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Thousands of books, podcasts, articles, online courses and free tips and tricks on how to create personal brands are available with a quick Google search. About two million results will pop up when searching “how to create a personal brand,” and there are just as many about why it’s important to create a personal brand. What is not as likely to pop up is how personal branding impacts organizations.
The typical thinking around personal branding relates solely to the individual. It involves the creation of a persona, most often through social media platforms, compiled of education, certifications and awards. Most business professionals will answer branding questions indicating that their backgrounds demonstrate what they have to offer — their value. While important, it is even more critical to tell the story of the impact your background allows you to have on the lives of others. In other words, it should be designed specifically to make others recognize a need to make a connection.
The added value of employee stories
While organizations invest millions of dollars creating and building their brands to advance the corporate purpose and vision, both on the inside and outside, most fail to leverage employee stories for the benefit of the company. Many company websites still contain the obligatory tabs titled “Our Team” or “Meet the Team” where they highlight the members of the company’s leadership team. However, gone are the days when the website is the only place where that information is researched by potential clients, talent and business partners.
Personal branding is all about evoking emotion in others — telling stories that can help others to survive and thrive, helping them to feel connected to your brand. Compelling stories go a long way toward building trust.
With increased transparency the norm, the most strategic businesses offer guidelines to employees about how they represent their involvement in the company. Every time an employee speaks about the company or posts their involvement with the company online, they are contributing to the company’s story. When they are encouraged to share their personal stories by speaking on behalf of the company with clients, at conferences, in Zoom meetings or elsewhere, they build their own value as an asset and do the same for the organization as a whole. When done well, these stories have the potential of transforming others. Once the transformation is sparked, it builds credibility and authority for the employee. This leads to increased employee engagement and buy-in to the corporate vision and, eventually, to positive brand recognition for the organization. The positive personal branding of employees creates an endless stream of possibilities to attract great talent to the organization, as well.
Personal branding efforts are not a threat to the organization. No one can resist a great story. Stories help grow the business. People love stories. People remember stories. People share stories. Why? As humans, we are hardwired for stories. Stories are what generate emotional responses or connections between people. How your employees portray their involvement with your company can be as, or more influential than your marketing.
People want to do business with people. Organizations are made up of people. Word-of-mouth is generally responsible for driving $6 trillion worth of annual consumer spending — it accounts for some 13% of consumer sales.
When leaders allow, even encourage, their people to tell great stories, they reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce. Engaged teams are more profitable. According to a 2017 Gallup study, The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction, teams that score in the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% lower turnover. Engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence and energy. Employee engagement is the future of brand building. Leaders who treat employees as stakeholders of both their own and the company’s future win. Supporting an individual’s effort to create a personal brand is a vehicle of opportunity when done right.
Balancing personal and corporate branding
The retired Chief People Officer from one of the organizations recognized as a Great Place to Work® Canada was asked about her experiences with building personal brands within an organization. The question was, “Why are employers afraid to encourage their teams to build personal brands within an organization?” Her answer? “It’s about finding the right balance between self-promotion and the company’s interests. There is a fine line between an employee promoting their individual accolades versus a representation of the work of the team and the thought leadership or IP of the company. For example, we had a high-achieving employee who continually pursued and collected awards. Early on, it was really great recognition for both the employee and the organization. However, over time it took on a life of its own and we had to take a more thoughtful and strategic approach around individual award endorsements. In this case, we finally ended up asking the employee to stop applying for awards as the accumulation had really become self-serving, misrepresentation of their skills with little to no benefit to the organization.”
When clear expectations are established, not only for the individual but also for the organization, everyone can be more strategic about their efforts and the anticipated advantages. A Chief Technology Officer in another organization shared his overwhelming hesitation about modifying his LinkedIn profile. He loves where he works and did not want the organization to misinterpret the intention of an updated message as soliciting for a position with a competing organization.
When communication between organizations and employees is concise and clear on strategy specific to personal branding and guidelines are established, it opens the door for employees to feel like the companies they work for are going above and beyond when it comes to meeting their professional needs.
According to a report by Hinge Marketing, 79% of firms surveyed reported more online visibility once implementing a formal employee advocacy program. Sixty-five percent reported increased brand recognition.
The establishment of branding guidelines
What might a thoughtful and collaborative framework or set of guidelines look like? It’s a training manual, if you will, for building great personal brand stories within the organization that create winning opportunities for both the person and the organization.
Brand identity guidelines help employees understand how they should or should not represent the brand both inside and outside of work. By providing guidance and guidelines on acceptable behavior, employees will think twice about doing anything online if they fear it will cost them their jobs.
Include a section within the brand guide for employees’ personal brand to be developed, similar to how PWC and Deloitte do it. They use workbooks to define the organization’s brand and workshops to help the employees. They provide conversation starters. Well-designed guidelines encourage employees’ efforts by providing video and graphic assets for them to share and control the message online. Their stories involve them correctly delivering the organization’s messages.
Shining a light on branding opportunities
Sadly, the establishment of guidelines and encouragement to blend employee stories with corporate branding is not given the attention it deserves. Invest 15 minutes going to a series of global company websites and scour the “About the Team” or “Our Team” pages. You’ll often see an obsessive focus on those profiles. Then, view the profiles of those same people on a platform like LinkedIn. You’ll rarely see a carryover of the same story or message. When you think about it, most company websites never see the traffic that a social media platform like Linkedin does, but yet so much time, money and resources are spent on the profiles on the team pages and none on the individual pages and are often not tied to the company LinkedIn profile page.
Numbers don’t lie. The average LinkedIn profile gets 222 views. Multiply that by the number of employees in your organization and the opportunity is clear. Team profile pages don’t get the views that team Linkedin individual profile pages do.
So where should an organization align its focus? The attention should be on helping employees focus their branding efforts for the benefit of the organization while empowering them individually for the greater good.
Organizations need to take the time and allocate resources to doing a better job of creating guidelines and frameworks for supporting everyone in the organization to create personal brands in the right kind of way that generates a win for everyone.
Whether you’re a CEO, entrepreneur, an executive, or anyone who has a message to share, establishing a personal brand has many benefits for both you and the organization.