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September 2, 2008

Brand the Company or the Players?

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Something that’s always interested me about the SEO community is the number of strongly-defined personal brands we have. From Graywolf to Webguerrilla to Shoemoney to Sugarrae to the measly The Lisa, SEO is bursting with personal brands. Brands that have been so ingrained into the industry that we don’t always even realize there’s a company behind these folks. Obviously this goes on in other industries as well, but I really think we SEOs take it to a whole new level.

It makes me wonder, is it better idea to brand your company as an expert or to encourage your employees to create their own personal brands that empower you?

If you’re the principle of a company, the idea of allowing your employees to establish their own personal brands is probably a scary thing and something you’d rather discourage than encourage. It’s the same reason why many in the industry are afraid to take their minions employees to SEO conferences. Sure, the experience may be great for them and they’ll learn a lot – but it’s almost guaranteed that they’re walking out of that show with at least a handful of offers for side jobs and full-time positions. As someone not looking to lose their entire staff and the months you spent training them, it’s understandable that you’d rather keep them close and anonymous.

Unfortunately for you, all you can do is take a Xanax for your fears and get over it. Any intelligent employee worth keeping is going to find a way to brand themselves and it’s in your business’s best interest to help them.

As an employer you need to wake up to the fact that an employee with a personal brand is actually worth more to you than the droid you keep in the closet. (Yes, the closet with the padlock on it and that tiny slit you carved out for feeding time.) When they become more valuable and coveted, it makes your entire company more valuable and coveted.

The dangers of public employees are obvious – they’re exposed to poaching, it can be harder to keep them on staff (that’s a sign of your failure, not theirs), and it will come as a bigger hit to your company should they ever decided to leave. But the fact is, the value they bring to your company far outweighs any negatives.

For a company, allowing employees to create their own worth, gives them increased motivation to succeed. It makes them more invested in the entire operation. They’ll work harder cause there’s more at stake. Even with my pitiful little The Lisa brand, I know that every day I have to blog/write/say something that has importance. I can’t show up and write low-quality stuff because I know people are watching and it will hurt my brand if I do.

Having team members that are well-branded lightens your own load. Your customers and colleagues another face (and email address!) to go to with problems, concerns, questions or insight. You give your customers another friendly face to associate your company with. Someone to help you publicly carry the brand promise.

I think it also helps your company when you allow your team members to be branded as experts. A lot of companies get this backwards, trying to brand the entire company as a leader instead of the folks that make it up. Personally, I don’t think you can do one without the other. They’re complementary. I’d argue that making your company more credible and well-rounded by allowing yourself to share the spotlight. As the CEO, people know you’ve got the goods. They know that you know what you’re talking about when they come to you. But wouldn’t it be nice if they knew you had a powerful team behind you who was just as smart? If they actually knew the names and faces of the folks they’d be working with before they even came to you? I think it helps you – both your company and your brand.

The person with the name on their door isn’t always the face clients will be talking with and working with on their campaign. When you allow your employees to create strong personal brands it makes them more invested in seeing the team succeed, it adds more value to your organization, and it makes them continually challenge themselves and strive for greater things.
[Oh, and to Susan, any time you want to thank me for establishing your personal brand of being a cranky, killjoy of an old lady, just let me know. Or buy me cupcakes. You know the ones I like.] [How about I thank you by not firing you today? –Susan]

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7 responses to “Brand the Company or the Players?”

  1. Kate Morris writes:

    This is so funny, I had this EXACT conversation with my boss today about going to SMX East. He knows it’s inevitable that I am going to get other job offers, but he is an awesome boss. He knows that getting in my way of growing will push me out even faster.

    Great post Lisa! And great comments Susan, you two still crack me up. :)

  2. catpickett writes:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, with the re-launch of my site that was previously branded with my own name. I’m doing in-house search marketing though, so it’s not necessarily in my company’s best interest that I’m recognized as an expert. Or is it? Do you think it’s different if you never intend to freelance or work for an agency?

  3. Alysson writes:

    I couldn’t agree more, but happen to work for a company that not only discourages personal branding, but has actually determined it to be a “terminable offense”.

    You can tell by the fact that I have and continue to develop SEOAly that I couldn’t possibly care less about being fired…and their doing so, should it ever happen, will then be a well-publicized event that will damage the credibility of their organization as a whole…as if they don’t do enough of that on their own. ;)

  4. Derrick Wheeler writes:

    “Derrick Wheeler” stands for quality. It’s not your mom’s Derrick Wheeler. Just had to get my brand in there.
    Actually it’s funny that you wrote this article. When I read the post in Sphinn I didn’t know at first that you wrote it. The first company that came to mind as doing the best at the company branding level and allowing for individual personal brands is Bruce Clay. I’d say the second would be Google with Matt Cutts & Co.
    It’s not just about the CEO anymore.
    Best,
    Derrick Wheeler

  5. Corey writes:

    Awesome post Lisa! I think a lot of people and companies run into this issue, and not just in this industry. It is a risk vs. reward for the companies in giving their employees more knowledge and exposure.

  6. Dev Basu writes:

    This type of post has been way overdue for our industry, and I just wanted to give kudos to Lisa for writing it. You hit the nail on the head in saying:
    “The dangers of public employees are obvious – they’re exposed to poaching, it can be harder to keep them on staff (that’s a sign of your failure, not theirs), and it will come as a bigger hit to your company should they ever decided to leave.”
    It’s always fighting the wrong fight when you’re trying to protect your employees from growing their skills and networks, rather than letting them become spokespersons for your company. Great post Lisa!.

  7. Hjortur Smarason writes:

    Excellent post, Lisa, and a timely discussion. I think this is a problem many managers are facing today.

    I decided to focus more on my personal brand than my companies brand and since I only use freelance employees as it is, this has not been an issue. But I think you’re very right that it’s a win win for everybody when companies allow employees to grow and brand themselves. SEOmoz is another example of that being done successfully.



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