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Why You Need To Hire Employees With Strong Personal Brands

Did you ever realize that actors in films are essentially short term employees? The model for big Hollywood films is that actors lend their personal brands to a film as much as their acting ability, and in return the studios leverage those personal brands to get people interested in seeing a film. It is a traditional model, but it works and has for many years. Now think about your business and how you hire new employees or foster superstar employees today. Are you still only focusing on the skills and accomplishments of potential employees? More importantly, how are you treating your current employees who are actively building their personal brands through factors like having a personal blog, being part of online communities and generally having a strong identity online?

The problem with many organizations is that they don’t value personal brand builders enough. Often in the corporate world, as an employee raises their personal brand they are more likely to be treated with skepticism. Called self-promoters (or worse), these growing superstars are often alienated and driven out of organizations by managers or colleagues that feel threatened by them. Of course, some personal brand builders actually are rabid self-promoters to the detriment of the places they work. But the majority are genuinely strong performers who have the ability to use their personal social capital to be even better at their job if you can find a way to embrace them. 

In Hollywood films, the production companies realize that what they are buying (in part) are the personal profiles of the actors in the film. They NEED their "employees" to have a strong personal brands. Sometimes it backfires with high profile meltdowns or personal issues on set. But most of the time it works and everyone makes money. Your business is no different. In the future, the brands that succeed will be the ones who employ the people who have the most social capital. Your next hire should be someone who not only has the right skills, but also a rapidly growing personal brand. The success your business can have in the social media era may depend on it.

UPDATE: Check out this great follow up post from Torley – "How to tell if your personality superstar is a narcissistic egomaniac."

UPDATE: Another good follow up generating lots of discussion from Geoff Livingston on the dangers of focusing too much on personal branding versus substance – "I don’t care about your personal brand."

  • http://creativefusionmedia.wordpress.com Nate Ketsdever | Ethical SEO

    Interesting post. It would be nice to see what the criteria for a strong personal brand are. Some think cool blog design, some think witty content, others think Technorati score. What are the most important elements of a personal brand? Are these all intangibles or are their metrics?

  • http://www.jess3.com Jesse Thomas

    Nathan, id think the criteria would be a blend of real world cred as well as online polish. Most people dont have good looking blogs, so id say if that was your only strength that wouldn’t be a bad start.

    Great post Rohit! I couldn’t agree more. Gary Vee is my personal brand guru, hes given some great speeches about this topic.

  • http://www.rohdesign.com Mike Rohde

    I like the analogy to film-making here. In those cases both studios and actors are bringing their own brand and benefits to each other in a partnership.

    It’s an interesting idea that an employee could not only bring great skills for a job to the table, but also a network and influence within that network as a benefit to the company they’re joining.

    I too would be interested in figuring out what criteria makes for a strong personal brand, hen tying that to how it would benefit an employer.

    Having criteria and the direct correlations to the benefits a company would gain would certainly help strong branders make their case to their employers.

  • http://twitter.com/mleis Michael Leis

    Hey Rohit,

    You bring up an interesting point, and even more appropriate when you talk about corporate culture understanding *where* to exert control.

    The movie system you describe could easily be looked at as “Movies 2.0.” The old studio system certainly looked at Actors like corporations do employees today. What makes an information architect at Comcast any different from a character actor at MGM seventy years ago?

    Since having to relinquish direct control of the personal brands of “above-the-line” employees, movie companies have come to understand that the power of context: acting as a facilitator of the most valuable personal brands and the connections with audiences — is a more valuable position.

    Sounds a lot like what many of us are trying to get today’s companies to see in terms of personal brands and social media contributing to a brand’s overall equity. Losing control in today’s corporate vernacular may be a smarter long-term strategy on dollar-cost-averaging human capital as we lurch into ubiquitous computing.

    After all, there’s no more obsolete technology on earth than “moving pictures.” Yet they’ve ridden the personal brands of their stars to billions of dollars in revenue.

  • http://rohitbhargava.typepad.com Rohit

    Looks like this post is stirring up some great conversation (and disagreement) … thanks to all for commenting here and on other sites. I will definitely post again in the near future on what I think the criteria are for a strong personal brand. In the meantime, just to share one obvious point, this advice doesn’t work if the person doesn’t have the right skills for the job. A strong personal brand is not a replacement for job qualifications, but an added bonus and something that sets one candidate apart from a relatively similar competitor.

  • http://torley.com Torley

    Fantastic observations, Rohit — very simple truths which need to be stated more, because there’s a lack of understanding about this. I hope you’ll continue blogging about this topic.

    I was reading about great personalities in the gaming industry who’ve benefited their companies. Both Cliff Bleszinski (designer) and Tommy Tallarico (musician) have substantially amplified the popularity and presence of the companies and titles they’re associated with.

