Protecting the brand that matters most: your own

At a wonderful day at BarCampPhilly yesterday, I was treated to a wonderful day of meeting amazing people in the Philadelphia tech scene, and a bunch of wide ranging sessions, covering the full gamut of technology – playing “Jedi Mind Tricks” to help aid cross-team/function communication,’ learning about the best practices in moving from a full-time job to a being a consultant (by the delightful, Whitney Hess, who is one of my best friends and helped NYC bring some thunder), and of course, an awesome hour spent with one of Social Media’s rising stars, the electric Walt Ribeiro.

But one of the sessions that’s always informative and refreshing speaking to maintaining your corporate brand, through the wilds of social media, was Beth Harte’s session on Brand Management. Having been part of a nascent social media “team” (if you could call two guys trying to find time to Twitter for JetBlue a team), the lessons that have been learned and the tools now available to do this sort of brand management (things like Radian6) are clearly better than anything we had a year and a half ago. Basically, the long and short of it is that, people are saying things about your brand, good and bad, and there’s no use in trying to control what people think, so you had best be listening.

So, after Beth’s session, and Walt’s before it, and based on some of the discussion after my BarCamp session on how JetBlue’s social media plan started with all out crisis, I started to think how this could this could apply to the “age of the personal brand”.

We, as individuals are always our own brand. In this world of open communication, through Facebook and the always-on lifestyle I’ve written about before, we’re always “on”, subject to the falliability of human nature, to express opinions, under emotion or duress, indeed, under less than ideal circumstances. The same filters that brands use to limit the amount of information they choose to say, and the arguments and they choose to engage in, often set by governmental, legal or corporate standards, are not always as easy to control for individuals living in an always-on world. In fact, human emotion (love, pain, suffering, emotion, frustration, exhaustion) combined with external factors (peer pressure, work pressure, excessive drinking, irrational behavior), often take down these filters, lower inhibitions, and loosens lips.

The words people choose to say (or not to say), are the hallmark of this personal brand, clearly. And the words people choose to communicate about themselves publicly often help you to understand a person well before you’ve ever met them “in real life”. Laura Fitton likes to say, “the best thing about Twitter happens off of Twitter”, after all.

But, what is also clear that, in the same way, you can’t control what people say about your company, product or brand, you can’t really control what people think or say about you either. Trying to manipulate this sort of thinking through channels (public, private or covert) just doesn’t help the situation.

So, what to do. Well, allow me to wax poetic about what I’ll dub “Matt’s Golden Rules for Personal Brand”. This, are of course, just one man’s opinion, based on my personal experience, but hopefully they are helpful to someone, somewhere!

1. Remember everyone has the right to their own opinion. Even you. People aren’t always going to agree with you, but they have the right to say what they wish. And, it sometimes will not be something you like.

2. You can always choose who you engage with. This is why Twitter has unfollow and block tools. You don’t have to engage with everyone. And, in many cases, things are better just left alone. Karma has a way of working these things out. But also, remember, you ever even attempt to change people’s opinions without engaging them. So, consider this when thinking about it. But, it shouldn’t be viewed as a personal thing if people just aren’t interested. They can “opt-out” of you as well.

3. Watch the fine line between opinion, attack and slander. Just because someone expresses an opinion based on their own personal experience, don’t assume it’s an attack. The written word is horrible for context and tone, and anyone who thinks can understand tone through the written word is kidding themselves. There’s a large amount of misunderstanding possible. Opinions are rarely attacks and even more rarely slanderous.

4. Doubt on the side of the “good thing”. The vast majority of people I’ve met over the last year or so in tech spaces, and Twitterscenes and Facebook have been good, upstanding people who have been welcoming and open to the idea of making friendships and networking happen. Always do “the right thing” by everyone you meet, because you just never know what can happen. I’ve seen incredible things ilike sm4sc come out of this openness and willingness to come together. Embrace it. Good things will come most of the time.

5. Worry most about the people you care about. There’s a finite number of hours in the day. Focus them on building yourself, your friends, your family up to do great things. No sense in wasting time on people who don’t know you, try to attack you, or worse of all, express open disdain for you. They obviously don’t like you, so why bother?

6. If external factors rule the day, turn off the channel. If you’re feeling extremely emotional or are out of control of yourself and your thoughts, don’t start Tweeting. It’s one thing to be in control and expressive, quite another to communicate when your filters are down. Don’t send e-mails. Don’t IM. Just turn the cellphone, Blackberry or iPhone off. You’ll be glad you did. These sort of communication often reaches “epic fail” status before you know it, and does more to destroy your personal brand. Twitter search doesn’t forget. Neither does Google.

7. Be true to yourself. There’s a reason authenticity, truth and honesty rule the social media world. Have principles. Stick to them. Review them. Fix them if you feel like you need to. Communicate the same way publicly and privately, and exercise extreme tact at all times. Private communications are rarely private anymore. Do the wrong thing by someone, and they will inevitably find out. Everyday, we’re faced with situations that challenge us. The lifelong battle to define who we are continues daily. But always be true to that. Fight for whatever you believe is right.

Hopefully these have been helpful. I wanted to again thank the BarCampPhilly team for helping me to synthesize some great thinking yesterday, and thank you all for allowing me to share these with you.

What do you think?


  1. Amen! A lot of this is common sense, but not common practice. Thank you for taking the time to articulate it clearly and carefully. Folks have a lot to learn from you, Matt. You’re the epitome of grace. And I’m thankful to know you.

  2. Two of the most authentic men I know in life and online: Gradon (and we know how I feel about him) and YOU. I am thankful for both our friendship, and for your place in my community. You make life better, online and off.

  3. Great points. I am guilty of this “If external factors rule the day, turn off the channel. If you’re feeling extremely emotional or are out of control of yourself and your thoughts, don’t start Tweeting.” Especially recently. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Right on! Like Whitney said, this is common sense, but it’s not always something that everyone pays attention to. Me, I don’t “pay attention”, I guess it’s just how I’m programmed. I think it’s the same for you.

  5. Reading this posting again. I might set a recurring Google Calendar appointment to re-read this every Monday morning… or maybe everyday?
    Should have read it yesterday before getting all Twitmotional… luckily I switched into DJ mode and let my emotions drive a sweet playlist to twitter. Therapeutic pleasure ensued and what could have ended up as a mess of self-deprecating tweets was refracted into a mini-flood of encouragement (via Twitter) to keep kicking out the jams!

    Thanks again for all your sage-like advice and your passionate willingness to dispense said wisdom! Happy Thanksgiving!

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