Personal Branding Becomes a Necessity in Digital Age

    by Mark Glaser
    July 16, 2009
    Scott Karp built up his personal brand on his Publishing 2.0 blog while working at Atlantic Media.
    Click here or on the image for the full series. Original image by Roman Iakoubtchik on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Click here or on the image for the full series.
    Original image by Roman Iakoubtchik on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    In 2007, Atlantic Media’s director of digital strategy Scott Karp was named one of the 40 most influential people in publishing by Folio magazine. But Folio wasn’t honoring Karp for his work at Atlantic, which publishes the Atlantic Monthly magazine, but was instead fawning over the work Karp did at his personal blog, Publishing 2.0, which covered how technology is changing the publishing business.

    Remember: Whatever happens in Vegas...stays on Google." -- Scott Monty, Ford Motor Co.

    Karp is a great example of someone who worked at a company but also developed his own personal brand, something that’s been in vogue since Tom Peters famously touted The Brand Called You at Fast Company magazine. With blogging, Twitter and social networks as springboards, personal branding has spread like wildfire through media and technology companies, allowing people like Matt Cutts (Google), Robert Scoble (Microsoft, PodTech, Fast Company) Xeni Jardin (Wired, NPR) and Scott Monty (Ford) to expand their influence.


    Karp says he built his brand at Publishing 2.0, using it as a soapbox of ideas and a forum to discuss them through comments.

    “My blog became resume, business card, references, network all in one,” Karp told me. “I would go to conferences, meet people, and find they already ‘knew’ me through my blog — an odd but useful form of micro-celebrity.”

    Through his blog, Karp met fellow blogger Robert Young, who ended up co-founding Publish2 with Karp, a startup that helps journalists share ideas and links.


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    Matt Cutts

    At a time when people jump from job to job (or get laid off from job after job), personal branding is becoming more than just a hobby — it’s a necessity. Matt Cutts, who heads the web spam team at Google and runs a popular personal blog, has become much more than a faceless programmer at the technology giant.

    “When you’re considering switching jobs, even a personal website with a small portfolio of sample work can be invaluable,” Cutts said. “People will search for you online, so it’s important to take part in that conversation, and having your own website can be a great way to put your best foot forward.”

    Dan Schawbel, author of “Me 2.0” and publisher of the Personal Branding Blog thinks that good companies and publishers will give workers the freedom to create personal brands.

    “I read a survey last year that showed that college graduates would spend an average of 1.6 years at their first position, after college, before moving on,” he said. “That number is going to shrink in the future, so companies should focus on results and let their employees own their brand. Smart companies will look at employees as their greatest asset and by allowing them to engage in social media, they will be that much stronger.”

    Balancing Personal with Corporate Brands

    Personal branding in the media obviously predates the digital age, with newspaper columnists going on TV and TV anchors writing books. But now, there’s a chance for many more reporters, editors, marketers and salespeople to use simple digital tools to create their own following online. And the media companies that encourage that — without too many restrictions — will end up reaping the benefits.

    One of the more tech-enlightened newspaper editors, John Robinson of the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, says that when a columnist or blogger builds a “tribe” of followers, it helps the paper.

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    John Robinson

    “Newspapers should encourage columnists and bloggers to build their own brands online,” he told me. “Trust and integrity are two of the coins of the online realm, in my opinion. We know now that it’s no longer good enough to tell people that Joe the columnist is trustworthy. People will determine whether Joe is trustworthy by what he says, what he does, who he associates with, how he talks with others, who he links to, what he links to and who he’s friends with and follows. People develop that sense of Joe over a period of time watching him and talking with him.”

    Jeremy Zawodny was a prominent engineer at Yahoo (now working at Craigslist), but built his own personal brand on an independent blog that gained notoriety — and also caused trouble within Yahoo.

    “When I got started it was a rocky road,” Zawodny told me. “Several years ago, having a public blog on which I wrote about my employer (Yahoo at the time) rubbed some people inside the company the wrong way. That led to a fair amount of criticism and backlash. In the end, after several uncomfortable meetings and discussions and some careful wording on sensitive topics, everyone agreed that it was a positive thing in the long run. One thing that fell out of that was a set of company guidelines so that others would not have to navigate the minefield that I did.”

