Personal branding is a hot topic for entrepreneurs and solo consultants, but does it matter to large enterprises? Oh yeah.
Consultants and small business owners get the concept of personal branding, because in one-person or very small companies, one person is the “corporate” brand. Having optimized profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as well as personal profile / reputation management sites like Google Profile, Plaxo, LookupPage, VisualCV, PeoplePond and BusinessCard2 is crucial to optimizing one’s business online presence.
But isn’t it different in large enterprises where there’s already a strong corporate brand associated with high quality, great value, outstanding service, prestige or some other positive attribute? Not at all. That brand image matters little in social media. If anything, personal branding for key public- and customer-facing individuals is even more important in big businesses than in small firms or one-person shops.
First, if you want to talk to the “CEO” of your local bakery or neighborhood bar, you can likely just walk in and often find him or her on the premises. You can’t do that with executives at GE, IBM, Ford, etc.
Second, “social” media is by definition a person-to-person (or person to many persons) activity. You can have a conversation with a person, or participate in a conversation in a group of people, but you can’t talk to a “company,” which is merely a soulless, bodiless legal entity.
Third, while you can certainly buy many types of products from companies (e.g. books from Amazon, coffee from Starbucks, electronics from Best Buy), there are many products and services that purchased from individuals, even though there may be large company behind them. If you refinance your home, you work with a mortgage banker—an individual—even though that person may work for a large bank. Insurance is typically provided by large companies, but sold by individual agents. Ditto for other financial services, legal services, cars, motorcycles, heavy machinery, exotic travel, some types of luxury goods… You purchase something supplied by a company, possibly a very large company, but you buy from an individual person.
In that sense, the individual’s personal brand becomes, to you, the corporate brand. Your experience with that individual, good or bad, influences, often strongly, your perception of the corporate brand.
So, big companies have an interest in making those individual interactions as positive as possible. It’s essential to hire good people, of course, but it goes beyond that. Often, a bad experience isn’t the result of a having a bad agent, broker, salesperson, customer service rep or consultant, but rather from a mismatch between the individual buyer and seller. The transaction is more likely to be positive if the connection is appropriate based on geography, area of expertise, hobbies or other factors, possibly even age (e.g. a couple nearing retirement may prefer not to work with a twenty-something financial planner).
How is this achieved? Through personal branding. It’s easy to investigate companies and product attributes online, without ever giving up your contact information. Why shouldn’t you to be able to “shop” for the individual you’ll eventually buy from or work with as well? You should, of course. And smart companies, big or small, who recognize that in a social media world, their people are their differentiation, will find ways to capitalize on personal branding. Read more about this in Why Personal Branding Matters to Big Companies, my guest post on the Workface blog.