    I believe more companies need to be aware re: “some personal brand builders actually are rabid self-promoters to the detriment of the places they work.” I see unhealthy fear about this, clamping down on employees who are brilliant personalities and use that as a means to ALSO benefit customer delight and the inevitable profits.

    What a waste of human!

    Very, *very* key to distinguish narcissistic egomaniacs who only look out for themselves vs. people who definitely have a strong personality, but shine a glow, a halo on those around them — boosting everyone involved. They’re power-amplifiers like Ted Brautigan in the Dark Tower or this other fictional example from Heroes: link to heroeswiki.com

    Here’s a real-world example: Marissa Mayer of Google. She’s excellent at what she does, and that’s recognized even more widely because of how she shares her personality (and infectious laugh).

    I count myself amongst the power-amplifiers, and love celebrating the magnificent achievements of the most excellent people I resonate with. :)

  • http://buzzbuilderz.com Bill Lublin

    Rohit; An interesting post, though I’m not sure that I agree with the importance of personal branding as much as I agree with the benefits of hiring people with significant social capital.
    In one of the comments above, a point is made about the old movie “star system”. That system actually created personal brands without capital. There is no arguing that Dietrich, Shirley Temple and others were “brands” but they had no capital of their own since they were “owned” by the studios.
    Perhaps I’m being too specific, but the importance of social capital created through the online actions and reputation of individuals seem to be to have more substance than a “personal brand” which might just be confusing the “sizzle” with the “steak”.
    I look forward to your definition of personal branding, and I’m sure that it will clear up my confusion.

  • http://www.eyeballeconomy.com David Weiner, PR Newswire

    Rohit,

    I think the premise of your post is off. In fact, you could argue (or, I guess, I could argue) that it’s the exact opposite. A company should want to foster their employees’ brand and allow them to speak without being censored. This is how many people become brands in and of themselves. Hiring another ‘brand’ is antithetical to most companies mission statement (which it to enhance their brand).

    DW

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    Agreed! link to is.gd

    The challenge, though, is the idea around “short term” thinking, i.e., the company invests a lot of time/$ into these employees, and can suffer unduly when they leave. It is a fine balance.

  • http://www.eightbar.com Ian Hughes/epredator

    It is a double edged sword in a company environment to build an external personal brand of note. It leads to all sorts of requests to come and talk, becomes tightly linked to the company, yet companies have not evolved enough yet, nor experienced it enough to determine that it has value from my experience. It can often seem a threat to the status quo, bypassing the natural order of things. Most of us though do it all for a common good I think. The web, and our brand are the tools of our trade and the way to organize and work.
    However, for those of us who know its important we just have to get on and trail blaze.
    Of course the biggest threat is the larger organization of people when they come under one new brand, that may threaten the companies brand. Still, it needs to be done :)

  • http://awfulshow.com Nerraux

    This is all beautiful for silicon valley neo-hippies and other people that work at companies with foosball tourneys every Wednesday, but the vast majority of people work for companies that consider their employees worker ants and pay them accordingly. Personally, I’m fortunate enough (after trying three other places since I graduated college in 1997) to have found a place where that is not the case, but even this place isn’t going to foster my creation of an online personae. They’re not going to pay me any extra for it, and frankly, I am yet to see a company where going far over and above even vaguely returns in success. Nothing personal, Rohit, but you might want to re-title this entry to “Why Google Needs To Hire…” Really, I’m not sure even Google can afford me AND my rep.*

    Or what about the flipside? What about the kid coming out of college who may be the second coming but who’s only online representation is a Myspace page that looks like the aborted love child of a drunken affair between YouTube and Teen Beat? Should she be forced to reveal that personae and get rejected on it’s existence? Or if she doesn’t reveal it, get rejected based on her lack of personae? Or should she create a fake one to get the job which would be tantamount to lying on her resume?

    *j/k Google, hit me up, we’ll do lunch

  • http://www.socialcapitalvalueadd.com Michael Cayley

    Rohit,

    I agree and called what you are referring to as “scaled up social capital” in my e-book “Introducing Social Capital Value Add” link to twurl.nl

  • http://www.roederstudios.com Laura Roeder

    Great analogy and I completely agree. I think this will become more and more important as *everyone* starts to develop a visible, google-able history. I had the web in high school so if you dig online enough you’ll actually find my national merit scholar status! These days it is much more difficult to start a job with a blank slate – your web history comes with you so you may as well make stand above the crowd.

  • http://www.bizgrowthnews.com Krishna De

    Rohit – I love the example you use.

    I think it’s important to remember that our personal brand is not just what we say we are but as with brands for products and services, it’s what others say about us.

    For me, having a charismatic personality is not a measure of a strong personal brand. As you mention it’s also about strong performance.

