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Personal branding tips for new entrepreneurs

Know what this is, and how to use social media to your benefit.

JOHANNESBURG – With the almost negligible cost and accessibility of social media, it’s now possible for grassroot entrepreneurs to launch their brands into society with minimal spend. But, the rise of social platforms hasn’t exactly come with a guidebook on how to manage our personal and corporate brands. Mistakes are visible to all, permanent and as such could easily damage brand reputation.

Mentors from Endeavor South Africa, a non-profit organisation supporting high-growth entrepreneurs in emerging markets, shared their insights on managing personal branding at the “Your High-Impact Personal Brand” forum at Gibs last week.

Rob Sussman, joint CEO and founder of Integr8 said having a personal brand is critical to personal and business success.

What exactly is a personal brand? MTN Senior Brand Manager Andy Anderson put it nicely: “It’s about finding a niche for your authentic self and expressing that.”

It’s a promise made, which people buy into, and how well it’s kept, believes Musa Kalenga, Nedbank digital marketing group head.

For Di Wood personal branding is all about perception. This tongue-in-cheek brand architect has collaborated on ‘brands’ the likes of Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez, as well as Guinness, Vogue and the James Bond franchise.

This comes with a warning though – as Kalenga says, the entry point is important. “For grass roots entrepreneurs, it’s dangerous … to enter from the perception angle. It’s symptomatic of what we see in businesses today. You can’t ‘fake it till you make it’ and live a lifestyle you can’t afford … in the name of perception.”

Anderson says personal brand attributes should be based on what life/path have you chosen to live. Other key attributes for building your personal brand according to the mentors were to be human/nice, be innovative and deliver on what you promise – no matter the platform.

Social media warnings

The opportunities for entrepreneurs on social media are endless. “Before Facebook and Twitter, a public relations specialist would help you to build your brand. These days anybody can be famous, express their opinion and grow their own personal brand because Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare [etc] are completely free,” says Anderson.

However, his only disclaimer is that social media is always on: if you say something on these platforms it will be searchable forever.

“In terms of social media your very presence in that environment means you’ve created some sort of personality and expectation,” says Kalenga. “It can be an extremely powerful tool to build your credibility– because it gives you a level of authenticity. [However], it can also be completely detrimental if you’re something that you say you’re not.

“You can take your brand from zero to hero in seconds if you manage your brand properly in social media,” adds Woods, joking that this should be taught as part of MBA training, because if you have the science down and if it’s managed properly, marketing budgets can be cut to “a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue”.

Woods’ clients (now in SA) are not allowed to control their Twitter accounts, because of the risk of bad social behaviour “staining” their personal brands. As she says, crisis management is expensive.

Maintain your social balance

She relates balancing your personal and corporate brands to a ladder. “On one side is your business/employment – you have a brand promise or a certain skills set you have to deliver on. The other side is your social side and how you behave. The rungs between … feed into each other.”

There is a risk, of course, in integrating your social and corporate profiles too much.

Kalenga refers to FNB CEO Michael Jordaan’s social profile – inextricably connected to the bank and its social customer service profile RB Jacobs. He says the strategy was to get into social media quickly and believes they didn’t take enough time to consider the ramifications.

“If you don’t separate the entrepreneur from the business you are going to be a 24/7, 365 hotline to sort out issues.” He adds that if the entrepreneur then doesn’t get back to the client, reputational damage to the business is a risk.

Another consideration is what happens to the brand if the entrepreneur resigns or passes away. Think of the Richard Bransons and Donald Trumps of the world, so tied to their brands.

He and Woods agree that there is however value in having the entrepreneur so closely associated with the brand, depending on the business. Steve Jobs made it work and apparently “spread the cred” to other members of the business when he learnt of his illness, to ensure the continuity of the brand.

Kalenga says, “To win at any kind of game, you need to understand the rules – social media is another game you need to play. If you’re playing to the rules there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to win. Understand the ramifications – then you can manage it. 

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