Minding your Ps and you: The 4 Ps of marketing yourself in a social media world

"Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged," John Grant, The New Marketing Manifesto. In the social media world, it’s becoming easier to verify the authenticity of a brand. Companies are learning that the brand promise articulated in their promotion can be more easily verified now that their customers have the power to tell the world about their actual experiences in new places like social networking sites or the blogosphere.

The experience of companies like Dell has demonstrated the importance of properly managing the marketing mix, or the 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place (distribution) and promotion. After initially being burned by social media, when a high profile blogger undermined Dell’s brand by faithfully reporting negative customer experience, the computer manufacturer now adeptly manages its promotion through the blogosphere and occupies news places, such as turning Twitter into a distribution channel. As a result, Dell has created a more authentic brand.

While not all of us are burdened with the responsibility of managing a company’s brand, social media increases the focus on our personal brands. Individuals, like organizations, are learning that there are risks to unconsciously allowing an online identity to come into existence, and benefits to consciously using social media tools to creating a strong brand.

But in our efforts to brand ourselves, we will need to become more aware than ever about the importance of authenticity. Social media blurs the lines between personal and professional—how many of us have relatives, co-workers, employers and clients co-existing in our group of Facebook “friends”? And that means, whether intended or not, perception of our brand is shaped by the product that is promoted in places like Facebook. And just as a consumer can assess whether the brand promise of a pair of running shoes appears authentic based on blog comments, a hiring manager can verify the authenticity of your brand on Facebook or LinkedIn.

A recent, and high profile, example of the attention being paid to personal brand building with social media is provided by analyst Jeremiah Owyang’s departure from Forrester. His exit, which was covered in the New York Times, created a stir because “Owyang's last five years have been a model of professional advancement through social media,” according to ReadWriteWeb. He became a star through diligent use of his blog—which attracts more than 100,000 unique visitors a month, more than Gartner and IDC’s websites combined—and early and effective use of Twitter, attracting 50,000 followers. That star power then positioned him to join a consulting firm.

Personal visibility: it all matters

There’s no doubt that social media represent genuine change through their unprecedented power for making individuals known to a global audience. But what has remained the same is the importance of creating and disseminating a personal brand, and the ability of successful individuals to accomplish that goal. Just as Pepsi or Apple win influence in their respective categories with strong brands, individuals with high brand recognition are more likely to earn greater responsibility within their company, or have the opportunity to move within their industry.

Tom Peters is a high profile advocate of personal branding. In his Fast Company article, “The Brand Called You, he states that: “You're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”

In both the pre-social media world and today, successful individuals differentiate the “product called you” through education, work experience, volunteer activity, etc.  They must now understand how two other Ps—promotion and place—influences the perception of the product, and its authenticity.

“The [important] thing to remember about your personal visibility campaign is: it all matters,” Peters wrote prior to the explosion of MySpace and Facebook. “When you're promoting brand You, everything you do—and everything you choose not to do—communicates the value and character of the brand. Everything from the way you handle phone conversations to the email messages you send to the way you conduct business in a meeting is part of the larger message you're sending about your brand.”

OMG… I didn’t think you were on Facebook

Individuals like Owyang have a tight alignment between the “product you” and what they say about the product through their promotion. For them, social media offers a powerful place—notably Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—that is becoming an essential channel for them to distribute their authentic, personal brand. The inherently social nature of these tools is critical because “The key to any personal branding campaign is ‘word-of-mouth marketing,’” writes Peters. “Your network of friends, colleagues, clients, and customers is the most important marketing vehicle you've got; what they say about you and your contributions is what the market will ultimately gauge as the value of your brand. So the big trick to building your brand is to find ways to nurture your network of colleagues – consciously.”

The role that social networking sites now play in hiring decisions provides an important example of how product, place and promotion come together to influence a personal brand, and how the blurring of lines between personal and professional can have significant implications for brand authenticity. The days of presenting one face to an employer—a responsible nine-to-fiver, say—and another to friends—like a fun loving party animal—are rapidly coming to an end.

New data affirms the risks to unconsciously allowing an online identity to come into existence, especially if it does not align with a professional persona, as well as the benefits to promoting you as a product in which the professional aligns with the personal. A survey conducted by CareerBuilder and featured in eWeek, in which 2,600 hiring managers participated, found that:

  • 45% of hiring managers had used social networking sites to research candidates, which is more than double from last year.
  • Approximately 35% of potential employers found “eye-brow raising” content that caused them to pass on a candidate.
  • The top three reasons for second guessing a candidate and passing on them were:
    • The person posted provocative or inappropriate photos or information (53%)
    • They posted content about drinking or using drugs (44%)
    • They bad mouthed a previous employer, co-workers or clients (35%)
  • 18% of HR managers, however, found content that caused them to hire the candidate.
  •  The top three most positives cited is that the profile demonstrated:
    • The candidate’s personality fit within the organization (50%)
    • Support for the candidate’s professional qualifications claim (39%)
    • The candidate’s creativity (38%)

The real you?

Pre-social media, we had much greater latitude to present different identities. The fun loving party animal that friends love could also be the responsible nine-to-fiver respected by employers. But as the authors of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom, observe: “Our personal selves—or ‘true’ identities—are usually banished from the organizations and institutions that formalize our relations with the world. Apart from genuine eccentrics, most of us instinctively keep in check our personal identity, which is concealed awkwardly behind a rigidly polite mask when we are interacting with strangers, conversations with colleagues and dealing with bureaucracies.”

While there is an interesting philosophical debate to be had about what is our “true identity,” in practical terms we should be aware of the risks to unconsciously allowing an online identity to come into existence, and benefits to consciously using social media tools to creating a strong brand. Just be aware that product is still part of the mix and no one likes a fake: employees, just like computers, have to perform up to expectations.

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