THE TIPPING POINT OF ‘VIRTUAL BRANDING’ (The Usheroff Institute)

Recently I had the honor to be interviewed regarding my take on the emergence of social media and social networking on the development of a “virtual brand.”

Some might be inclined to dismiss the term virtual brand has yet another buzz word used by the same old marketing firms in an attempt to inject life into traditional media’s sagging fortunes. If you recall from earlier posts and PI Window on Business broadcasts, I have on numerous occasions referenced media industry veteran J. William Grimes’ 2009 prediction that daily newspapers would no longer be in existence within five years, so the challenges are indeed very real.

In fact, and as the title of an upcoming segment in which I am a guest host on the Perfect Networker Radio Show on Blog Talk Radio, this is definitely not the same old song, with a different beat.

Virtual branding (or personal branding for individuals) is a reality of the way in which we as a society now communicate and share ideas. In the following excerpt from The Usheroff Institute’s monthly publication, a number of industry experts (I am always both humbled and honored to be included in such an illustrious category – now if I could only figure out how to program my VCR . . .), provide some much need insights into a very important subject.

By the way, we will be featuring Roz Usheroff’s latest book “Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times . . . and Beyond” throughout the month of March. Roz has been a guest on the PI Window on Business Show, and I have to tell you that she is engaging, intelligent and quite frankly has a firm handle on navigating the complexities of today’s business world.

The Tipping Point of Virtual Branding – The Usheroff Institute

Do you remember the early days of email when people were just starting to wrap their heads around this new medium? Instead of talking on the phone or face-to-face, email allowed people to multitask their communications, freeing up time, and eliminating scheduling conflicts without skipping a beat in their workday.

Initially, results were mixed. Without eye contact, body language and listening for subtlety and nuance, some found it difficult to comprehend both the message and the medium. People had yet to learn the etiquette of email and how to communicate exactly what they meant. In essence, people had to break the code of this new communication medium and script their messaging with astute political savvy and diplomacy.

It seems to me we are at a similar tipping point with “virtual branding.” Some do it very well and some are baffled. Last year at this time, I asked my LinkedIn connections to relate their good and bad experiences with virtual branding and what advice they would give to others.

This month, I asked my panel of virtual branding experts to discuss what they thought have been the most significant developments in virtual branding during the course of the past year.  Here are their thoughts:

Patrick Gladney Director, Social Media, Northstar Research Partners, www.nsresearch.com and my co-panellist at the Women’s Executive Network Breakfast on Personal Branding in January, offers this succinct comment:

“I think that the key to building a successful personal brand in the online space is finding your “community of shared interest” and then offering them something of value. Personal brands operate no differently than business brands – there must be a meaningful value proposition in order to translate awareness into consideration and purchase.”

“Social media tools make it easy for any of us to look as big and credible as the best known brands and companies in the world. By investing a little time and ingenuity, you can make yourself stand out from the sea of faces out there. These days, anyone can be an authority, should you choose to be one. But not many people actually put in the effort to develop their brands and create valuable content for their community — which is great news for everybody that does!”

Yes, Patrick, there has never been a point in time as there is in today’s social media world for anyone to become a celebrity from the comfort of their home or office. But you must offer unique insights and perspectives that deliver value consistently.
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Next, Paul Copcutt, President & Professional Brand Strategist- Square Peg Solution www.squarepegsolution.com weighs in with the shifts and trends he has noticed throughout 2009:

“For most professionals looking to establish some form of on line brand presence using social media, the three main places seem to be LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter because they have established the global ‘muscle’.

LinkedIn: There seems to have been somewhat of a backlash in the use of updating your status. LinkedIn is not Twitter and should not be used that way, so changing your status too regularly and your network might start to get annoyed.

Facebook is rapidly becoming a place to build business networks as well as personal/ social. Best to keep the two separate however by creating a Fan page to direct the professional followers.

