24 September, 2010

Why Your Online Branding Strategy Backfires

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. re: his 1961 Mother Night character, Howard Campbell, who survived WWII by helping the Nazis and pretending to be a Nazi.

There are two kinds of people I don’t trust: I don’t trust people who, in this “reputation economy”, have no online footprint. As some of you know, I own a Linked group called “Linking Liberally”. About a week ago I received a membership request from someone whose values and beliefs were impossible to discern from her Linkedin profile so I did a Google search. Nothing. I used her email address to search for her Facebook account. There was no Facebook account associated with the email address associated with the applicant’s Linkedin account. So I started sending Linkedin messages to my considerable liberal network in her area – even at her place of employment. Nobody had heard of her. Before I rejected her membership request I gave her a chance to send me some evidence of her liberalism; the name of a person who could vouch for her liberalism, for instance. She couldn’t.  If people who work where she works do not know she’s a liberal, I’m not convinced she’s a liberal - or even that she gave her real name. And it's not just that people she supposedly works with had heard of her, it's that she left no online footprint at all. In this age of Google and Bing and social media, how do you not have some online identity unless you're using a fake name? 

I also don’t trust people who have a carefully-crafted “online brand” – especially the ones who want me to pay them to show me how to have a carefully-crafted online brand. Unlike many of the so-called marketing gurus who are trying to revive or extend their marketing careers by pretending to be “social media experts”, I have actually read dozens of books on branding and I understand what a brand is and that’s why I don’t trust people who want to use a “social” medium or a “relationship-based medium” as if it’s TV. The whole point of social media and relationship-based networking is that people should know who you are and what you stand for and what you believe in and who your associations are and either resonate with your or not based on those values, beliefs and associations.

And while I’m on the subject of trying to create an online persona or brand, let me say this to people who have drunk the Kool Aid that you can be one person on Facebook and another on Linkedin. Headhunters and recruiters and others who have a need to know who you are will look at everything – your blog, your Tweets, your Facebook, your LInkedin. Everything. I never cease to be amazed at the people I encounter online who keep their Linkedin profile “strictly professional”, scrubbed of all evidence of their interests and values but whose Facebook page is a disturbing look into their immaturities, prejudices and shady associations.

People who think they can get headhunters to look only at their Linkedin profiles remind me of the idiots who say “We have to fight ‘em over there or we’ll have to fight ‘em over here”. You have no control over where terrorists or headhunters go. They go everywhere. Just as you can’t keep terrorists from fighting us here by offering them the shiny object of a war in the Middle East, you can’t stop a headhunter from looking at your Facebook page and your Tweets by offering him the shiny object of a Linkedin profile. Headhunters and terrorists go everywhere, they look at everything.

For the record, I have no “online strategy” or “online brand”. This blog is not part of any “online strategy” to mislead you about who I am. I am the same in my blog as I am on Linkedin or Facebook. You don’t need one of those so-called “social media experts” to help you be yourself unless you don’t know who you are.

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