Posted on | February 15, 2010 | 7 Comments
Ecra Creative Group
1. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter blur the boundary between professional and personal lives.
2. If we consider our professional selves as personal brands, we must be very careful where that boundary lies and what we want people to see.
3. Like it or not, we must take a strategic branding approach to both our professional and personal communication or we risk unintended (and disproportionately negative) consequences.
I am about to relate an uncomfortable situation.
It’s personal, but not inappropriate, and it does relate to personal brand development and positioning. It’s as much prescriptive (I think) as it was therapeutic to write. Frankly, I have struggled with how to think about this issue for some time.
The situation relates to a former professional colleague of mine from nearly 10 years past. He’s been out of work for over a year, and has taken the smart step of reaching out to his professional connections to help him navigate the job market. Being at the peak of his earnings potential and career, opportunities don’t present themselves every day.
Each connection is critical for him.
During the time he has been (presumably) at home, he’s taken to distributing (en masse via email and social networks) articles of a certain extreme political persuasion. The specifics are irrelevant, as is the political bent, but needless to say, we do not see eye to eye. However, out of my respect for the professional connection, I let the first incident go. But it didn’t stop at one. They kept coming. And I kept ignoring.
But the longer it happened, the longer I came to wonder what affect his choice in communication might have on his personal brand image – and not so indirectly, his job search success. So I did what any marketing type would do in order to answer that question: I conducted a targeting analysis.
I wanted to answer a simple question: What professional benefit (or risk) might be posed my communicating your personal – and extreme – political views to a professional audience?
Here’s the first way I teased apart the results – on an agreement/disagreement continuum.
At the extreme “Agreement” end of the spectrum, recipients feel as though they have a newfound and deep personal connection with the sender. Agreement with political views (in this case) would produce a feeling of solidarity making them more likely to engage in professional dealings.
The rest of the “Agreement” spectrum is split between “Agree, but Apathetic” and “Agree, but Uncomfortable”. In other words, recipients may agree with you, but they either don’t care one way or the other, or they’re a bit put off by the perceived personal/professional boundary violation.
We see that same breakdown (in reverse) when we move to the “Disagreement” side of the spectrum. A small percentage will be vehemently opposed, and very unlikely to want to maintain professional contact, but most will either not care or feel uncomfortable.
If we rearrange the chart (see below) we can get a picture of the risk/benefit of mixing the personal and professional for this case.
The potential upside (10%) could be seen as balanced by an equal potential downside (10%), proving a zero net benefit, but I’ll cede the possibility. For a full 40%, the effect is neutral – no benefit. For the remaining 50%, the effect is negative – not extremely negative for most, but certainly not what any marketer would want.
As a professional, especially one in a position of need at this time, and not running for political office, needs to think of himself as a personal “brand” positioning itself to a target audience. Would I put my brand in a position to alienate 40% of my audience, offend another 10%, not affect another 40% at all, for the chance at reaching 10%?
To put it another way for my former colleague, this means a full 50% of his potential audience either won’t want anything to do with him or will feel uncomfortable when his names comes up.
Not his intent, I wouldn’t think.
Certainly, one could make the argument that “standing out” of the crowd and making a personal connection to a very small group is better than a generic image to a much larger one. I’ll buy that. That’s basic segmentation strategy. But there are other ways to do that.
So, on what value points might my former colleague prefer to build his personal brand? Leadership skills. Ingenuity. Creativity. Dedication. Cost control. All valid – but that’s not what I think about when his name comes up. I think about his political views. They cloud my perception. And that’s the problem.
As much as we might like to blend the personal and professional in our lives (and the more technology allows us / forces us / encourages us to do that), it seems to me we must be much more vigilant – much more strategic regarding our personal brand management. This also has nothing to do with “freedom of speech”. Of course we all have that. But the issue is professional speech, and that must have a strategic end.
It may seem as though I am picking on my former colleague, but believe me when I tell you that he is not alone. Many struggle with the balance between personal views and professional image.
This goes for email “recipient lists”, Facebook “friends”, and Twitter “followers”. It also applies to corporate brands who do not have the controls in place to monitor what their employees say while they speak on behalf of their brand.
Clearly, a bit or personality makes for good professional relationships and solid brand development.
Just think before you speak.