The Internet and social media in particular have turned the world into a global marketplace for attention. People, products, companies, political parties, NGOs and governments all need to present a “digital image”. How to be noticed and perceived positively in the digital space is a tedious and often painful exercise in self-promotion.
Social media doesn't make you famous
Here is the hard truth: social media doesn't make you famous. Ellen Degeneres doesn't have 54 million Twitter followers because she knows how to tweet. Apple doesn't have millions of fans because it knows how to use Facebook. It's most of all the things you do OFFLINE which help you get noticed ONLINE. Digital personal branding is more your non-digital life, not your click-through rate.
By being global, social media websites exacerbate the problem. Ever noticed how many profiles in Asia are faceless? I spend a lot of my time advising people and companies on their overall digital strategy. The subject which always comes up is self-esteem. "I don't want I put my face pic because I'm ugly." "We don't want that because we are not a real brand." “I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see the product.”
Corporate brands aren't liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers' lives.
What all these clients miss is the concept of meaning and value. Oprah isn't famous because she's good looking. She is liked because what she does gives meaning to people's lives. Corporate brands aren't liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers’ lives.
The Internet has taught us that appearances are important. They are not as important as you may think. Actions are way more important. If you deceive your customers with empty promises they will desert you. If your online posts are blatant advertisement or copies of other people's ideas, or just "thin content" as Google calls it, you shall be unfollowed.
Be an inspiration
On the other hand, no matter how ugly you are and how bad your brand image, if you offer genuine value to other people, you will be noticed. So ask yourself this: is what I am doing useful to anyone else? Is my online presence an inspiration to others? Or simply, why should my friends or customers care?
This is the hardest question you can ask yourself. It's also the most important one, as a person, and as a brand.
In the past we have clearly distinguished between corporations and people. People used to hide behind corporate brands. In a digital economy that is no longer viable. Companies are made up of people. People have brands, just like companies do. Your profile picture on LinkedIn isn't a photograph, it's a personal logo. Apple is as much linked to the image of Steve Jobs and his successor as to the utility of its products. Alibaba's brand is both formed by its online offering and the persona of Jack Ma. TSMC's story is a lot less compelling without the father figure of Morris Chang.
Companies outside the US in particular have a hard time with that concept. European companies tend to overemphasize corporate culture and values. Asian companies sometimes forbid their employees to have explicit online profiles, fearing that individuals could damage the company's image. On the other hand, their leaders are often so reclusive the don't have an online presence at all. Try finding the bosses of Asia's top 100 companies on LinkedIn!
Corporate vs. private branding
This is a mistake. The fortunes of companies are increasingly linked to the image of their leaders. You cannot hide behind a corporate brand. You are part of it.
Which brings me to my passion: digital marketing. It's much more effective if it's personal. If you only espouse corporate values you won't get far. It is personal values as much as corporate integrity which attract customers by adding value. Personal stories resonate more with people than all the blah blah about your corporate vision and values. Who reads these corporate mission statements anyway?
Not everybody can be a charismatic leader. Not everyone has the ability to inspire millions. But in a digital world you only have one choice: Put yourself out there or be left behind.