Twitter is also becoming a very useful place to drive web site traffic for business. But followers become very tired and wary extremely quickly if all you are doing is plugging your latest offer. They will unfollow very quickly. General rule of thumb seems to be 1 promotional tweet for every 9 value add/comments — but there are no rules of course.

Finally this year in the world of online branding you will be seeing a lot more brand building going on using video. Google likes the freshness of the content and it’s a great way for people who have never met you (and might never do) to get a sense of your personal brand.”

Good crystal-balling, Paul. And I agree about Twitter. Too many 140-character tweets can add up to a whole lot of nothing if you are offering nothing in return. Use Twitter to co-ordinate during conferences and events.
Paul also discusses the bane of social networks, namely the accumulation of friends, connections and whatnots without using the proper filters. It’s not about quantity, but all about quality. Paul suggests, and I agree, that the rule of thumb is the same as before social networks came into being, namely only provide an introduction, recommendation or connection if you know and trust the person and/or have worked with them before.
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The most common query I hear these days is “Why aren’t you blogging.” Good question.

Randall Craig, author and wizard of career planning, networking, and social media www.PersonalBalanceSheet.com, offers a three-stage process that can make light work of the daily blog, one that translates easily to other work:

1) Be clear about why you’re doing it in the first place. Is it to promote a product or service? Showcase your expertise? Or some other reason? If you can’t explain why you’re doing it, then the task will find its way to the bottom of your priority list. Set some goals!
2) Identify your audience – and their needs: Since you’re only half of the conversation, you must know who your target audience is, and what will keep their interest. Only then do you have a chance to get their feedback… and the encouragement to continue.

3) Set up a trigger: This can be as simple as setting aside 20 minutes at a particular time each day to write. Or to write whenever a certain event occurs. The idea is to connect your writing time to something that naturally recurs in your schedule.

Randall continues: “This system (Goal/Audience/Trigger) is useful when it comes to any recurring activity — not just writing blogs or tweets. Writing minutes after a meeting, writing a press release before an event, or sending a thank you after a lunch date, are all examples that can benefit from this approach.”

“Interestingly, once you’ve done the thinking and have documented your system, then you are far more able to delegate the work to someone else, freeing your time for even higher-value activities.”

Very succinct, Randall. Also be aware of “look at me” messages. If you are superficial, or merely broadcast out what I call “look at me” messages, the community will shut you out and down.
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Last, but certainly not least, comes one of my favorite virtual success stories, Jon Hansen of Procurement Insights www.piwindowonbusiness.wordpress.com/.   Jon has broken the mould in the transition from old media to individual connectivity, and now has revenue streams emanating from four blogs, two internet TV shows and one internet radio show. Need I say that he’s got a lot of synergy going on?

Like Patrick’s “community of shared interest,” Jon sees “building communities of purpose” as one of the more significant advances people are making in virtual branding.

“If you build a community of purpose shared by 10-15 people, they will each share it with 10-15 more, and within a short time you will have created a hive concept or a cross-pollination of networks that goes viral, and your brand presence will keep popping up everywhere. You will have mastered the element of ubiquity.”

According to Jon, now that we are more comfortable with how we use social media, we have now embarked upon what he calls “conversational marketing.”

“What you believe in comes through in social media even if you’re not there in person.
To my mind the most important development in 2009 was the advance in people’s understanding of what social media is and how it is useful. We are learning to use applications that make unfiltered information available to everyone. They decide what is important, as opposed to the old model of broadcast or print telling us what is important.”

One caveat that I know my experts all agree upon: Make sure you lock your virtual brand down! Your brand depends on your credibility, so you can’t leave your social or business media unprotected, or even your communication device. We’ve heard the horror stories of misguided or hijacked Facebook pages. If you let someone Twitter on your account or text on your cellphone, you could be doing irreparable damage to your personal brand.

And… never forget that face-to-face networking builds your professional network, and blogging can never replace a comforting voice over the phone.

Thank you again to the Usheroff Institute for providing this important look into Virtual Branding.

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