Where The Personal Brand Falls Short

ScreamingThe concept of the “personal brand” is still quite controversial. Not in whether it’s possible to build a significant personal brand (it clearly is), but in whether it’s the right thing to do.

Over the past few years we’ve seen lots of people develop strong personal brands through social media, and levered those brands to develop their careers.

Recently, I’ve noticed what seems like an increasing use of auto-reply emails by many people with strong personal brands.

They usually read something like this (but far more eloquent):

“Thanks for your email. Please note that it may take me a while to get back to you, as I get a large volume of email.”

I got to thinking about a fundamental problem with big personal brands (this isn’t a shot at people with them – just exploring the issue):

*You* aren’t scaleable

The problem with building a strong personal brand through social media is that you are the brand – not your product, service or company. That means that as it grows, you get additional attention. Unfortunately, your time can’t scale to go along with the additional attention.

Something has to give. You have to either lengthen your work day even more, find efficiencies somewhere, sacrifice some other element of your day to handle the flow or start to lose the connection that likely helped to build your brand in the first place.

*You* can’t be delegated

Can you offload some of this work to someone else? You can, but you are the brand, not them. That means people want to connect with you – they want to work with you; they want your input.

Over time, in my own small way, I’ve wrestled with jamming 28 hours of activities into a 24 hour day. Meanwhile, I’ve watched as much higher-profile people have wrestled publicly with this problem. Almost uniformly, they’ve been forced to cut back on the interaction that built their brands in the first place.

Can personal brands be a liability? Is it acceptable for people who’ve built their careers around connection to disconnect slightly? Or is it an understandable side-effect of success?

What do *you* think?

(Image credit: ralaenin)

44 Responses toWhere The Personal Brand Falls Short

  • Indeed it is a hard balance. Think we have seen on twitter this effect, but it’s true of anything that gets larger, your brand or business. The business can grow but it will also loose much of what made it popular in the first place.

    I think people are also mistaking personal brand success by aligning it to number of followers, friends etc. It’s not the number but the value of connections and links that can mark success, but on the whole we are still working with old-school metrics.

  • Clones Dave. Clones.

    Just think of what we could do with 10 Dan Schawbels…

  • jwestera
    ago11 years

    Very interesting concept. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • Dave – it’s a fair question to ask and not an easy one to answer.

    Unless you are on vacation having an autorespond e-mail immediately smacks of dis-connecting from your personal brand and lowers peoples perception of you almost immediately. It also sets people up for expecting an immeduiate response – auto or not. Better to reply in time than auto and then leave a long gap in between robot and person.

    Assuming that the strong personal brand has leveraged all this great brand in to some kind of monetary pay off they will have to look at investing in a support function that can handle some of the more standard requests. You just have to take a look at what Tim Ferris has been able to accomplish and still seem to be very accessible and approachable to know it can work. The skills is setting up the right systems and more importantly the appropriate ‘on brand’ response that will ensure consistency of brand experience.

    Also people need to be realistic, we are all human, we want balance of some sort and sometimes we drop the ball. And when someone I want to tweet has thousands of followers or a highly commented on blog I am okay with it if they do not get back to me everytime.

    Just my toonies worth.

  • I think you make some great points here. My personal downfall is trying to be too many things to too many people – and I’m guessing that’s where a lot of people fall short as well. You’ve got to get behind your strengths, and realize that you can’t do everything, and let it go.

  • Personal brands really bug me. There are a lot of so-called experts out there who tweet and blog so much that I wonder if their everyday job suffers…

    I spend my days worrying about the brands of the company I work for. My personal brand takes a back seat. I don’t have the time to maintain it all day and do my day job.

    Am I missing something?

    • It may be that a lot of the tweeting and blogging is part of their job, Jessica. Many use these platforms to both build and maintain business, both physical and relationships. It’s almost (almost!) like saying a baker makes too much bread. Possibly, but if it fits the role and needs… 😉

    • I would also add that many people undertake these activities in their spare time. For example, (while I’m no A-lister) I write 99% of the posts on here in the evening, not during my work day.

  • Personal branding online seems to be a necessity to gain recognition these days. It takes passion, commitment and consistency to establish and maintain. If the “brand” needs to be communicated by someone else, the same image and content are essential to keeping it authentic…if that’s possible.

  • C. Zimmermann
    ago11 years

    When it gets to that point, you basically have two choices: either acknowledge on your website that you just can’t respond to everyone, or hire someone (or many) to help you. Gary Vaynerchuk has nicely compartmentalized reasons you might “want Gary…” with appropriate email addresses attached. A word to the wise: if you hire an assistant to answer via email or social media, be sure to provide specific guidelines. A friend of mine was handling a facebook account for a candidate’s campaign for union president and innocently “friended” the guy’s former flame. Needless to say, things got a little hot at home.

  • I think the personal brand can be strategically scaled to whatever heights you want to scale it to. I mean, look at Jim Cramer, for example. He is a personal brand, but he scaled it to enormous heights by starting TheStreet.com. Maybe the key is being able to successfully transition your personal brand into a service/umbrella of some kind. You then become the spokesperson for that service (which depends greatly on you) but your time involvement is much less.

  • Heather Whiting
    ago11 years

    I was at an information session yesterday and heard two separate stories of people meeting their idols at conferences and coming away from the experience terribly disappointed.

