How Companies Respond to the Risks of Personal Brands

Some companies are wary of personal brands
Last week, I spoke to a social media strategist as a very large consumer packaged goods company, he expressed to me over this client call (called an inquiry) that he was concerned about employees getting too popular due to their personal brands and as a result, getting pulled right out of the company.

[Despite that social technologies can improve customer relationships, the risks may be too great for some companies to bear, as a result, some corporations will shy away from allowing employees to have personal brands]

Personal brands can bring trust to monolithic corporations
In the age of transparency and conversation, brands know they need to join customers where they are, and that often means in social sites where real people are having real conversations –it’s about building trust. As a result, social media marketing continues to be adopted by brands; I help them daily.

Examining the risks of personal brands
Personal brands are indeed a powerful tool, for one, it’s helped me get my current and previous job, and it will likely be a factor for my next, however there are a few risks to brands:

Risk 1: The personal brand is a cost to the company: Why let employees build their own brand on the dime of the company or leveraging the brand of the employer?

Risk 2: The now popular employee is likely to get poached: Perhaps a common concern I hear is that competitors can easily identify the stars, and hire away these folks along with their market reputation and google juice.

Risk 3: Employee exits leaving a chasm to fill: In the modern workforce, we hear less of lifetime employees seeking pension than we do of job migrants, or career gypsies that move from company to company every few years. As a result, after they’ve built up trust with the market using social tools, they leave the company, and a gap is left that the brand can’t fill.

How companies respond
Brands respond to these risks in a number of ways, I’ve categorized them based on level of sophistication.

First Reaction: Keep marketing faceless: Lean on traditional marketing, avoid human voices to come through.

Second Reaction: Approach with team or hybrid approach: Rather than encourage personal brands, you may instead see corporate team blogs that have an equal weighting to employees. Another example is with Dell and Oracle employees who fuse their name with their employer –it’s both personal and professional.

Third Reaction: Let the customers be the product face: Perhaps the most sophisticated way to market a product isn’t to put your employees on the product blog, but instead, your customers. I don’t see too many examples of this currently, but you can expect this to be an approach in the future.

Fourth Reaction: Allow personal brands to proliferate: Some companies allow for employees to create their own blogs, generate revenue on their blogs, and be who and what they want.

Portable brands desirable in the age of career gypsies and job migrants
It’s rare to hear of the life long employee who retires after 40 years of service with a fat pension, in fact many workers today move from job to job –even more frequently in the tech industry. In the end, personal brands within the enterprise are inevitable, just ask Dan Schawbel if anyone wants to track new talent, or hire Generation Y, they’ll have to accept that individuals will have personal brands and they are portable. In fact, recruiters are often seeking on forums, blogs, and social networks to seek out talent.

Personal brands here to stay, with increase in adoption during recession
In my recent post, I pointed out that no matter how hard you work, or how smart you are, you can still get layed off. As a result, expect an increase in professionals to be on social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, and using conversational tools like blogs and twitter to promote their offerings. The savvy career gypsy will build this up before they need a job.

Now that I’ve put all the options and variations out there, I’d love to hear what you think corporations should do to protect their resources (brand, talent, and time), as well as build trusting relationships with customers?