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The Big Question: Personal Brand vs. Corporate Brand


Business professionals have an unprecedented ability to tell their personal stories and develop their own personal brands online. We’ve all heard or read news articles, however, about how a careless tweet or post can affect both someone’s personal brand and their organization’s brand. 

To what extent should organizations seek to balance or manage what their employees put out on social media as their personal brands with the image the organization seeks with its corporate brand? How can businesses encourage their employees to leverage their personal brands to promote the organization?

We asked several marketing professionals for their opinions. Here’s what they had to say. 

Samantha Cross
Associate professor of marketing, Ivy College of Business, Iowa State University
*With input from students in her brand management classes

An intriguing and timely question! It raised several more questions in my mind: Where do you draw the line? With today’s technology, are there still separate personal and professional spaces or personas? Are you always a representative of the organization? When are you not?

As a class exercise, I asked the students in my Brand Management classes at the Ivy College of Business for their thoughts. 

These future marketers were concerned about the separation of the professional from the personal, considering this a “gray area” or “tricky territory” that would be hard to manage. They highlighted two spheres of responsibility — the employees’ and the employers’. 

They felt employees should: post what they believe but hold themselves accountable for those posts; make sure the content of their posts is neither discriminatory nor inappropriate; and own their own social media while remembering these are public platforms. They also felt employers should: conduct social media background checks, examining the character and professionalism of potential employees during the hiring phase; focus on fostering the right culture rather than mandating employee actions; and implement training showing employees how to manage their personal brands and participate in boosting the company’s brand, versus dictating to them.

In the words of this next generation of marketers: “Posting opinions should not be a cause for professional repercussions,” and if you wish employees to leverage their personal brands to promote your organization, “be a company your employees want to promote.”

Sarah DeKock
Vice president of client services, Flynn Wright 

In most organizations, this involves the two most important assets for a company; the people that produce, deliver or represent your product and the image of the brand those people have worked so hard to build. This suggests that neither is mutually exclusive, and it’s easy (and smart) to connect that both are uniquely linked to each other’s well-being and success. 

A best practice consideration would be to not create hard and fast rules to follow, but rather continually reinforce the mutual relationship that exists between the company’s brand reputation and an individual’s social media activity.

Denise Essman
President and CEO, Essman/Associates Inc.

I personally don’t think businesses/organizations should try to manage their employees’ personal brands or their social media. That said, I do think …

Businesses should have well-defined core values that reflect their corporate culture. They should demonstrate and communicate those core values internally to employees and externally to customers and their communities. 

The hiring process is critical. As times and situations change, questions asked of job applicants and reference and background checks need to change as well. The most successful companies are those that strive to hire employees with integrity, those who support and reflect the organization’s core values. 

In addition, employees need to understand that what they say and do on AND off the job reflects either positively or negatively on them and their employer. There are repercussions for uncivil, illegal and even just plain careless behavior. 

At the ISU Greenlee School of Journalism 2019 Summit on Civility held in September, research was shared that indicates a controlled work environment can help foster civil and rational discussions because employees understand the rules for behavior, what is acceptable, desired behavior. Bad behavior can lead to termination. Employees can be fired for cause. 

Bottom line, I believe if leadership defines and reflects its core values and hires people accordingly, its corporate culture will permeate the organization and their employees will be motivated to become ambassadors, even champions for their organizations.

Lisa Holtorf
Vice president of operations and integration, Strategic America

Dawn Buzynski
Executive director of public relations, Strategic America

As a marketing agency, we know the importance of social media and we expect our associates to engage both as professionals and as individuals. Regardless of your business focus, organizations have the ability to leverage the power of social media as a platform to advance a company‘s mission by encouraging employees to be brand advocates. Employees should feel that they can express themselves and engage with each other, because it benefits the individuals and the corporate brand. 

 That said, there needs to be parameters in place to protect the associate as well as the company‘s brand reputation. Here at Strategic America, we have a social media policy in place (along with client confidentiality agreements) that contains a set of guidelines and expectations. These guidelines are important so everybody understands what they can do and where the guide rails are. 

 For instance, we embrace the idea that everybody has views and opinions that may not be shared by others. The different perspectives provide opportunities for creative to flow as we thoughtfully explore and embrace those different viewpoints to advance our clients’ brands. Our policy merely helps guide our associates so they feel empowered — they know how they may advance their own identity and enhance the SA brand. 

 Ultimately, what they post on their personal social media platforms is their responsibility. As long as an employer communicates its expectations clearly, everyone can embrace the power of social media in a responsible way that provides greater opportunity for personal brands to be built that enhance corporate brands.

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