    Scott Monty, who leads social media efforts for Ford Motor Co. and has a successful blog and Twitter feed (more than 26,000 followers), says people should be careful not to overshadow their brands.

    “If you’re employed by a notable brand, it should always be brand first, self second,” Monty told me. “Your personal brand will benefit from the halo effect of your company’s brand. If you want to promote your own brand, you should should either (a) go into business for yourself, or (b) figure out a way to do it separate from your company.”

    Kathlyn Clore is associate editor for the European Journalism Centre and described herself to me as “20something journalist” who has a personal blog. She said she has limited what she writes about reporting work she has done, and is wary about blogging taking away from work.

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    “The biggest issue for me has been colleagues asking suspicious questions about work-related goals and intentions when they saw me begin blogging about professional topics in January of this year,” she said. “It probably raises the most eyebrows if I’m seen to be dedicating time to my own site/brand/portfolio of work when perhaps I could have been doing something for the journalism centre for which I do most of my work. I’m sure that’s true for others.”

    Keeping Talent On Board

    Even at a time when people are less likely to quit due to the economy, companies are better off keeping their talented workers happy rather than upsetting them with limits. Branding expert Schawbel notes that some media companies are better than others when it comes to tolerating personal branding.

    “Media companies such as Fast Company have completely ripped apart their old website and turned it into a community, while other companies, such as the Wall Street Journal have placed their employees in chains,” he said. “For instance, [the Journal’s] social media policy states that ‘business and pleasure should not be mixed on services like Twitter.’”

    Tom Regan was a longtime editor at the Christian Science Monitor, but now is a Monitor columnist and freelancer due to an editor who didn’t give him enough room to be creative. He says that smart companies that give people space to be themselves have a better change of keeping them on board.

    “If a writer believes they are building something up, and the company has nurtured it, then I don’t think most people would go,” Regan told me. “It’s when they feel that they don’t have that environment that they say, ‘The hell with this, I’m going to do this on my own.’”

    Publish2’s Karp told me that media companies need to value personal branding above all else.

    “In a digital media world where corporate industrial assets like printing presses, delivery trucks, etc. are declining in value, people — reporters, editors, bloggers — are the greatest asset that publications have,” he said. “They should actively cultivate that asset by helping personal brands flourish…You could define social media as the shift from publication brands to personal brands, as media shifts to the social web. At some point a publication brand without personal brands will have very little value to the people who consume that brand.”

    Advice on Personal Branding

    Here’s a roundup of advice for people who want to create a personal brand online:

    “Grab a domain name and work on burnishing your personal reputation online. It’s definitely not the case that everyone needs a blog, but having one place that acts as a face to the world can really help. There’s room for a resume/CV, but also for some writing samples that show off your abilities.” — Matt Cutts, Google (from his Letter to a young journalist post)

    “The importance of building your brand online today is an opportunity to survive this print industry crash, and protect yourself by having an asset you can leverage to get your next writing job, whether you want to be a freelance writer or work as an employee. Personal branding has become mandatory recently, not just something to do to get ahead.” — Dan Schawbel, Personal Branding blog

    “In the future, personal brands will be everything. As newspapers and media companies get smaller and break apart, journalists will be known as much by their personal/professional brand as by the company they work for. Many will be their own company. The quicker you establish a digital brand — I recommend shooting for integrity, trust and authority — the better.” — John Robinson, Greensboro News & Record

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    Scott Monty

    “The microphone is always on. Remember that whatever you do, it reflects on you and your company, if you connect those elements of your life. And in this era, you need to be very careful, as search engines can log all sorts of things. Remember: Whatever happens in Vegas…stays on Google.” — Scott Monty, Ford Motor Co.

