Rise of the Personal Brand
What smart entrepreneurs are doing to make personal social media accounts work for their businesses
by Allison Myggland
It’s time to shun your misconceptions about social media. It’s not just an annoying waste of time used by millennials with narcissistic tendencies and attention problems, although those accounts do exist (hello, Justin Bieber). These days, social media has been embraced by all sorts of savvy people. Politicians are microblogging on Twitter in an attempt to connect directly to constituents, retailers have begun to recognize that shoppers posting “selfies” while wearing their brand is free marketing, corporations are recognizing that a client’s Twitter rant is an opportunity to provide better customer service, and human resource decisions are increasingly made with some input from business reputation websites like LinkedIn. But why would you want to use social media for yourself? So far you’ve managed to get clients and maintain your reputation by hard work, word of mouth and maybe some traditional marketing techniques. It’s true that maintaining a Twitter account, posting your resumé on LinkedIn, and visually connecting with consumers on Pinterest and Instagram will take a level of commitment, so why should you take the time to learn how to be digitally literate?
Social media expert Jay Palter says Twitter and Facebook and the rest are changing how we create and maintain business relationships, whether we like it or not. If you’re in the business of selling, and if you’re in business at all, then you need to learn to become what Palter refers to as a “social seller.” Like the computer to the typewriter and the car to the buggy, social media is a disruptive technology that is changing how we present our products, our businesses and ourselves. Palter has a clear and convincing vision for the future of businesspeople who forsake social media: “If you don’t adapt and don’t develop new skills that are a part of your arsenal of professional business skills, then you won’t survive,” he says. “It’s as simple as that.”
But be clear that social media has evolved way beyond a corporate shill account. To be truly ahead of the curve, Palter says, “It comes right down to personal practice. I’m not just talking about a strategy for your business. Whether you work in a corporation or are a business owner, if you don’t learn how to become a social professional and use social technologies as part of the array of the communication technologies that you use in your day-to-day job, you’re not going to be as successful as if you do.”
For Sarah Jackson, owner of the Office of Sarah, a small, full-service design studio based out of Edmonton, social media provides another level of opportunity for clients to get to know the work she produces and insights into the person behind it. She has Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and manages several other accounts for business and non-profit interests. Her rules for using social media are simple: “Be authentic, use common sense and tweet things that you would read.”
For Jackson, a large part of being authentic means she doesn’t filter her personal life out of her online persona. That may sound like shocking advice to most people since the dominant opinion is that when it comes to social media, you need to put up barriers between your personal life and your business. But for Jackson, those boundaries represent a break in trust. And Palter, like most marketing professionals, agrees that people choose to work with people they know, like and trust.
“Being honest has never hurt my business,” Jackson says. “If anything, people are more interested in you because you have this layered existence, which is interesting. You start working with more and more people who are actually in line with the things you enjoy.” So if your business is in manufacturing, start tweeting about why you love making widgets and extend that discussion to what makes your widgets better than others. Become an online influencer – use your expertise to comment publicly on issues that matter to your business. Do you run an open shop? Use 3D printing? Have you recently renovated? Do you source renewable energy? What’s important to you and your business? Tell us about it. But while you’re at it, feel free to talk about your love of building go-karts with your kids or your dedication to waking up at 4:45 a.m. in the summers so you can tee off at first light, or post Instagram photos of the elaborate cakes you bake for birthdays and weddings, or discuss your involvement in theatre, arts, politics or sport.
Whatever it is that you are passionate about beyond your job, you should be sharing it on social media. “If you present yourself as one-dimensional, people are going to think you’re one-dimensional,” Jackson says. “So if you let people in on a few layers of your life, then people will think, ‘Oh, this person is different than I expected.’ ” And that’s a good thing. With a bourgeoning knowledge-based economy, a lot of businesses are looking to work with people who can solve problems in dynamic and effective ways. If you are able to demonstrate that you are interesting, multidimensional and speak to your expertise, then you’ve got a winning social media strategy that can elevate your business prospects to the next level.
Social media is great for making business contacts and discovering like-minded movers and shakers, and it’s also a great tool to use for internal reasons. Jackson hired an assistant last year, and rather than using an HR company or posting the position through traditional means, she opted to cash in some of what Palter calls “social capital’ and posted the opening to her firm’s website and to her Facebook page. Because the people within her social network were familiar with her work, they knew the posting was legitimate enough to share amongst their social networks. Thanks to her online networks, Jackson was flooded with qualified candidates. Once the posting closed, Jackson further screened all the applicants using their social media accounts to cross-reference the information in their CVs. “It was an authenticity test,” she says. “Are they who they say they are? Are they not?” Ultimately, for one applicant, a lack of a personal social media existence was the reason she didn’t get an interview. “She had a great resumé but then I tried finding her online and I couldn’t find her. It was like she did not exist online. She was instantly off the list.”