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?

  • Abby Shaw

    I’m working on this right now at my Company (note the capital C). My response to this was so vigorous that I’m linking to the post here, rather than re-creating it. Because I am working on it professionally, I welcome any contacts from those with useful points of view.

    Here’s the direct link to the relevant post:

  • Abby Shaw

    Sorry, I misspelled the Abby Shaw link — use this one.

  • Fayza

    I work at Schipul – The Web Marketing Company in Houston, TX, and our CEO encourages – as does our “corporate culture” – the proliferation of our personal brands.

    My boss recognizes the risks you mention above. Sure, some succumb to them. He has hired smart people, and intelligent people are always looking to grow and develop themselves professionally. He even acknowledges that sooner or later, this grouping of intelligent people will probably fly out of his nest. So he invests in us as people, and tries to make us the best we can be, as individuals.

    As a result, and speaking from my own observations, we are incredibly loyal to our boss and this company – and each other. He doesn’t try to stifle us; he wants us to reach our maximum potentials at his company and beyond. We know he cares about our personal growth – how many employees can say that about their bosses? We are lucky that he takes the time to invest in us as much as he does the company. We know we are his most valuable resources.

    And when it’s time for me to leave – which is probably inevitable, considering the trends of my generation – I’ll know that I grew as a professional as a result of a boss that truly cared about me as a person. The tighter you try to suppress something, the worse it’s going to want to get away from you. So why cling? Perhaps it’s a bit of reverse psychology, but hey, it’s working for us!

  • Geoff Livingston

    BL: What has Scoble’s work led to for MS in social media? What are they doing now? What happened after he left. A big fail. That is not a good legacy for their corporate social media effort.

  • B.L Ochman

    Geoff- whose fault is that? Microsoft’s, not Scoble’s.

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  • billy bicket

    Great post, Jeremiah.

    I find this quote:

    [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]

    Absurd. Arrogant. Naive.

    Prediction: In 2009, brilliant companies will encourage their employees to unleash personality, passion and creative energy into the world in ways we have yet to see. The great ones will subsidize the employee’s side projects.

    Meanwhile, industrial age companies will continue to waste $ talking about the ‘risks’ of such behavior, developing policies that get hacked. As Paul Graham eloquently noted in this essay , there are ‘costs’ involved with designing against personal expression, too.

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  • jeremiah_owyang


    What makes your think Microsoft’s social media program has failed? Channel 8, 9, and 10 are still around.

  • Joe Ciarallo

    Hi Jeremiah,

    I run into the personal brand “dilemna” all the time. Mostly because I’m both an editor at for their PRNewser blog and a PR practitioner at the Horn Group.

    Given the blog, I’ve definitely developed what some may call a personal brand, although I like sticking with good old fashioned “reputation” as per Geoff Livingston’s comment.

    To your above points, I believe most forward thinking companies will go with “option four” let personal brands proliferate. However, especially at large companies, you’ll often see these voices “aggregated” on a newsroom page. (

    What better way to show the collective voices of your employees? On my agency’s blog, we do the same, aggregating blogs of employees, our clients, and of course our blog roll.

    Anyone who claims to have this all “figured out” is just not living in reality. It’s a case by case basis kind of thing, but I think you provided a good lay of the land in this post.

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  • Todd Biske


    I posted my thoughts on this at my own blog:

  • Mike Proulx

    People need and want to feel valued – period. Companies that actually get (and foster) this most basic human need keep their star employees for much longer periods of time. It’s companies who don’t get this who are paranoid about losing talent – and they absolutely should be.

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  • Chris Kieff


    An excellent post a usual. One example of the 3rd Reaction is running right now on our blog where we are running a series of videos of our clients talking about how they have used our products and the challenges have they faced in implementing social media.


  • Clay

    I think it’s great that people can put a face to the organization by employees building their own personal brands within a company. We encourage it because we all benefit from it.

    The worry that companies have about their people being poached due to their personal brand should make businesses more accountable for creating a great work environment and giving them fair compensation and perks.

    In my own experience, the reason for wanting to leave prior jobs is because I was unhappy due to being mistreated and undervalued and not afforded the flexibility. The minute you start valuing your employees, letting them spread their wings, and setting up a plan for them to be rewarded, results come and businesses flourish.

    Now, I do base that on my own experience with one PR firm and then leaving with one of the co-founder to start my current firm. We have profit sharing and some other perks like genuine flexibility that keeps morale high and motivated because if a client is happy the whole team will be rewarded due to our business model.

  • Tom Martin


    If Forrester was paying you well, letting you have ample room to grow the company as well as your personal brand, and in general treating you as the reputable adult you are… why would you ever leave?

    Employees, personal brand or not, leave because employers fail them…fail to allow them to reach what the employee feels is his or her future.

    Companies need to stop playing defense and play offense. If you have a franchise player (with a powerful personal brand) then feed them. If they want to be a rockstar, and they can be a rockstar, let them. Otherwise, someone else will. And then you as the company create the self fulfilling prophecy — the departure of your personal brand employee.

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  • Laura Norvig

    Wow – amazing conversation here. I work for a nonprofit and as Beth Kanter pointed out, we tend to gravitate towards the faceless option, but I’m intrigued by your mention of the second reaction and the Dell and Oracle approach of fusing employee and company. I think Jonathan Colman did that well for the Nature Conservancy.

    I feel a bit schizophrenic after building my own network of nonprofit movers and shakers who are on social media and now having to build it all over again with separate accounts that represent my organization. However, as Karl Long pointed out in a great comment above, it really is all about the networks. That is especially true in the nonprofit sector.

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  • Todd Defren

    Got some personal branding I could borrow? :)

  • John Welsh

    Actually I am asking our senior management team to start thinking the unthinkable – in the future, should we only consider candidates for jobs with respectable social media footprints? If so, what is respectable?

  • Wendy Marx

    You obviously touched a nerve with the tremendous response and your great post. I think many companies still have one foot planted in 1950s when the organization ruled and employees were simply cogs in a wheel. As the responses indicate, change is coming from the bottom up and companies won’t be able to get younger employees unless they change their tactics.

    And, as many folks indicated, personal brands can only make a company stronger. As has been said before, “Who wants to communicate with a Coke bottle?” People want real people behind a company.

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