Your personal brand is about you. It defines what you can do, who you are, and what you offer to the world – and its consumers.
However, you don’t operate in a vacuum. There are an ever-expanding number of potential clients, competition, and colleagues that you deal with on a regular basis. You are associated with these people over and over again on the Web every time anyone does a Google search. Add those hits to the association you have in every day business, and you are – whether you work in the midst of a business district or from your kitchen table – part of a very recognizable community.
You know how hard it is to manage your personal brand. Creating buzz, maintaining your look, and constantly building on your reputation takes skill and concentration. In order to be successful, you have to stay on your toes by getting your message out via blogs, your Web site, and the media. You also have to evolve almost daily by staying on top of what others in your field do and staying ahead of their games.
Although the cheap access to an audience that is afforded by the Internet is invaluable, it also means your brand is under constant scrutiny. That means that mistakes, missteps, or missed opportunities will be noticed by your audience – and that can hurt you.
That’s why it makes sense to develop relationships with colleagues and consumer groups. These people can expand your network and make you appear larger and more credible. In addition, they can serve as a buffer – you may have weaknesses that can be balanced by a colleague’s strengths and vice versa. If you miss a news event, your colleague may be able to step in and comment, giving you the opportunity to appear to weigh in even if you were on vacation in the jungles of Brazil with no mobile phone coverage.
Think of large companies that work together to form lobbying groups. They are certainly not hoping to share competition even between themselves, but they do see the power of working in numbers. Tobacco and insurance companies for years have worked in this way; they have mutual interests and they will address those publicly, together, when it makes sense to do so.
Consumer groups or critics can also become your best friends in building a personal branding network. These people can tout the validity and quality of your service or product, providing potential clients with an understanding of your brand that could encourage them to skip right over the competition and turn to you.
It goes without saying that you must be very, very careful in building your brand network. If you choose even one “buddy” with a questionable reputation for work and no response for their weaknesses, you could wind up harming your personal brand. Your brand network partners must also be as committed to the reinforcing your circle as you are; you can’t spend time working to promote them without gaining the same benefits yourself.
I find that it makes most sense to invite people to work with you and, right up front, outline what role you’d like them to take and what role you hope to assume. If there is not a clearly delineated sense of responsibility right from the beginning, it goes without saying that someone will drop a ball. This will result in hurt feelings that could backfire; you don’t want to end up with an online enemy who is going to constantly be on the attack.
Watch the Internet and what people in your field say. Watch closely and there is no question that you will see people who share your philosophies. Approach them by commenting on their blogs, or simply sending an e-mail with an observation or two about something they’ve written or said. From there it will be very easy to determine whether this person is even open to suggestion, let alone partnership.
If you can strike up a few friendships this way, you can build a personal brand network that will bolster your brand. Just remember that taking this important next step in your branding effort will require some extra work and unflagging loyalty.