Is Personal Branding Overrated?

Personal Branding

Would you hire this self-described Internet strategist? He rarely blogs, doesn’t much tweet, and uses YouTube for quick and dirty videos filmed with a Flip camera.

No? Would your mind change if you knew he were a veteran of Microsoft and Yahoo, whom the Washington Post described as “one of the elder statesmen in the … class of online political operatives”? What if credited him with expanding the Republican National Committee’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million, and “dramatically improving the party’s social media outreach”? His name: Cyrus Krohn.

What about this guru? He, too, rarely tweets, much less blogs, and enjoys only 285 Facebook friends. Yet he’s spent the past two and a half years building, from scratch, what the Politico ranks as the fourth best e-mail list in politics. Last year, PoliticsOnline and the World E-Democracy Forum named him one of the “Top 10 Changing the World of Internet and Politics.” His name: David Kralik.

Finally, while our third executive is active on Twitter, he has only 271 followers. He suspended his personal blog more than a year ago, and only rarely comments on the blog he helped found, RedState. His day job? Executive Vice President at Edelman, the largest independent pr firm, where he runs the digital public affairs practice and his clients include Wal-Mart and the American Petroleum Institute. His name: Michael Krempasky.

Clearly, these guys are major players in digital media. They speak at conferences, command sizable salaries, and boast enviable records of accomplishment.

Yet their efforts at personal branding—their own PR—are relatively lackluster. They’re behind-the-scenes operators, who keep their heads down. They’ll give a quote to a reporter, but client work is their priority.

And yet, if these folks were job searching, today’s recruiters no doubt would advise them to raise their own profile—to beef up their LinkedIn page, optimize the search engine results for their names, and start publishing thought-leadership pieces.

This advice is well taken, but perhaps overdispensed. Even if you work in digital media, you need not have 500 Facebook friends, as David All asks of his potential employees. While understanding the medium requires engaging it, you’d do just as well to help a client gain 10,000 Twitter followers than attain this feat for yourself. As Sean Hackbarth can attest, even being a well-connected blogger with nine years of experience does not guarantee gainful employment.

Put another way, Show me what you’ve done for others, and I’ll discern who are.

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A version of this blog post appeared on on May 1, 2009.

Addendum: Tim Cameron refers me to another underbranded expert: founding partners of Blue State Digital and new-media director of Obama for AmericaJoe Rospars.

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