Personal Brands and Corporate Blogging

Jeremiah Owyang, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research on Social Computing, has a very interesting post titled, “How Companies Respond to the Risks of Personal Brands.” As a corporate practitioner with a public blog and a decent enough following to claim a “personal brand,” I thought I’d share my thoughts on this topic.

Jeremiah stated that his personal brand helped him get his current job, and that was the case for me as well. When I originally started blogging, I was a corporate practitioner, however, I did my best to keep those worlds separate. The blog did help me enter the world of consulting, where I knew it wouldn’t be an issue since the company’s CEO blogged, but then when I went back to the corporate world, it was very interesting having this very public view of my thoughts. Like Jeremiah, I think my blog played a key role in me getting my current position. I also hoped that I would be able to continue my public blogging and made sure I discussed this during the interview process.

Jeremiah went on to call out the potential risks to a company, however. He listed three risks:

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.

In my case, I drew some lines in the sand to make sure that risk #1 would not be an issue. I don’t blog from work or even using my work laptop if I have it at home or on the road. I will record ideas for blogs on my iPhone when I run across something in my RSS reader, but I follow those RSS feeds for work purposes. As for getting “poached,” it may be true that someone with a very public persona may get more calls from headhunters. Perhaps I don’t work my network well, but I get a lot more cold calls from headhunters due to talking at Gartner than I do from my blog. Personally, I think blogging may incrementally add a few more cold calls, but LinkedIn has made candidates so readily available, I don’t see this as a big deal. The real mitigator for this risk, however, is the fact that I’m very happy with my current position, and the culture of the company fits both what I want to do as my day job, as well as allowing me to maintain my personal brand. To me, that’s the best scenario. It’s a win for me, and it’s a win for the company. I believe that my blogging helps attract great candidates to my employer. The only reason this works is because there’s a mutual understanding and respect, and a cultural match. It would be a mismatch if a company hired me based on my blog, but then wanted me to stop all outward communication. There may be a time where public blogging isn’t that important to me, but for now it is, and finding a company that is supportive of it is the way to go.

I’ve always tried to be conservative with what I discuss. Regardless of whether you avoid mentioning your company’s name on your public blog and have disclaimers like I do, it’s still very easy to find out who my employer is. I completely understand that I am a representative of my company, regardless of whether it appears on this blog, and that people will associate me with them. If I screw up here, that can impact my employer. If I do well here, that impacts them too. Discuss this with your employer and establish some ground rules. For example, I avoid talking about vendors except in very general terms. Positive or negative comments can damage vendor relationships. In general, my view has always been to limit my topics to areas that I would be comfortable sharing at a local user group or at a conference, avoiding anything that even comes close to proprietary information or anything that could be company confidential. If you’re working for a consulting firm or a vendor, you may be a bit more free to blog, but keep in mind that you have to preserve the confidentiality of your clients. Even if you make things anonymous, someone can perceive that public posting as something similar to secretly recording a phone call but then bleeping out people’s names. If someone did that to me, I wouldn’t be happy.

So, my advice is to find a company that matches your needs but also one that you can contribute to their success. Think about how important your personal brand is to you, but also think about the importance of job security and stability. Find the right balance, get a win-win situation, and don’t assume anything. Be upfront about your desires, what you’ll do to preserve your integrity and the company’s, and establish some ground rules with your supervisor. If you do this, that personal brand can be a win for you, a win for your employer, and lead to a long and successful career.

One Response to “Personal Brands and Corporate Blogging”

  • Todd, you are a successful example of bloggers that help others while being neutral. Though good examples like you exist online, it is really a big issue like Forrester report included.
    I like to think about two blogging categories of blogging: Personal, and Technical.
    For personal blogging: I believe that if the company gives its employees a chance to live, be creative, and express themselves during work; they will not need to blog at all!
    I experience that myself, and most of my blogs are the result of tough days I face during work. Sometimes I really fear my boss(es) get a chance to take a look on my blog.
    Technical Blogging: It is really rare to find blogs that deserve real respect (like yours). I was shocked yesterday when I was reading an entry on MSDN blogs (of course it is not Microsoft
    s responsibility for personal entries) and the first comment was: “Wouldn’t it be better to refer to the original source” followed by a URL. I followed the URL and suddenly, the same exact article (even with figures)!!!!
    However, few respectable people; like you, justifies the evolution of blogs on the internet.
    Thank You

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This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.