There's a storm brewing in corporate circles. No, it's not about jobs, benefits or compensation. It's at the core of the nature of employment. It's setting the stage for a new kind of challenge, or perhaps, conflict. It has always been the goal of corporate relations – Analyst Relations/Customer Relations/Investor Relations/Public Relations, even Sales and Marketing – to balance corporate messaging and the perceptions of internal and external parties. Now this messaging equation has become even more complicated.
Employee or Partner?
A while back in my post The Age of Thought Leadership, I wrote:
The impact of personal brands will have far reaching consequences in the nature of employment in the 21st century. It’s opened up new avenues for career growth and is causing employers to rethink traditional management principles and archetypes.
Let’s go back 30 years. Were you to look for a thought leader you’d find (the majority of) them in a limited number of traditional entities: universities, government and non-government agencies, non-profits, and major corporations. The scope of the brands of these thought leaders was, more often than not, limited and/or confined to their association with said entities. Their brand was essentially the corporate brand. They didn’t have the medium to express themselves to a large audience, nor was it socially acceptable to express themselves to a large audience.
Now flash forward to the present. We are now in an era where thought leaders can sustain their brand independent of traditional entities. What will this mean for the employer/employee relationship?
The entertainment industry has long had to deal with the issue of personal branding. We’ve seen it in movies, television, music, publishing, and video games, to name a few. In those industries, some classes of employees have been able to elevate their value proposition from service (a commodity) to talent (value). The value equation for employment in these industries now includes: will this relationship help or hurt my brand beyond this transaction? This is as relevant for the employer as it is for the employee.
I Pledge Allegiance To My Brand
The value of personal branding is gaining traction in traditional corporate environments. Corporations are using measures of social media influence to make hiring decisions. However, the rise of personal branding represents potential conflicting interests in the messaging equation, which must now be solved in both directions. What happens when an employee’s opinions don't align with corporate guidelines?
I recently overheard this sentiment on Twitter:
Problem with being a Community Manager is you're the face of the company even when they're doing stuff you don't agree with.
You hire good community managers because they have demonstrated the ability to connect. However, this ability depends on their maintaining credibility with their audience. What happens when the employer's messaging needs conflict with the employees' sensibilities, especially when this plays out in a public and/or large private forum? This raises some pretty important questions that will impact the future of corporate relations and the nature of employment.
- How will personal vs. corporate branding impact the hiring process?
- What management policies and structures need to be in place to support this?
- What strategies can employers use to incentivize “branded” employees?
- How can employees insure their personal brand is not unfairly co-opted or compromised by the corporate brand?
- What level, if any, of Intellectual Property laws are required to help solve this conflict?
This is happening now. Are you prepared to answer these questions?
(Special thanks to Fred McClimans for his input on what are clearly some complex issues).