Personal Branding And The Growing Trend Of Community Managers

by Dan Schawbel on Dec 07, 2010

Community management has really taken off in the past few years because companies are seeing value in becoming closer to their customers and other stakeholders.

Companies are looking for feedback, ideas, and to provide support to their communities in order to increase loyalty and satisfaction, as well as attract new customers. Read Write Web listed “community management” as one of the top trends for 2010, and it’s not a surprise.

Back in 2007, I assumed one of the first social media roles in a Fortune 200 company, right after DELL hired community managers to rebuild their tarnished brand after the famous “DELL HELL” incident.

As a community manager, it was essential that I played several roles, including being a recruiter of new members (marketing the community), keeping the content fresh and creative, and moderating.

There are several community managers that have done an excellent job growing and retaining their community, and turning them into evangelists. Connie Bensen and Ryan Paugh are examples of successful community managers, who used their personal brand to support their community.

What is personal branding?

Personal branding is the process by which we identify what makes us unique and then communicate that to our audience. The internet has made branding more accessible to people, and now all brands can actively and directly engage with their audience without a middle man. Whether you work for a company, or you’re an entrepreneur, you have a personal brand and need to manage it to have a successful future.

4 steps to building a personal brand:

  1. Discover: Understand who you are, what you’re passionate about and have expertise in, and then how you want to position yourself in the marketplace. Also, setting up short and long-term measurable goals.
  2. Create: Develop a personal branding toolkit that helps sell your brand. This might include a business card, a website or a blog, social network profiles, a resume, cover letter, references document, and a portfolio of work. You also need a consistent name, picture, format, and possibly a slogan.
  3. Communicate: Networking with people in your community constantly, both online and offline, to further the relationships. Becoming an expert source for the media, and speaking at events.
  4. Maintain: Controlling your online presence and ensuring that it’s up-to-date and reflective of your current brand position.

Why your brand matters as a community manager

Community managers are charged with interacting with their members, which means their brand is extremely important. Members want to know that they’re in good hands and if you communicate trust, respect, and mutual understanding, then they will respond positively.

A brand personality is also important to giving the community some flavor and making it a fun and enjoyable place to be. Community managers should establish a strong brand so the members feel comfortable and can engage freely in open dialogue.

Post Author

Dan Schawbel, recognized as a "personal branding guru" by The New York Times, is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, and the leading authority on personal branding. He is the author of the #1 international bestselling career book,...

  • This is an interesting topic – I’ve seen big personal brands work OK as community managers but honestly I would say it’s important for community managers to keep their own personal brand in check. The more authoritative and well known someone becomes, the more they tend to shut down engagement when they do participate. As with many things, it depends a lot but most great community managers are well known in their communities but don’t necessarily have a ‘brand’ beyond it. I’m interested in hearing what other people have to say on this topic.

  • I love the idea of community managers (and not just because I am one). They (usually) give a more personable view of the brand. Rather than just communicating with the brand in general people get to interact with a real person on behalf of that brand. The most important part being that the real person is just that, a person. They have their own personality and life, but can use that to help leverage the brand.
    I got hired as a community manager for Sysomos because of my personal brand. I spent time meeting people and carving out my own personal niche in the social space and I think that’s what got me hired. I have things to say that relates to our company brand, but I also bring my own personality into the mix. I would never change my personality to fit in with a brand, but I think that people appreciate me being myself first and then promoting my brand second. I think that by being myself first it’s allowed me to really cultivate a community of real people rather than just blindly promoting our company from behind a hidden screen.
    Personality, both for people and brands, is key these days.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

  • I question how important it is for a community manager to have a strong personal brand. Sure, when they’re looking for jobs, it will help them.

    I guess the term “community manager” is so broad that you could include some roles that might relate to their personal brand. Typically, a community manager’s role is so much more than speaking to media and becoming an expert.

    You use Ryan and Connie as an example. Both of them have strong personal brands, sure, but that’s more a result of their hard work within their companies than a targeted effort to build a personal brand. Spend 5 minutes talking with Connie and you’ll get that sense of trust and expertise that she radiates. Hang out with Ryan for a day and you’ll see how down to earth and hardworking he is. Regardless of their personal brand, they’re great at their job because of their work and that’s what makes them great community managers.

    You can have a community manager with the best personal brand in the world, but they’re not helping anyone if they’re not achieving the community focused goals that the company has given them.

