Building a Personal Brand via Social Media – or the AAA Guide to Blogging

I’ve been working with content since I was a teenager – from writing articles for school magazines, to contributing gig reviews to a leading Manchester music magazine; from working for global media and information brands, to freelance editorial and writing projects.

Even now, as a business coach and consultant, I continue to focus on my clients’ content strategies – whether developing new products and services, managing IP, or capturing and commercialising in-house knowledge.

I have to admit to being an early sceptic about Social Media – but I soon recognised its importance, especially when building a personal brand on-line. Now it’s just another communication channel. I sometimes reflect on our ancestors who resisted the telephone, radio and television, and wonder if my own suspicions about Social Media will seem unfounded in retrospect.

About a year ago, I started this blog as a personal brand for my consulting work, as well as giving me a license to write about “Exploring the Information Age”, however tangential it might be to my professional work.*

After 12 months, I think I have found the essence to building a personal brand through social media – otherwise known as the AAA Guide to Blogging. Those elements are: Authenticity, Awareness and Attribution.

Authenticity

In an on-line environment where people hide behind avatars and aliases, you need to find the appropriate level of authenticity if you are going to be taken seriously by or establish trust with your audience. Being authentic means finding your “voice” to express yourself in any given situation, and to be true to yourself in that particular context.

I will admit to having several on-line profiles. For example, when connecting with my family and close friends, I am very circumspect about which Social Media platforms I use, and how I use them. My profile is extremely locked down and tightly controlled – you won’t be able to find me because I won’t let you in.

For my activities as a musician, I have another profile for self-promotion, sales and distribution, community engagement and beta testing new apps. You probably won’t find me because I use an alias, unless I am inviting you in.

Finally, in my professional life, I am very pro-active, interacting via an increasingly interconnected multi-channel strategy.

Does having multiple profiles mean I am being inauthentic? I would say no, because I am being authentic to who I am in those particular situations, and I don’t believe it is unreasonable to keep my private life, my personal interests, and my professional profile separate from one another. That’s why, even though I have a public profile on Facebook as part of my professional brand, I won’t be sharing my musical tastes because it’s not relevant (unless I might be going to a karaoke sessions with my clients?).

Awareness

Just as you need to be aware of the possibilities and limitations of different Social Media tools, you also need to understand your “character” when blogging, sharing and providing status updates. I see this as a natural extension to being authentic – in my professional life, should I really be sharing selfies (especially not at the client karaoke night…)?

There are 4 main categories of Social Media protagonists and bloggers:

1) Enthusiasts – personal stuff, “what I ate for breakfast”, no real purpose
beyond “sharing” or “look at me

2) Broad Experts – know their Yammers from their Spammers, their Blogrolls from their Facebook Trolls – understand how and where they need to engage, they know what works for them (they have found their own level)

3) Niche Specialists – the Twitterati (Stephen Fry), the star fashion bloggers, the political and media pundits, viral cat videos, and the quirky (@God) – NOT Katy Perry – she probably has people to do that for her, namely….

4) Professionals – so-called “prosumers” who use Social Media as part of their job or about their work, or it’s part of their public and personal profile, and the boundaries are increasingly blurred.

Attribution

As far as possible, I always attribute third party content or references I use in my blogs, even if they are deemed to be in the public domain, and I endeavour to acknowledge the original sources as far as possible.

Not only can this create reciprocal links and traffic to my blog, I just believe it is more ethical, rather than “sharing” content with no attribution. It’s not just about copyright law, or respecting IP, I happen to think it is more intellectually honest to acknowledge original ideas, rather than imply they are our own.

I came across a good example recently on LinkedIn, where a connection “shared” an infographic on social media, without providing the original source. In fact, it almost looked as if it was an original post. However, I was sure I had seen the same content elsewhere, and after a short Internet search, I was able to locate the original post and the author very easily. Maybe it’s laziness, or lack of consideration, but this common failure to attribute sources risks undermining your work and devaluing your creativity.

