Social media has turned every one of us into a brand. What does it mean and what can we do with it?
A few days ago I was attending one of Jeff Pulver’s Breakfasts. At some point, Jeff stood up and said a few words. He talked about how today in the social media era, each and every one of us is actually a brand. Yes, a brand.
Long gone are the days when the term “brand” was associated only with a company, product or celebrity. Today, everyone of us can be and actually is a brand. Social media gives the individual the right tools to create and build his or her own identity and message. Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn are just few examples of the many services that enable people to create profiles and connect with each other. And when we use these tools, we can have people following us, tracking what we say, do, love and share.
Why do you need to care about this? Because as you read, all kinds of people are looking for you and trying to get information about you. It can be friends, colleagues, customers, users, the HR manager that is going to interview you tomorrow or a someone who is considering doing business with you. You can easily be found, and the way that you choose to position yourself will determine the impressions that others will get.
Brand Equals Money
Building a strong brand has another aspect that makes it even more interesting: it’s becoming a target for advertisers, thus allowing you to monetize your brand. For example, Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and as a result many people became his fans. All of a sudden advertisers were chasing after him to advertise their products. Phelps became a lucrative brand – at least until recently. The same thing will happen to those who become an online brand, only building an online brand does not require any superhuman skills, just a good utilization of those online social tools. The choice is in your hands and it is accessible and possible today more than ever. If you’re smart enough to build a strong brand that will reach and influence a lot of people and position you higher in the social graph, sooner or later there will be a monetary value to your brand.
An example of a social network diagram. The node with the highest betweenness centrality is marked in yellow
What Kind of Brand Are You?
Now that we understand that building a strong brand is important and can be very rewarding, what are we going to do with it? How do you build a good brand? Where does one start and what is the right thing to do?
Actually most of us already have a brand. First, your name can most likely be found on Google. Your own search result will probably show the tip of the iceberg that is your brand. Next, you have accounts all over, in social networks like Facebook or MySpace. You may have a twitter account where you can share short messages. You may be blogging and creating content. You comment on other people’s posts. You have a Digg or Reddit account and you rate content that you like. You have a LinkedIn account where you can present your professional self. And these are just few options from the sea of options lying ahead of each individual.
When I say you have accounts, I assume that you have accounts. If you don’t use these social tools you are probably not being part of this game. In addition, if you do have these accounts and you are not active enough, this is also like being out of the game. Back to Pulver’s speech, Jeff asked that all attendees with Facebook accounts raise their hands. Of course, almost everyone raised their hands. He then asked only those who update their status in Facebook more than twice a day to leave their hands up – only a few people still had their hands raised.
The idea is simple: if you are updating your status more than twice a day, people will remember you and notice you. You are being heard much more than someone who does not update. The chances that people will connect with you and follow you are increasing, assuming that you are not spamming of course. After all, updating your Facebook status is a form of communication. When you communicate, it’s more likely that others will feel free to communicate with you. It’s the same as going to a party. Who has a better chance of talking with someone he does not know? The one who just stands there, or the one who is all smiles and dares to throw in a sentence here and there?
Being active is important. You need to operate your social accounts and you need to be smart about it. Every tool has its own unique communication method and you should be familiar with the purpose of each communication tool and how to properly operate it. A few examples of how I use them: My Linkedin profile is my pure professional presence. It is my online resume and I use it when I need to contact someone for business purposes. I use twitter for sending messages, but I keep them relevant to the masses, and I never use it for personal messaging. Twitter is a close cousin of IM and it could be very tempting to chat there. I personally think it is a mistake since it generates a lot of noise and eventually people become very tired of following a noisy person. Facebook is something that has a more personal touch and this is the place that I allow myself to expose more of my personal life.
This is just my interpretation of how to use these tools. This is what works for me in achieving my branding goals. Of course, everyone can see it from other perspectives and use then to achieve different branding goals. The important thing, in my opinion, is that as long you are aware of the consequences of your actions in the social media world, and as long as it takes you to the place you want to be, that’s fine. I would be happy to hear your different uses of the social media tools in the comments down below.
Who Are You?
How many people are following you? Who are these people? How often do you tweet? What kind of messages are you spreading? Are they ordinary day-to-day updates or are they messages that add value? Same for comments: when you leave a comment, are you just saying if you liked or disliked the post, or are you maybe adding value by mentioning an idea that hasn’t yet been raised? When you post content, what are the topics that you are writing about? Writing on a certain topic will position yourself as an expert in that area. What kind of language are you using? Street language? Academic? Simple? Sophisticated? Where are you getting published? Is it a respectable online property or is a self-made blog where you do your online experiments? And perhaps most important of all, what kind of feelings does your online presence generate inside the people who get exposed to it?
The answers to those questions are the essence of your brand. It tells a lot about who you are, at least online. When someone will be looking for you or accidentally find you, this is the impression that he or she will get. This is what they will know about you. You can decide today how are you going to be branded.
People-oriented advertising is just one step around the corner. Soon advertisers will look for those people who play a major role in this social graph and offer them benefits for marketing their services and products. After all, what is stronger than a recommendation from someone you know and trust? Where will you be when this happens? Will you be ready?
We are living in exciting times where the individual has more power than ever to be seen and be heard. Without even leaving our houses, we have the ability and the right tools to become an online celebrity, an online brand. Use it wisely and this will happen.