'How much personal branding is too much' asks Volvo's Bhavna Satyanarayan?

I recently had to mute/unfollow/hide an acquaintance from my profession (there is a reason I quote the profession here, read on) across all social media platforms, because I had breached my threshold for seeing someone scream from the rooftop incessantly only about themselves and their work.

The physical distance from the person had given me some respite, but you can only hide for so long until this kind of noise creeps up on you. So, even though I am quite patient, I had to prioritise my mental space. You may ask why I didn’t unfriend - - maybe that’s too drastic for me as yet.

In contrast, when I looked up profiles of some of the people who I know consistently deliver value in what they do, I realised there is hardly anything that they say or share.

This got me thinking about the topic I am writing about.

I am a strong believer of using social media or any other relevant platform to share knowledge and best practices, showcase good work, invite feedback and spark thought by sharing. But how much is too much? And in many cases, how and when do we start and not go wrong? To me, it’s a fine balance of what, how and how much you say. 

While showcasing your work and building a personal brand is good, it should not become an over-bearing, chest-thumping ‘record of achievements’. Instead, what we share and how we share it should be able to spark conversations and catalyse the exchange of ideas.

For a few years now, the focus on ‘why and how to create a personal brand’ has become a very popular subject, professionally and personally. And, this is directly proportional to the spread and reach of social media in our lives. As communications and marketing professionals, this isn’t new to us. A large part of our occupation is about personifying an organisation and helping spokespeople build their brands. That is not a bad thing at all, as far as it personifies the organisation and person closest to the values of the organisation. I say closest because come on, how many of us know ‘exactly’ who we are, right?

An interesting thing I have noticed in the past 13 years of my career, watching my network, is that many of us in communications and marketing are quite bad at building a strong personal brand. (There are always exceptions, like the one I mentioned above). 

Why is that? Is it because we do so much of it every day for our clients (internal stakeholders for in-house communicators) that we don’t have the patience to do it for ourselves? Or is it that we don’t believe in it and think that our work should speak for itself, without us having to advertise it? Or, is it plain laziness and lack of time? Ironically, all of this is what we tell our clients to work against, right?

Should we not be trying more? Many of us mostly pay attention to this aspect, in spurts, when we perhaps want to join a new job or take up a new profile. We get active for a bit and then get caught up in making sure that the ones we are working with are not forgetting to build their brand. If we may be put in even 30-40% of the effort we put in for our clients, we can successfully build a well-rounded brand for ourselves.

On the other hand, there are some examples, like the one that inspired this piece. Every breath they take, every move they make, they think people love hearing from them. They love to put up long posts and sermons about everything they do. Making a big deal about even the smallest achievements. And, most, unfortunately, taking away from the actual activity and outreach of the brand. I am not denying that they are probably good at what they do. But, why is there this need to over-brand?

I do and I know other people who avoid meeting such people face to face (best way is to hide in the bathroom till they pass by or put on your headphones and pretend you are on a call) or quickly find an excuse to flee, if you get caught (oh damn, I completely forgot I have a call; SOS message to someone to rescue you, etc). Or, muting or unfollowing them on social media, like I did, when we see their posts and faces plastered all over. When does this start to become counter-productive? This, I feel, is very important to examine, not just for us (as communications/marketers) to build our brands, but because we help organisations and other people build their brand.

Since I started observing this trend, I have been making note of some good practices (applicable for brands and people) and here are a few of my takeaways:

  1. Share, but not everything you do or see. Conversely, don’t shy away from sharing the good things you do. This helps others learn too.
  2. When you speak about an activity or a campaign highlight the key points that made a difference to the brand or where you brought in an innovative idea.
  3. Focus on what the outcome and business/brand impact of the activity was and the key role played by your team/you in defining or achieving that.
  4. Keep things short and visual. No one is interested or has the time to read long endless posts.
  5. If it is a personal post, be humble and state your opinion and observations, but also give others a chance to interact and voice their views. Don’t make posts your personal achievements report card.
  6. Give credit to the source, if you are sharing from others’ experience.
  7. If you notice good ideas, campaigns or cases outside of your work sphere, do share, with examples and pithy commentary on your observations.
  8. Finally, keep your profiles nice and lively. Don’t go for overkill or be sporadic and disjointed.

As individuals who make sure that organisations and people don’t under or over communicate, shouldn’t we pause and think hard about why and how we brand ourselves, as well as help others do the same? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Bhavna Satyanarayan, marketing, brand and communications, Volvo Buses India