You are your personal brand

Whether you like it or not, the fact that you are the leader of your personal brand has lifelong repercussions.

On Tuesday night at dinner, a senior executive of one of the world’s largest global technology companies asked me if he should accept a Facebook friend request from one of his staff. I saw red. A large firm without a social media policy, or without direction for the senior team? It’s a compromising situation. This senior executive needs to make a decision that could have personal repercussions on him and the company — and creates a high and unnecessary risk of offending a member of staff. Beware, we are living in a new age with new rules.

I’m seeing this every day as the owner of a reputation management company, as a friend and as a parent. When are we going to get fully across the risks and the responsibilities around social media? It is so important, that we know what is appropriate on social media sites and what is not in our immediate world of business and our personal lives. The consequences can be dire.

Today, we are captains of our personal brand whether we like it or not. I feel so passionate about it I’ve created a personal branding service called TaurusProfile in my own PR agency. Whether you want to be conservative, anonymous, out there, or have a celebrity status -it is important to “be yourself on purpose”. Your brand is yours to take control of and yours to manage, inside the workplace and out. If you don’t take responsibility -you can be sure someone else could. And this is where the two worlds merge: the personal and the professional. Think of the recent scandals with rugby stars, politicians and celebrities.

So what is your personal brand? It has to accurately represent who you are, who you aim to be and what you stand for. Your brand reflects in the way you dress, speak, act in public, in front of colleagues and the competition, in the media and particularly on social media sites. As in our behaviour offline, there is large room for error.

Define and guard your personal brand

In a world of issues management and crisis communications, as the old saying goes- bad news travels faster than good news. This is exacerbated by the internet and social media, where one poor decision can not only instantly have your personal or corporate brand in ruins, but remember, the web is immortal and postings can remain online forever.

Consider the impact of Twitter alone. More than 110 million people are tweeting, more than 300,000 new accounts are created daily, more than 55 million tweets are sent per day and Australia accounts for 1.8 percent of Twitter’s traffic!

Just last week, US Congressman Anthony Weiner, a strong contender to be the next mayor of New York in 2013 posted lewd photos to a Twitter follower and responded to the scandal with denial, claiming hackers were sabotaging his career. As more allegations were revealed, he was forced to admit he did send the images and would step down from his position. Not only was his behaviour inappropriate for someone in his position, his subsequent lie diminished any remaining credibility.

I feel particularly strongly about this as we enter school holidays and teenagers are left alone while parents work. How do we know what our children or relatives or young staff are posting on social media sites? Their personal brands can be being impacted by a simple misjudgement, a moment of emotional weakness, with lifelong consequences. All it takes is one poor decision on a forwarded photo, or an unkind text and student suspensions or even criminal charges can be the consequence.

Social media is a great social networking tool but it has the potential to be dangerous and therefore needs careful management. In my line of work, I am constantly directing people on how to establish their business or personal brand and social media use is part of this, and like any communication tool, it needs to be used with the utmost respect.

Do use social media. It is exciting, interesting, and a great social and business tool. Just be careful and make sure you understand the risks.

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