Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting a "handle" on personal brands and credibility online

Those of us in public relations and communications understand that we're judged not only by the work we do, but also by the company we keep. While there is no legislation in either the United States or Canada (yet) to dictate how we ought to conduct ourselves, our respective professional associations (CPRS, PRSA and IABC) have codes of conduct by which members must abide. And ethics, integrity and professionalism really ought to be common sense.

This therefore begs the question: why would anyone use an online handle that serves only to undermine these values and his or her credibility and personal brand?

One can only assume an over-inflated ego and ignorance of the importance of personal brand. Skimming a few LinkedIn profiles recently, I saw a few self-professed “gurus” of this-and-that. And earlier this week, I got an alert that someone using the Twitter handle @SM_Doucheb*g (name altered somewhat to protect the guilty) was now following me on Twitter. Curious, I checked the user’s profile.

“Some say they’re great at social media, but I know I it all! Forget the rest and follow the best.” (Again, changed slightly, but you get the gist.)

What know-it-alls don't know
Yes, there is definitely enthusiasm—I’d even call it hubris. There is also a misguided sense of what it is to be a member of a social media network. I doubt this person—and those going by all forms of @_____Guru, @____B*tch and @___Bad*zz—really understand what it means to be a part of Twitterville or of any other social network.

The majority of said user's tweets are actually chirps: a litany of lame and overused pickup lines, snide remarks and wisecracks that add no real value to the Twitter community. The few tweets that are related to social media did not originate with this individual: they are retweets of credible members such as @mashable et al. Given this, I'm left wondering how much this self-professed social media know-it-all really knows. Regurgitation, maybe—of both spirits and others' ideas. When it comes to libido and libations, this is the go-to guy. But when it comes to responsible and credible online citizenship? Come on. I've seen larger hills of beans at the Starbucks down the street...

At least that's what the online presence would lead one to think.

The sensitive new age [social media] guy: skills and savvy
In addition to superior writing skills, good communication skills and humility, those using social media, from interns to managers, need top-notch social skills. This includes respecting others’ knowledge, expertise and boundaries.

As important as these and the other key skills social media interns should also possess is an understanding that social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Formspring, FourSquare and so on are just that: tools. Tools replete, it seems, (at least in some cases) with ... tools. Giving over organizational social media profiles to those who clearly cannot create a sound personal profile and credible online presence can almost certainly spell disaster.

Personal brands and professional networks
It’s all about brand. I can’t stress enough that one’s credibility is directly related to one’s personal brand—whether online or offline.

As PR pros and communications practitioners, we’re judged not only by the quality of our work, but also by the quality—not the quantity—of the people in our professional networks. All of this is part of our personal brand, and our professional networks extend to the social web, where our brand is extremely important.

As a consultant, I’ve secured work with online clients I’ve never met face to face.

Those clients within my region whom I have met know that I stand behind my personal brand—a brand that incorporates my professionalism and ethics, my commitment to client relationships and my attention to detail. Through client referrals, I’ve grown my professional network to include like-minded people further afoot who share and stand behind the same values and beliefs.

Do I want to be associated with a b*tch or a bad*azz whose handle conjures up thoughts of vinegar, candidiasis or yeast? Although I do remember trolls, I was never fond of them.

Where’s the “Block user” button?

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