Final thoughts on blogging and Social Media

• No-one gets it right 100% of the time – and even when we do, we don’t always know why
• Conversely, everyone gets it a little bit wrong, so the real learning is in that collective experience
• Prospective employers, clients, customers all expect to find evidence of your Social Media and online presence – even if you are only engaged in Social Media in a professional/work capacity, you still need to develop a personal profile

*See previous blog 10 Rules for Effective Blogging. I recently did some analysis of my blog traffic, to see where my readers are coming from. I don’t use Google Adwords, and I don’t have any paid-for SEO – so I rely on my WordPress stats:

  • Nearly half of all traffic is coming from social networks
  • One third comes from search engines (of which Google accounts for 90%)
  • 10% comes from Reddit

Search results for my blog always come in the top 10 (plus it helps to have an unusual first and last name – always #1 search result!)

Footnote A slightly different version of this article was given as a presentation at the Australian chapter of PR over Coffee earlier this month

Defining the Prosumer product

This week, Do.com announced it will be closing down in January. It may simply be the latest in a string of social networking apps to call it quits, but it also highlights the difficulty in developing Prosumer products that generate market traction.

do-com-logoPositioned as a productivity solution, Do.Com was also viewed as an app that straddles the work/personal divide, to be a veritable Prosumer product.

The problem is, it did not have a clear vision of what defines the “Prosumer” market, and it did not adequately redefine workflow needs in a permeable environment that increasingly blurs the dividing line between the personal and the professional.

As a result, Do.com probably missed an opportunity to craft a new perspective on the elusive Prosumer demographic. For example, as a Prosumer, my primary need is to consolidate all the social networking and collaborative platforms I use. At the same time, I need to manage the different types of connections and co-ordinate the different degrees of sharing that these tools offer, but not based on “projects” or “transactions” – rather, based on “relationships” (which are not the same as “connections”).

Despite their attempts to capture “3-dimensional” linkages amongst my networks, most collaborative tools and social networking platforms are limited by their 2-dimensional perspective of linear connections, rather than multi-dimensional relationships.

Until tools like Do.com do a better job of managing the qualitative and contextual nature of professional and personal relationships (and offer better ways to manage the different facets of these connections), they will be interesting, but not essential.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s why Facebook can never be taken seriously as a productivity or professional tool – when editing my “official” Facebook page the day, I was prompted to add my “likes” for music and films – why would I want to share that sort of information with my professional contacts (unless it was really relevant to our relationship – client karaoke night, perhaps?).

Has web-traffic analysis just got better or worse thanks to Google search encryption?

Last month, WordPress informed its customers that Google has expanded search encryption to cover any search except for clicks on ads. The impact will mean less detail about which keyword searches are driving traffic to your website. Debate among industry observers suggested that this was done either in response to security-related issues, or simply to maximise ad revenue.

I’ll leave you to decide what the real motive is, and to determine what your own response should be around SEO strategies. My sense is that content owners and social marketers will sharpen their use of keywords, and devise new tactics to maximise the value of web traffic analytics. As one commentator has observed, Google has a near monopoly on search – but in the end, it’s their platform and they’ll do what they want with it.

From my own analysis here at Content in Context, the number of “unknown search terms” far outweighs precise keyword or search strings, but thanks to the WordPress stats, I am still able to get a reasonably informed sense of what drives traffic to this blog:

  • Social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) account for about half of all referrals to Content in Context (including 10% from Reddit, even though I do not actively participate on that platform)
  • Search engines comprise about one-third of referrals (with Google Search accounting for over 90%)
  • Meetup is an increasingly important source of referrals
  • Embedded links (used selectively) can also be a useful source of referrals

I have found some interesting citations to my blog (including undergraduate study forums), and I figure I must be doing something right when third parties approach me to write about their products or to include advertorial content in my blog – and of course, I would declare any such interest when it arises!

Even though I do not pay for Google ad words, or undertake any paid-for SEO, this blog comes up 2nd (after paid results) when using Google search for “Content in Context”.

