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Me, Me, Me! The Effect of Personal Branding

June 29, 2009

I had coffee with a PR student I mentor this past Friday – exhausted from my Tucson trip, but I wanted to catch up and see how he was doing. Anyway, I was answering all of his questions, pretty much on my A game considering how tired I was… and then he asked it. A question that stumped me. I should have seen it coming.

“So…. Lauren….. we talk a lot about personal brand and professional brand. How do I make sure my personal brand isn’t arrogant and well… all about me?”

Total silence. If you know me, that’s pretty hard to do. Without sounding like a total pompous person, personal brand can be thought of as being all about you. It’s how others perceive you and about getting your name out there. But his question got me thinking – couldn’t there be different levels of personal branding and how much you put yourself out there? I talk a lot about the thin line between confidence and arrogance – you need to have confidence in your ability, but make it subtle enough so others believe it – and you aren’t the only one shouting it.

Wood_Framed_MirrorThere are different levels of success, as well as different levels of personal branding. There are those that in my opinion, do it all wrong – Promoting only themselves and their products, touting about how “fabulous” and “awesome” they are.  Why not mix it up? Promote someone else. Encourage someone else. Shout out to someone else. Build a relationship so they recognize who you are – and build a powerhouse from within. The “Me, Me, Me” approach is you looking in on a glass house full of people who SHOULD be interacting with you. But who wants to interact with “OhwowMomIthinkIamsofreakin’awesome” Johnny? Pick up the phone every once and a while and call someone. E-mail them just to see how they are doing. Mix that with your own pat on the backs, and I think you have a pretty solid personal brand that isn’t arrogant.  A lot of that is mixing in a professional demeanor with how you act outside the office.

What do you think? Is personal branding all about you, you, you?

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2009 7:46 am

    Lauren, this post is dead-on. Online branding — whether for a company or a person — shares many similarities with “offline” branding. Namely that perception = reality. Your brand isn’t what you say it is … it’s how others perceive you. So, if your online activities center on promoting yourself, your network of followers/fans/friends will take notice — and probably not in a good way. Likewise, if you balance self-promotion with shoutouts to other people (even those who are lesser known), sharing interesting information and responding to questions — followers will notice that as well. The person who isn’t “all about me” will have the stronger online brand. Good reminder for all of us!

    Heather (@prtini)

  2. jaykeith permalink
    June 29, 2009 8:12 am

    This is a topic that I struggle with frequently, not only because I work for a public company and I would never want to be the “face” of the organization via social media (without proper authority anyways) but also because with so many of my PR colleagues, my stomach turns when I hear them talking about how great they are. It also turns when I hear them talking about how much the other one rocks, knowing that they are friends and wondering if they really deserve all this praise from one another. I’ve thought about this many times, and I always come to the same conclusion. You’re only as good as your work says you are, when it’s all said and done.

    The bottom line is you’re only great (and in turn so is your personal brand) if other credible people are singing your praises, and in an unbiased way. Retail brands are what they are because they have either impressed their customers, which in turn leads to referrals and positive feedback, or they haven’t. But I think all too often in personal branding, especially via social media, there are far too many “hangers on” who see that someone else is “cool” so they in turn sing their praises, and lo and behold, in a few days someone is viewed as amazing. Are they really amazing, or do they just have a few of their friends saying they are amazing? There are many people that I’ve seen being touted as “rock stars” here and there, especially in the PR and social media worlds, yet have seen absolutely nothing to back that claim up. So I think it’s a very difficult thing to manage. If you have too many people touting you (with little in the way of substance behind it) your own personal brand could be tarnished by the “rolling of the eyes” effect. People look at the praise, especially from others they know are friends, and say “he/she is only saying that because they’re friends and they love to tout one another.”

    Personally I’d rather be remembered for breaking down walls with truly effective projects, building new mediums, or forging new ground that’s talked about and then referenced back to me, rather than be called a superstar by some of my friends on Twitter, Facebook, etc., with nothing to back it up. To me the proof is in the pudding, and if you can point to the project or the accomplishments rather than the person, that’s saying a whole lot more at the end of the day.

    But unfortunately, the bottom line is that perception is often times reality, so maybe all of that effusive yet baseless praise and telling everyone how great you are can help you and your overall personal brand in the long run. But I doubt it. I would just never want to be built up on a mountain of false bravado, then suffer what can only be the inevitable backlash. Are there “superstars” out there in the world of PR/Social media? Absolutely. Do you typically hear them singing their own praises? It’s rare – they usually let other very credible people do it for them. There’s a big difference between letting everyone know about your results/know how and bragging endlessly about how phenomenal you are at this whole social media thing.

    So at the end of the day, showcase your work, share information with others, and do your best to forge new ground. People follow and look up to leadership and uniqueness, not false promises and lack of substance. At least in the long run they do.

    As always, the results speak for themselves.

