Its best not to say anything when there’s nothing nice to say. Or so we’ve been told, growing up. Here’s a new rule: Its best not to say, write, blog or tweet anything where there’s nothing valuable to say.
But in the age of blogging, micro-blogging, Facebook, Tumbr, Pinterest and whatever else gained traction last week, the temptation to go on a social offensive is difficult to resist for both companies and people. But lets be honest – how many of the millions of social voices out there really help an employee or a company build or enhance their brand? (And yes, the irony of me blogging about this subject and then subsequently promoting it via Facebook + Twitter is not lost on me).
Don’t get me wrong – a good personal brand (lets focus today on employees and “personal” brand building and save corporate social branding for another day) brings with it many benefits – both tangible ones such as short and long-term career “insurance” and intangible ones such as respect and increased satisfaction with/at work.
The problem is that the majority of “personal brand consultants” and websites (289,000 hits on Google today for “Personal Brand” and “Employee”) seem to emphasize establishing a social voice as the key to building a personal brand. That, I think is a problem because social media is best at enhancing something that is already there. It doesn’t, obviously, create this “already there” thing – aka the Foundation.
So how to build the foundation?
Think of how you create value in a job (in order):
1. Being good at what you do: The classic Catch-22 is that everyone wants to hire experienced people – but how does one get experience if no one gives them that first opportunity? Anyway, lets assume that based on supply and demand, your school or being in the right place and right time you have your foot in the door. What should you do now? Learn, learn, learn. The better you get at something, the more valuable you become (and the more valuable you become, higher your “indispensability” metric and the more transferable your skills become across jobs).
2. Establishing relationships (don’t indulge in indiscriminate “networking”, which is not very useful): Good relationships stem from likability, respect and trust. All things being equal, people want to work with and engage with likable people (this is true in Presidential Elections, true in Sales and true in our workplaces). Make an effort to be nice to people. Try to understand what people want…which could be different from what they are saying. That takes care of the likability piece. But without respect, likability doesn’t go far. And respect comes from demonstrating value and demonstrating other things like dependability and accountability. In every professional interaction, task or project, demonstrate your skills, dependability and accountability. That creates respect (and trust). And try to meet with and work with people in other teams and other departments also so that you build relationships inside and outside your comfort zones.
3. Becoming good at spotting opportunities in problems: This is super-cliched, but like many cliches, its also contains grains of truth. Waiting for the right opportunities is one way to do it…but rarely do opportunities get handed out on a platter. So – what problems is your company having? What about your manager? Your group? Your team? The nice thing here is that in almost all situations and environments, there are problems and challenges. IF you are able to recognize them, analyze them and solve or even just make them less painful for others, your value goes up. In some environments though, as soon as you offer to help or solve something, you own it. In time, assuming that you respect yourself and your time – you’ll learn when to be quiet and when to pipe up.
If you do #1 very well, #2 reasonably well and at least attempt #3 once in a while – you’ve already created a personal brand and people will begin to trust you and respect you. Eventually, your brand will connote the trifecta of “Skill, Trust and Absolute Dependability” and you will have built a rock solid foundation.
Building that foundation, unfortunately, requires hard work, time and planning.
So take a deep breath and focus on the decidedly dull and un-glamorous business of building the foundation first. Pontification on various topics, issues and ideas using social media can follow next. That approach will enable your social “blah blah blah” to become the icing on top of a delicious and increasingly appealing personal brand cake.