  • Dan, I think having a strong knowledge of what makes a brand is important. Having a strong brand is relative. If your brand is “small” but influential within a niche that’s looking to hire a community manager, it’s always better than someone who’s a jack of all trades and master of none.

  • Anonymous

    I think there are many different kinds of community managers. The type that Dan seems to speak of is primarily the online community manager in which case having an online presence is going to help you get hired. Have a brand or expertise that relates to the company you work for is going to help you relate to your community a heck of a lot more and you are going to have a lot more fun with your job that way as well. However, I don’t think your personal brand should trump the company’s brand… you’re getting paid to do a job. You’re representing a company. It gets tricky. That company’s Twitter voice is your voice because you are running the account and your personality will come through in blog copy. It all gets very mixed.

  • Wrong, David.

    It’s all about you.

    It’s all about your next job, and creating the right online footprint to support the next step in your career path.

    Employers ought to be satisfied with leeching off your aura for the brief time they have the privilege of paying you.

  • Imagine yourself saying that to a potential employer, Ike? I would never hire someone who talks with such self-importance, even if they’re right. Reality check: people in communications jobs are extremely transient, so you take a big risk by having someone’s personal branding highlighted and intertwined with your business brand. Usually this honour is reserved for high-ranking executives or thought leadership visionaries with an organization, and agreements are put in place about what happens to the Twitter account, the blog, etc.Ike, you’ve just convinced me to put an online non-compete clause in the contract of the next social media employee I hire. They should be putting their time and effort into making the organization’s community stronger first.It’s not about you. It’s about the WORK! Now get to it.

  • Disqus does not recognize my sarcasm font.

  • Oh. If you’re being sarcastic, that’s reassuring. Sadly, there are lots of “social media consultants” who believe every single word you wrote is true, and are leveraging every brand they work with into more popularity for themselves, and fighting over who owns the rights to influential Twitter followers, etc. This must be agreed upon in advance. Followers are like mini agency clients.

  • Sysomos came up on the CPRS social media task force call last week, Sheldon. Apparently you guys have a pretty good product. Rest assured that it’s being discussed by the right people.

  • I think that sounds a bit extreme and selfish of you to do Everett.

    While I do think that a employee should be committed to the company they work for, in the long run you have to remember that as an employee (not a company founder) it is just a job. It’s one thing to ask for the employee to fully commit themselves to the brand they are representing at the time, but to stop them from expanding themselves further seems rather selfish on your part. At least to me.

    I’m a community manager myself. I love my job. I love my company. I fully believe in my company, what they do and how they do it. That said, this probably won’t be the last job I hold until I’m ready to retire. I specialize in social media and building online communities. If I was told that by taking this job I wouldn’t be able to do that when I left, I would leave before I even started.

    People grow out of jobs. People expand their areas of interest. People grow up. To try and stop them from doing so looks worse on you as an employeer than it would look on a social media person trying to expand their horizons, personal brand and life. In today’s society people are always looking to do better both personally and career wise and people who try to stand in their way get left in the dust.

    There’s no harm in asking someone to commit to their job. In fact, I don’t think people should take jobs they wouldn’t commit themselves to (most of the time). But, when it’s time for them to move on, it’s just something that happens in everyone’s life. Trying to stop that seems mean spirited to me.

    I noticed your twitter profile says “please don’t laugh at my dreams”, but how would you feel if I tried to stop you from moving forward and accomplishing those dreams?

    I in no way mean this as a personal attack on you, I would say the same thing to anyone. I’m a big believer in people expanding who they are to constantly move forward in life.

    These are also just my personal thoughts on the whole matter.

  • I just assume everything you write is in sarcasm font.

  • I’m with Dave.

  • Seriously, if these people *knew* who you were they would know you were dripping with sarcasm, and to be fair, Davis DOES know you, so no foul.

    However, that is one of the problems with “personal brands.” They expect everyone to know who they are and get a overly important view of themselves. Whatever happened to simply building a community? I am in favor of bringing back Community Relations as a profession instead of Community Management.

  • As a community manager I use my (tiny) personal brand for blogger/influencer outreach, as a way to straddle the line between customer and brand. I agree that personality is key and customers want to interact with real people.

    That being said, I’ve often wondered how the big personal brands can maintain their personal brand and be community managers at the same time. If I spent hours of time and energy on a personal brand, I wouldn’t have much time left for the company I work for. Or for my husband and kids, for that matter.

  • ” I am in favor of bringing back Community Relations as a profession instead of Community Management.”

    Hallelujah!!