  3. June 29, 2009 8:16 am

    Lauren, both you and Heather make great points. I think creating champions for your personal brand is the best way to market yourself — the same way public relations professionals use third-party outlets to tout their clients. A me, me, me brand often comes across as insecure or desperate. I’m looking forward to the discussion.

  4. June 29, 2009 9:03 am

    Lauren,

    Actually after rethinking this topic now, personal branding isn’t all about “me me me”, it’s about “you you you…and a little me.” The best way to gain recognition? Recognize others first, then as long as you do good work, you will receive recognition in return. That’s no to say you should only recognize others for your own personal gain, but you should realize that you recognizing yourself isn’t going to do squat for your personal brand. Your personal brand is only as strong as your community makes it. Abandon your community, and you’ll find yourself with a negative personal brand.

    David

  5. June 29, 2009 9:06 am

    Thanks for sharing another insightful and thought-provoking post Lauren.

    @ jaykeith – I get what you are saying in general terms, however I think there is a difference between being friends and being friendly in the Social Web. I am connected to and enjoy conversing with friends using social media tools. These tools have also provided the conduit to find and converse with new people.

    If a content creator comes up with interesting posts/case studies/pictures/etc. that are relevant and useful, there is nothing wrong with heaping an appropriate amount of praise for their work. Ultimately, this gets (keeps) conversations going.

    Being friendly to me means wanting to take part in the conversation, either by participating or broadcasting links to get to it. Hopefully, these things are done so in a thoughtful manner rather than just being friends calling each of awesome. My $.02

    -@vedo

  6. June 29, 2009 9:07 am

    David – Exactly the point I was trying to get across. Your community is too important to your personal brand – and you can’t abandon that.

    I really like Richie’s approach – and I have seen him execute it flawlessly.

    J- You always make me think. Thanks for reading.

  7. June 29, 2009 9:08 am

    Heather – I liked your point about balance. I think that is imperative not only with your online/offline brand, but just in general as well – especially in the PR field.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. June 29, 2009 9:09 am

    Ryan – Creating champions – I like it. I also like how you compared public relations with personal brand – you hit it spot on.

  9. jaykeith permalink
    June 29, 2009 9:32 am

    Richie I’m 100% with you. I think that if someone does have interesting posts/case studies/pictures/etc. that are relevant and useful then they should absolutely be passed along, forwarded, and subsequently praised appropriately. Like I said, it’s all in the results. In fact that’s exactly how I think someone can build a good personal brand, by being helpful and providing answers, content, etc. Of course you have to interact and be friendly, but you don’t have to blindly pass things along just to fit in. I think sometimes people do this.

    My biggest problem with this fine line in the personal brand issue is the sort of unsubstantiated “such and such is just awesome” that I see SO much of. For me personally, it’s more about substance than anything else. But maybe I’m just seeing more of the fluff than others? It’s possible.

    It’s really very simple. Apple puts out great products, everyone loves them and thinks they’re cool, but at the end of the day, all the hype and media won’t make the product last – it has to be awesome. That’s what makes a brand. If the ipod was always shutting down and breaking, Apple wouldn’t be “the” company in the US, they’d be bankrupt. Same thing for personal branding, if you aren’t providing the goods, then ultimately you can’t succeed. People will figure out that you’re mostly fluff and not substance, and any/all hype you’ve received (from friends or otherwise) won’t mean much in the long run.

  10. June 29, 2009 9:45 am

    Key way to scare the crap out of SM people? Call them. Give them an accolade. Be supportive and offer a comment when you don’t have to.

    Do these things on a regular basis? You will go far.

    • June 29, 2009 9:56 am

      Stuart – You can scare SM people by telling them lots of things. 🙂

      But seriously, great point. It throws them off and makes them re-focus.

  11. Mary Rose permalink
    June 29, 2009 9:55 am

    Great post Lauren. Definitely helpful in understanding how to present and offer myself to the community! And of course follow through…

    ^__^

    • June 29, 2009 9:57 am

      Mary – I’m glad it helped! SM is all about community and how you build it. Make a personal twist on it and you’ll be successful, I’m sure. Thanks for reading!

  12. Jamie Mitcham permalink
    June 29, 2009 10:23 am

    Lauren- great post!

    I asked Dan Schawbel, a self proclaimed “personal branding guru”, this same question last week. I simply asked him how I could avoid the “it’s all about me” stereotype when launching my personal blog. His response was straightforward and simple: you promote other people, while promoting yourself…RT’ing here…linking to someone else on your blog, etc.

    In my opinion, by contributing to the conversation and giving back to your readers with tips and tricks- you can avoid the ME, ME, ME in personal branding and PR.

    • June 29, 2009 10:32 am

      Jamie – Good point. It really is all about balance. People value what you can give them – and then will give back.

      Thanks for reading!

  13. June 29, 2009 11:10 am

    Great post and comments from others. I’ve had trouble with the concept of “personal branding” because in my experience there has rarely been an “I in team.”