    One was an expert on networking who had made claims that he ‘Never turns down a coffee” – the other was an extremely well-known environmentalist.

    In the first story, the networker agreed to have coffee but later blew her off. The environmentalist refused to sign a woman’s business card claiming ‘he doesn’t sign business cards’. She had been excited to share with him her efforts in creating a business card that was made entirely from recycled materials – I think ink also.

    In both of these stories though, it seemed like these men had built their personal brands to a scale where they are unable to keep up with the demands of those who follow them. In both of these stories, it sounds like they were overwhelmed with personal requests and because of this, people are telling roomfulls of people that they are jerks. Sounds like a liability to me.

  • There’s a definite tipping point where you physically can’t keep up, Dave. Like you say, you need to make the decision what gives – this comes down to where you need to spend your time, as opposed to where it might be wanted (the two aren’t always exclusive to each other).

    Ironic, isn’t it – as you “climb” the social media ladder, you actually become less social by definition. Who woulda thunk’d? 😉

  • Lisa Gibbens
    ago11 years

    Hey Dave,

    Reading the frequency of your posts I’ve often wondered where you found the time…

    But to your point, I’m not sure it’s that different from RL. Take any service that’s based around an individual… lawyers, doctors, even hairdressers! When they reach a certain popularity, they have to start being selective in who they serve, and/or hire people to support them.

    I just made an appointment to get my hair cut (I can’t see where I’m going – a definite sign that I’m overdue!). If I want John Donato to cut my bangs, I have to wait and I have to pay $$ for it. Or I can go to one of the stylists at his salon and get it done faster and cheaper. Sure, it won’t be as good as if John did it himself, but I trust that the stylists at his salon will be good. John manages his personal brand by setting a price point and waiting list that keeps his workload manageable and his client list somewhat exclusive. He confers some of his personal brand onto his staff, and by hiring good staff he maintains the quality of his personal brand.

    Of course the challenge with social media is that we haven’t figured out how to monetize it yet. No money = no paid staff to support your personal brand! Until we do, perhaps the answer lies in creating social communities, or finding folks with similar interests and views who want to work with you either for the cause or the cachet.

    Just my 2 cents (I need the rest for the haircut!)

    • LIsa I like to comparison with hairdressers.

      However, social media is never going to be monetized, it’s not what people are selling. The brand is worth something to the “business” in terms of recognition for being good (or bad) in a particular field. It’s a shorthand for what you stand for, like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ford or Starbucks. They all bring to mind certain ideas in our mind.

      If you think of social media as being about being social (and drop the media as that refers only to the technology by which you are being social) you start to see how it helps your business as perhaps being in the Yellow Pages, 30 years ago helped many. It affords you opportunities be that invites to the right parties, conferences, speaking engagements or A-list celebs in much need of a good hair cut.

      Artists, especially Damien Hurst took this to the extreme with his factory of artists that create his work.

      So perhaps a personal brand does scale, just the individual can’t and without a personal brand you don’t have the power to scale, as you say in your example, you trust the stylist in the salon because you trust John (and his personal brand).

  • Dave,

    Thanks for a great post. I agree that a number of internet personalities/brands attempt to stretch themselves beyond their limits. I’m highly critical of the concept of personal branding, although I certainly believe in the principles behind it. Individuals should be able to quickly communicate their personal story and other relevant beliefs/opinions/aspirations to a diverse audience. I keep a close eye on my online reputation and work to make sure that I’m part of the conversation.

    I strongly reject the “brand” element of personal brands. While some individuals rely on their personal story to indirectly (no personal contact) engage with others in the marketplace (both commercial and cultural environments), I hope to be able to accomplish the tasks of personal branding in a “personal” way. I feel that the personal branding degrades the human being behind the brand–although I agree that it’s essential for people to be able to concisely tell their story. Unlike Lance Armstrong or Guy Kawasaki, I am not selling myself retail. Nor are most people who engage in personal branding. I (largely) use digital media to engage with others one-on-one in relationships in which both parties are familiar with the person behind the keyboard.

    In professional settings I’m more of a complex service than a product. But above all, I just want to be a person.

    Keep the great work coming!


  • I believe if you’ve created a personal brand and it’s based on the principles that you are ‘social’, or a ‘connector’, or a ‘communicator’ – no matter how big your brand becomes, you somehow have to find a way to live the brand you’ve created. Otherwise, it’s a bit like not delivering what you promised.

    Those that have built large brands and then gone on to publish books, consult, and do speaking engagements could probably find, at the very least a snap pop intern who would kill to learn under their tutelage and in exchange help them manage aspects of their lives/business.

  • andrew cherwenka
    ago11 years

    Dear blogger, insightful post/video/other! I’ve instructed my personal social media intern to ghost a comment by end of week.

  • I can understand the frustration associated with auto-reply e-mails, as they do not provide immediate gratification, and they can delay work-related projects. However, I argue that an auto-reply e-mail is better than no reply. Although one’s auto-reply does not address the specifics of my e-mail, it does ensure an eventual response. I would rather receive an auto reply than wonder why my e-mail remained unanswered.

  • Offline celebrities deal with this all the time by assembling an entourage of handlers, publicists, etc. Why should online celebrities be any different?

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