    An example recently in the UK was the BBC’s top personalities Jonathan Ross, who got embroiled in a situation which the viewing public had an outcry about. This has led to him being suspended for 12 weeks and he’s losing over £1 million in direct salary.

    Could they have fired him – yes.

    But they retained him as they know he is someone who brings in the viewers and listeners. And if he had been fired from the BBC, you could be sure there would be someone waiting to snatch him up!

    It was not just his personality that mattered to the BBC – it was his performance that alienated listeners and viewers.

  • Justin Smith

    Well what happens when an employee’s personal brand either A) doesn’t fit with the company or B) it backfires when something in that employees personal life affects their ‘personal brand image’? Or what about employees who prefer to have a separate personal brand from their work life? Does being a player in social media automtically make you an extension of your company’s social media realm/strategy?

  • http://www.ronamundson.com Ron Amundson

    With movies, as you mentioned, its short term employment. Over a longer term ie sitcoms, soap operas, etc, actors can end up becoming typecast, and a blurring of the brand bewteen the sitcom and the actor may end up being detrimental to both. Also when a strongly branded individual leaves, if the personal brand and the corp brand are comingled things can become pretty messy fast.

    There is also the issue of superstars, most entities can only justify a few superstars, either by market focus, or by economics. Ie, if we look at the big 3 automakers, the 10 or 20 major designers out of 500,000 employees fall into the star domain, but the IT staff, HR, Accounting domains dont need, nor could they really afford highly visible, and highly connected superstars within todays business models.

    I do however like what you are saying, and I think the undercurrents of change, ie the old studio model, as contrasted with today in movies, is fascinating. Should employment models end up following the same path as the movie industry did, (and based upon the way the economy is heading… transient hiring of gurus and their teams on demand may be the new model) If it is, strong personal branding will become exceedingly critical for all concerned.

  • http://twitter.com/randallprince Randall Prince

    This is one of the most insightful posts about a topic rarely touched upon, employees. I agree that personal brand is a huge part of what makes someone a hot commodity. As I look at the people around me, I see a huge diversity between those who I see as successful and positively promoting themselves versus those who constantly put themselves into a negative spiral. I personally would say a combination of real-world experience and the method they promote themselves (linkedin, facebook, twitter) as well as the people they surround themselves with (who can provide an incredibly strong statement by promoting someone else). I’d like to see more discussion about this in the coming months as I’ll have to determine who’s brand will represent mine company as strongly as possible.

  • http://kittenlounge.onsugar.com Kimmie

    I think you’re right – what a great post and somethign that we should think about in terms of “everything we touch, does it scream the essence of us”

  • http://blog.vibemetrix.com Chel

    I really enjoyed Geoff’s post and it made me think of yours.

    Some companies don’t need this and some can add value to their business by hiring personal brands. To me, it depends on what their goals are and the ROI they are looking to gain out of such a relationship.

  • http://www.mysuccessgateway.com/guru/podcasts.php Jim Peake

    Great insights, here is my experience. Building a personal brand is great, especially if you pick up some marketing skills along the way, they do cross over into business. Better than building a personal brand is self study. Do what Warren Buffett suggests: INVEST in yourself. Get a mentor or get a coach. And expand your extended network. Simple stuff for complex times. I have found that having skills and experience in wireless, ad networks, direct mail, e-commerce, DRTV, SEO, printing, speech recognition, workers compensation, government sales enables me to pick the industry that is thriving in hard times. I see too many people stuck in long term gigs with 10+ years at the same place….most of them are miserable because they are not learning any more. The exercize of building a personal brand is a good one, easy enough to do and you can do it on your own time schedule.

  • http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/ olivier Blanchard

    “The majority are genuinely strong performers who have the ability to use their personal social capital to be even better at their job if you can find a way to embrace them. [But] these growing superstars are often alienated and driven out of organizations by managers or colleagues that feel threatened by them.”

    Bingo. I see this happen way too often in the corporate world and it drives me batty. Sadly, it’s going to take a few more years before this type of behavior is history.

    You and Geoff have a great conversation going on here. Fantastic comments on both blogs.

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  • http://www.brandstorming.com Jim Durbin

    Great post, Rohit. And excellent comments, so I’ll just add this. There are two aspects to personal branding – the self-promotion and the company promotion. Both can yield good results, but if they are the ends, rather than the means, the value of a personal brand is simply convincing other people you are more important than you are.

    We’re moving past that as more and more people are asking about results, but a strong industry still revolves around theory rather than practice.

    Rohit is correct in that an employee with a personal brand, used correctly, can be of great benefit to a company.

    Geoff is correct that the personal brand isn’t important, the results are.

    The difference is in how the employee is managed, compensated, and treated inside the company. The proof is often found when the employee moves to another company or starts their own. Do they see continued success, or do they fail?

    That’s where you find out just how much value is in your personal brand.