I was recently asked to keynote and kickoff an upcoming public relations conference by talking about digital and political branding. As I was preparing my presentation, it occurred to me that transparency and authenticity are what should be at the heart of any such branding. We need to be more about personal interaction and less about brand promotion when we’re talking about a person, be that a politician or a CEO. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.
That’s no surprise though, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. When doing presentations during the past few years, I have promoted the need to consider your “personal brand” when you are participating in social media activities. I made people think about how branding is no longer just a corporate reference. Each and every one of us, I would say, is our own brand and we are personally responsible for it.
I still believe that responsibility for our actions, online and off, is paramount to a strong character. But it is transparency and authenticity that make us human and more powerful in terms of branding than anything a corporation can muster.
The avatar at the top of this post is what I now use on Twitter. It’s not a picture of me, clearly, so is it contradictory to my argument that we need to keep things more personal? I don’t think so — I actually think it tells you more about me than a standard head shot would. Take another look at it and figure out what it tells you about me. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you…
Here’s what you can learn about me from that avatar:
- I prefer Android phones and I like ball caps — according to my wife I own more than any person needs.
- I am a Google Glass Explorer.
enjoy am addicted todesperately need coffee.
- My favorite outfits involve cargo pants and hooded sweatshirts.
- And you’ll see me walking around town on my lunch hour in bright white and black Chuck Taylors instead of dress shoes, which I gladly leave in my office.
There is an old saying about something being more valuable than simply the sum of its parts. That is especially true for businesses. Because businesses, no matter how small or large, are made up of people. And each of those individuals — from the CEO to the front-line worker — is what makes up a corporate brand. Each of their strengths and weaknesses, each of their valuable assets and their thorny flaws is a component.
But that goes for individuals, too. For years, public relations professionals have pushed to get business leaders and politicians involved in social media. But there is being involved, and then there is being involved. It’s high time PR pros kicked their clients and bosses in the rear and told them to either get with the program or stop trying. Yes, there may be missteps along the way, but if they are made by a person and not a “brand,” the public and media would – I believe – be more generally forgiving.
Besides, the world of social media and mainstream media attention is so fleeting and spastic that even if you screw up, someone else will end up screwing up at least as badly if not worse within a short amount of time. Social media is the electronic enabler of the attention deficit disorder the mainstream media has become seriously afflicted with during the past decade.
So get out there and take a chance on being yourself. Encourage your bosses to be a person first and a title second.
I used to work for former Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger who understood the importance of being transparent on social media but didn’t always have the time to do the posts himself. At first, I posted on his behalf, noting that it was me and not the Speaker. But as time went on, when Jase saw how much more intense the interaction was when he posted directly, he started to do more of it. He made the time because it was important. By the way, “intense” didn’t always translate to “positive,” but that didn’t matter.
One of the best interactions I ever had on Twitter was with a person who contacted me because they hated what I said and what my boss at the time was doing. And yet, by sharing our opinions honestly with each other, the two of us end up parting ways still disagreeing but appreciating the dialogue. We often debated issues after that, and always civilly — albeit sometimes with snark, which was acceptable since we both did it. We were able to have those conversations because the first one wasn’t populated with me spouting off talking points like some machine. Instead, I talked like a human being.
One thing that has not changed over the years is my insistence on being real. When people who have interacted with me only via social media eventually meet me in person, there shouldn’t be any surprises. I am who I am whether I’m standing in the same room with you or tweeting at you from thousands of miles away.
One of my current bosses is the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. He’s a powerful leader to say the least. But, especially in terms of his personal brand, he’s a husband, a father and a runner. Our official office Twitter account is somewhat reflective of his style but his personal account is where he really shines. Because on that account, he’s just a guy living his life, running marathons, doing what dads and husbands do — oh and he also happens to be a lieutenant governor.
We are all people. Yes, I have a personal brand that I care about, but I care more about the “personal” part of that. Which is why, for example, I never use an auto-reply for my Twitter account. If I follow someone and within seconds receive a “Thanks for following me! Please check out this YouTube video/website/great product!!” my first inclination is to just as quickly unfollow them. I am on social media to share information in a social way, not be shouted at by an automated bot.
So let’s put the social back in social media. And put the personal back in personal branding. By doing that, we just might put the human back into humanity.