    “I would go so far as to say that journalists without personal brands, like journalists without digital and web skills, are going to be less and less employable. If you want to be a cog in the machine, it’s probably not a good idea to be a journalist in a social media world.” — Scott Karp, Publish2


    What do you think about personal branding? Should companies and publishers be more supportive of workers who create their own brands online? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: careers marketing personal branding publish2 publishing

    16 responses to “Personal Branding Becomes a Necessity in Digital Age”

    1. I really enjoyed the article. I find the whole idea of personal branding both a necessity and an opportunity to find ones true voice. Not so sure I found mine personal brand yet but excite about the notion.

    2. Check out this WordPress Theme that’s built for personal branding:



    3. Check out the video by clicking on the TV screen on http://www.marketingbooster.net and be sure to read about the great way to become an expert on line through personal branding.

      Remember MONEY magazine said in there 12/07 issue – “You’re only as good as Google says you are”

      Employee becoming experts should be a good thing for their employers.

    4. If “Time is the new currency” then time spent with the brand, whether it is you or a product is what counts. Engagement has to have meaning, when we get that it counts. And I guess we will see the “Band of Brands”
      As far as news & entertainment goes, I see the future of branded communities around real time interaction which gives all in an immersive way. Streaming video with chat bridge enables real time networking events in an ongoing way, And yes I am building the brand Amsterdam, Pooky Amsterdam.

    5. Great article! Today, personal branding is very important, especially for young professionals. Having a blog (or any other outlet) dedicated to your professional interests shows that you are really passionate about what you do. Just from personal experience, my blog helped me land my first job.

    6. Great article. And I wish more employers would get ‘with it’.

      Building ‘You.inc’ isn’t a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, but it definitely pays more in the long run, as well as being a lot easier and a lot more fun. After all, you will know a helluva lot more about yourself than you do about any job or business or product.

    7. Great article, thanks.

      I am sure that the companies will benefit more and more from their employees uniqueness and that they can be who they really are. I believe that is the true source of energy, potential, creativity and good relationships.

      Personal branding, to my opinion, is a tool to tell people who you are and what is your unique contribution to the business. It validates and manifests the inner knowledge of your being and empowers you to act freely to your full potential.

    8. great article. something i like to remind people is that their brand exists whether they put conscious thought into it or not. you can’t control perception of you, your company or product, but you can control a consistent message. using best practices to design, build and manage your personal brand is without question the most valuable thing you can do for yourself professionally.

    9. Many employers are uncomfortable with the idea that their employees have a “personal brand” because it minimizes the power of the corporate brand.

      But since people buy from people and if a brand is really the sum total of a customer’s interaction with a company, then it follows that the personal brand is really all that matters.


    10. Joan McKniff says:

      By accident, as a retiree newly returned to USA after decades overseas, I’ve founded I’ve developed a small brand in my new city. Have been asked questions by people I might never have met, interact across ages far more than traveling in my own in person circles. It has one of great gifts in this part of my life.

    11. Mark says:

      good post, esp that personal branding is important now, and will be even more important (in the future)

    12. As we enter into an age of web 3.0 thinking, personal branding becomes more important than ever. Like traditional branding, the same rules will apply: strict adherence to the concepts of integrity, authenticity and honesty.

      Only those that are able to align their personal brand, ethics and valuse with that of their company’s internal brand (corporate culture, mission and values) will truly succeed.

    13. Sudhani says:

      Personal branding is more important in the digital age. Planning and promoting your digital assets as a part of your personal brand is more important.

      Matt Cutts shows how exactly you can mix your personal brand with your corporate brand – promoting both the brands at the same time.


    14. Above mentioned traditional approach of personal branding entails personal sales and personal marketing, that can be a dirty business if you don’t deliver what you promise. Dr. Hubert Rampersad is focusing on authentic personal branding. This reflects your true character and should be built on your values, strengths, uniqueness, and genius. If you are branded in this organic, authentic and holistic way, your personal brand will be strong, clear, and valuable to others. You will also create a life that is fulfilling and you will automatically attract the people and opportunities that are a perfect fit for you…..read more http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2009/ca20090929_228578.htm and http://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Personal-Branding-Blueprint-Leadership/dp/1607520990/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1242597283&sr=1-6

    15. Hi! This is awesome blog about personal branding.Personal is essential in today’s web media world.
      Thanks for reading.

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