One outcome from Google search encryption will undoubtedly be a renewed focus on providers offering contextual search solutions, because keyword search relies primarily on frequency, proximity and assumed relevance of search terms, rather than actual contextual meaning.

So, in some ways Google’s decision to encrypt all search will make everyone else lift their game, which can only be positive.

Whose content is it anyway?

Faust 2.0

Every social media and digital publishing platform is engaged in a continuous battle to acquire content, in order to attract audiences and bolster advertising revenues.

Content ownership is becoming increasingly contentious, and I wonder if we truly appreciate the near-Faustian pact we have entered into as we willingly contribute original material and our personal data in return for continued “free” access to Facebook, YouTube, Google, Flickr, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, MySpace, etc.

Even if we knowingly surrender legal rights over our own content because this is the acceptable price to pay for using social media, are we actually getting a fair deal in return? The fact is that more users and more content means more advertisers – but are we being adequately compensated for the privilege of posting our stuff on-line? Even if we are prepared to go along with the deal, are our rights being adequately protected and respected?

In late 2012, Instagram faced intense public backlash against suggestions it would embark upon the commercial exploitation of users’ photographs. While appearing to backtrack, and conceding that users retain copyright in their photographs, there is nothing to say that Instagram and others won’t seek to amend their end-user license agreements in future to claim certain rights over contributed content. For example, while users might retain copyright in their individual content, social media platforms may assert other intellectual property rights over derived content (e.g., compiling directories of aggregated data, licensing the metadata associated with user content, or controlling the embedded design features associated with the way content is rendered and arranged).

Even if a social media site is “free” to use (and as we all know, we “pay” for it by allowing ourselves to be used as advertising and marketing bait), I would still expect to retain full ownership, control and use of my own content – otherwise, in some ways it’s rather like a typesetter or printer trying to claim ownership of an author’s work….

The Instagram issue has resurfaced in recent months, with the UK’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. The Act amends UK copyright law in a number of ways, most contentiously around the treatment of “orphan” works (i.e., copyright content – photos, recordings, text – where the original author or owner cannot be identified). The stated intent of the Act is to bring orphan works into a formal copyright administration system, and similar reforms are under consideration in Australia.

Under the new UK legislation, a licensing and collection regime will be established to enable the commercial exploitation of orphan works, provided that the publisher has made a “diligent” effort to locate the copyright holder, and agrees to pay an appropriate license fee once permission to publish has been granted by the scheme’s administrator.

Such has been the outcry (especially among photographers), that the legislation has been referred to as “the Instagram Act”, and the UK government’s own Intellectual Property Office was moved to issue a clarification factsheet to mollify public concerns. However, those concerns continue to surface: in particular, the definition of “diligent” in this context; and the practice of some social media platforms to remove metadata from photos, making it harder to identify the owner or the original source.

Meanwhile, the long-running Google book scanning copyright lawsuit has taken another unexpected twist in the US courts. From the outset, Google tried to suggest it was providing some sort of public service in making long-out-of-print books available in the digital age. Others claim that it was part of a strategy to challenge Amazon.

Despite an earlier unfavourable ruling, a recent appeal has helped Google’s case in two ways: first, the previous decision to establish a class action comprising disgruntled authors and publishers has been set aside (on what looks like a technicality); second, the courts must now consider whether Google can claim its scanning activities (involving an estimated 20 million titles) constitute “fair use”, one of the few defences to allegations of breach of copyright.

Personally, I don’t think the “fair use” provisions were designed to cater for mass commercialization on the scale of Google, despite the latter saying it will restrict the amount of free content from each book that will be displayed in search results – ultimately, Google wants to generate a new revenue stream from 3rd party content that it neither owns nor originated, so let’s call it for what it is and if authors and publishers wish to grant Google permission to digitize their content, let them negotiate equitable licensing terms and royalties.

Finally, the upcoming release of Apple’s iOS7 has created consternation of its own. Certain developers with access to the beta version are concerned that Apple will force mobile device users to install app upgrades automatically. If this is true, then basically Apple is telling its customers they now have even less control over the devices and content that they pay for.