    Obviously, it’s critical to have a good reputation — based on work product, personal values like compassion and caring, and work for/with others.

    It’s when it becomes a personal brand and there’s a plan for how to build that brand around me and about me that I have trouble. My reputation/work/personal values should stand on their own because I what I do. It should come naturally and the resulting reputation is good or bad based on my action.

    Maybe it’s as simple as following the Golden Rule. If you do that in life your reputation will naturally be good, and maybe your personal brand follows. I’m just not comfortable with the term.

  14. Elisha Velez permalink
    June 29, 2009 12:07 pm

    Lauren,
    Great post. I completely agree and I believe Busby would agree with you too. This is one question I have asked over and over again but never been able to get a response as great as this. When it comes to branding I don’t want to be over confident, but at the same time I want to sell myself for the great employee I am.

    As I was looking for internships I had the opportunity to have a PR pro at a great agency look over my resume. She suggested I add words like “rock star,” “pro,” and “overly talented.” Needless to say, I didn’t do that. However, it kept me thinking about how I let future employers know that I’m intelligent without sounding like my own personal talent agent. That thin line of knowing when too much “me me me” is too much can be hard for some people to figure out.

    I also commend you on your great advice about keeping in touch with other people. A little care and kindness can go a long way and I think people forget about that. I will be sending out a much over due email to a few people just because you, my mentor, have reminded me. Thanks for the great post!

    • June 29, 2009 1:33 pm

      Hey Elisha – Wow. I can’t believe someone said that. If I was a supervisor and received that, I would think that the person thought they were better than me. And you are right, it’s an extremely thin line.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  15. davidmullen permalink
    June 29, 2009 1:29 pm

    You stand for something in the eyes of other people. They form opinions about you (your “brand”) based on your actions, whether their perceptions are accurate or way off base.

    That means that, whether you’ve been intentional about how you act or not, you have a personal brand. When people see or hear or read your name, they immediately relate it to something. That’s why I don’t get the “down with personal branding” from some folks.

    You have a personal brand. Make sure it’s a good one.

    • June 29, 2009 1:32 pm

      I really like your comment D Mullen – if only because it is a good thing to have a personal brand. People either believe you should have it or just do away with it – but you can have a personal brand without even realizing it. People associate many things when they hear my name – and thats what happens when you build a community. It’s all about balance and showing the best person you can be.

  16. June 29, 2009 1:49 pm

    Insightful and powerful thinking here, Lauren. I am certainly sharing this with my students.

    I’m concerned we may be too concentrated in our own culture and what personal branding says about that. Aren’t we, as communicators, open to hearing much more about others who don’t think like we do? Perhaps the “me” gets lost in that, but it certainly helps you build a stronger and diverse community.

    Not sure I agree with jaykeith’s comments … yeah, let your work speak for itself and many more of those cliches. But, if no one knows about your work, who will care? He also says that the work should be judged in an “unbiased way.” I don’t know how you go about singing praises for anyone without being biased. And, more importantly, how can you possibly judge anything without some bias?

    Lastly, I am guilty of being one of those professionals who likes to acknowledge colleagues’ work time and again. I think it’s important for those of us in PR — who often work behind the scenes — to recognize our own colleagues who we believe do great work. And, yes, it’s biased recognition.

    • June 29, 2009 1:52 pm

      Hey R-

      I definitely agree with all of your points. I think you should acknowledge others work – because how else will anyone know about them? I am more likely to read something that has ‘endorsement’ than a shameless self promoter – and that is building their personal brand. Also, it causes others to remember my name and my brand. It’s only a win-win: and it’s how you should behave. Not everything is about you.

      Great thoughts for me to chew on. Thanks for reading!

  17. June 29, 2009 3:40 pm

    What great dialog and conversation taking place on this subject! I totally agree with the point that Heather made on the very first comment, “perception = reality.” I think the most important advice we can give anyone (online or off) is to be themselves. David Armano (@armano) said it best during a presentation I heard here in Chicago last fall, “social media amplifies your personality. If you’re a real jerk (not the exact description used) in real life…you’re a massive jerk on social media.” This may seem like too much of a canned answer, but I really believe this to be the case. For example, how many people have you met in real life that seemed to be so outgoing and conversive on Twitter…only to find out they are really not that way in person?

    Great post and hope everyone can do a good job of “keeping it real” here on social media as well as in real life:)!

    -“Batt Cave”

  18. June 30, 2009 9:11 am

    Spot on, Lauren! Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?

  19. communikaytrix permalink
    July 2, 2009 12:21 am

    Lauren – I’m surprised this would stump you considering I think you do so well with your personal brand. In mind opinion, you’ve branded yourself a very knowledgeable, generous, engaging and funny PR practitioner and person. Next time you get that question, just use yourself as a case study.

  20. July 4, 2009 6:47 am

    Thanks, R. I sometimes think using yourself as an example can come across as arrogant, and I don’t want to do that. I just always try to be me – and I think thats a big key in personal branding.

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