategy stays aligned with your employer?
The first thing you need to do is realize what both the corporate branding strategy and your own personal branding strategy are. If they don’t align, then you should start looking for a new job or start a company on the side because you won’t have any long-term potential at your company if there’s no alignment. If you’re keen on climbing the corporate ladder, then be more cautious, and work with your management until you can agree on the message you can put out there through your online brand, and what you should avoid at all costs.