Photo courtesy of Regional Partnership.
There once was a time when having a successful business merely involved putting a quality product, superior to others on the market and waiting for the customers to come. Standardization of products, improved production techniques, and new marketing strategies eventually made branding necessary for manufacturers that needed to distinguish themselves and their products from growing competition.
Just as the market matured back then, today we have seen a significant shift in the way in which business is done. A slumping economy coupled with the advent of the internet and the rise of social media has completely transformed the way business is conducted, necessitating another smart marketing technique for anyone with specific career ambitions: branding yourself.
The percentage of employers checking potential employees’ social media profiles has continued to rise in the past decade, with recent report by Jobvite, an online recruiting website, indicating that 92 percent of recruiters in their survey have already embraced social networking.
“With social media you can find jobs in different ways, you can connect with people you could never connect with before,” says Patrick Ambron, co-founder and CEO of Brandyourself.com. “But on the other hand, on the recruiting end, it gives you more of an insight into the person than you ever had before. Before, you had to rely on a resume and an interview, it was difficult to get a deeper understanding of who [the job candidate was] and how they would fit into your company. Nowadays, it’s just a Google search or a Facebook search and the person can see what you tweet about, what you write about, and what you’ve done.”
Ambron’s site, launched in March, offers a free, do-it-yourself platform for any person looking for a way to manage their online reputation. By putting the most relevant information about yourself at the top of the Google results page, you’re able to make sure potential employers see what you want them to see. The site also offers a novel feature that lets its users know who was Googling them last.
Image courtesy of Brandyourself.com.
“Google is going to be a place where you’re going to be looked up online and you want to make sure you treat it as you treat anything else, and put your best foot forward,” says Ambron.
No longer an issue of simply being qualified and charming, recruiters, job seekers, or entrepreneurs pitted against a harsh economy and a slew of competition must evaluate how they are they are perceived both on and offline, especially given the turn around rate today. The job market fluctuates more than ever now, antiquating the concept of staying with one company for a lifetime.
“If you’re an employer, you’re taking a great risk. It’s far easier to hire someone than it is to let someone go, so you want to minimize the risk given that you don’t have perfect information about your candidate,” says Renée Gosline, a MIT Sloan School of Management professor who teaches an MBA course in branding. “I think it’s a smart thing for employers to do that. Having said that, there are more opportunities for reputation management, but also opportunities for mismanagement.”
Photo courtesy of Renée Richardson Gosline.
Gosline outlines that while the internet can be a tool to improve your employer’s perception of you, it can also tarnish it. Merely having a comprehensive online presence is not enough, when seeking a job or trying to establish your personal brand, it is important to consider how concise your online image is, what it conveys, and how much you need to manage it. Issues, pictures, or opinions once kept private are often broadcast into the public domain via Facebook, so monitoring the amount of information you offer online is essential.
“Much like brands you see in a show or in a store, you need to decide on what your brand is or it will be decided for you,” says Gosline. “Without that thoughtful management, those decisions and those associations will exist, they may just exist without your consent or involvement and really might boil down to something that you don’t feel represents you.”
Finding that “personal branding” is much too vague and shallow a term, Gosline focuses on the concept of social identity leadership with her students, a more complex idea going beyond the thought that “my personal brand is what people think of me.”
She breaks the notion of social identity leadership into four components: differentiation, added value, authenticity, and managing your associations. Personal branding is a tool of differentiating yourself from others, but it is also a way to indicate your potential as an asset to a company. On top of that, you must seem authentic while being thoughtful and deliberate about the way you leave an impression with others, because on a base level, trust is an imperative element in building a relationship with employers or consumers.
This translates to big business as well. There is a reason big businesses invest so much money in advertising and PR. Being viewed positively in the public’s opinion is essential. Gaining this trust is a combination of both objective and subjective efforts. People may understand that McDonald’s, for instance, might not have the best production values, but they still go there and enjoy their meals for a variety of reasons, be it childhood nostalgia, effective advertising, its prevalence, etc.
“Whether you’re referring to people or products, ultimately, quality is largely a matter of perception,” says Gosline. “We know this, my research looks at this and there’s other research that looks at this as well. Basically, the expectations that people have really effect their seemingly objective understanding of how well something happened, or how much quality is there. Their expectations are completely malleable, people have their ingoing expectations, but they also develop expectations based on how you present yourself.”
A blessing and a curse, personal branding will become an institutional strategy in the years to come. At least the more saavy job seeker or entrepreneur can utilize websites such as Brandyourself.com as well as other specific and conscious techniques to get ahead. Only time will tell how this trend in the market will develop.