  • I didn’t mean they couldn’t be a community manager elsewhere, I meant that the clause would mean they can’t take the followers and any intellectual property derived from the use of the tactic with them when they go.

    An example would be if I tweeted as ‘Everett_RBC’ while I worked in PR with Royal Bank. There would have to be an agreement in advance, and as far as I’m concerned, whichever brand is bigger when the tactic is started should have de facto priority.

    Every major agency in the world has clauses of this sort, or even more stringent ones (true non-competes, ie: you can’t work in another agency for 3 years.) So do TV stations, construction companies, hair salons, etc. This discussion assumes that you’re okay with that (if you’re not, it’s a completely different argument) and so then, I ask you, what makes community managers immune to the same practices?

    Can you please turn off your “Share on Twitter” if you respond further? All my followers can see of your last post is “I think that sounds a bit extreme and selfish of you to do Everett” which isn’t exactly fair without context (and they’re not going to follow the link here.) Thanks.

  • p.s. My “don’t laugh at my dreams” comment is for all the people who don’t see the value of PR in business, and wonder how someone can do something so “silly and quaint” for a living. I don’t actually take anything like that personally, and welcome people to laugh, scream, criticize or condemn however they see fit.

  • I’m with you on the keeping followers and intellectual property with the original employeer.

    I read it as “the next person to do social media for me won’t be able to do it for someone else afterwards.”

    Although, there are some minor problems with the taking followers with them. If I had a company name attached to my Twitter handle then that would belong to my company. But, I tweet for my company both from our corporate account as well as my own personal one. I have probably gained more followers because people know I represent my company, but I couldn’t leave them because I left the company. That’s a matter of semantics though.

    I think the whole thing came from a misunderstanding of some comments in here that now seem to be resolved. Again, I in no way meant it as anything personal to you. I would have said the same to anyone who said (what I thought) you said.

  • This has made me realize there might be a future me as a comment antagonizer, getting people riled up and talking on message boards. There’s probably already a name for this, but I like “Troll for Hire!!”

  • Everett. We welcome more of it on Social Fresh. Although, we have no actual “money” to hire you with, you are welcome to continue practicing until the majors call you up.

  • My personal brand is orange. That means I could never work for Coca Cola, whose trade dress leans towards red, white and black. That leaves… Home Depot? I’d better add a hammer to my avatar before I send them a resume. ;)

    PS: Your sarcasm font looks fine on my Windows 7 VAIO. Running Chrome.

  • In my opinion, the term “personal brand” is just a new fangled business term for a “good personality” and being able to convey that online. It’s over used and bastardized. But for the sake of this, I’ll use the term….

    As someone that works as a strategist for a Fortune 50 company, If I am looking to hire a community manager, I’m looking for a good personality and marketing and planning skills but I AM NOT looking for a “personal brand.” I don’t want a “name” or someone that has to pray to the alter of another idol. At the end of the day, the only brand that matters is the brand that you work for. So, outside of the entrepreneurial space, the people who rely on “personal brands” for success will, in 99% of the cases, fail. Personal brands do not scale. No matter who you are – your personal relationships can’t be the sole building block of your business. In fact, I would argue most of the people that have top “personal brands” bring a lot of extra mana to the table. They either have a great idea or a good product – two things that are far more rare than the number of people who claim to have strong “personal brands.”

    In fact, personal brands can ultimately hurt you in your career and hurt your past and future employers. Brands that allow people with personal brands become synonymous with their online persona will have a large back lash when that person leaves – unless the person with the personal brand put the processes in place for a seamless transition – something I’m seeing as very rare in these transitions.

    “Personal branding is the process by which we identify what makes us unique and then communicate that to our audience. The internet has made branding more accessible to people, and now all brands can actively and directly engage with their audience without a middle man.”

    This quote goes to my first point which is: Personal Branding = Personality. Have a good one and you will go far. The internet didn’t change that – it just changed the way that people convey that. But the more people talk about a personal brand, the more I think they have a bad one. Hell, I talk about my personal brand FAR too much in this echochamber of community managers. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t my “personal brand” that got me far – it was my ability to kick ass at my job – which was about managing relationships (good personality), working with superiors (good personality), and working for my company’s brand (good marketing). Thinking a community manager is anything more than a middle man is playing into the ego game that makes “personal branding” so attractive to the lot of us who crave attention.

    I could go on a much longer, more streamlined and focused rant about this, but I won’t – this comment is already in the TLDR territory, so I’ll just end it here…..