I am a huge advocate for personal branding. When it comes to career advancement, I am of the belief that resumes are out the door, and the entire education model that instructsgoing to college with the promise of a solid job is broken. Your degree guarantees you nothing.
What people care more about, and what determines an employer's decision to hire, has far less to do with where you went to school and far more to do with what you're currently doing. What do you know, better than everyone else? What is your track record? And, in a mile-high pile of resumes, what makes you different?
I'll tell you exactly what makes someone stand out: having an audience online.
I had a really interesting conversation about this with the CEO of Smarp, an employee advocacy platform from Finland (I'm fascinated by their startup scene out there) that essentially rewards employees for positively representing the company online. The CEO, Roope Heinilä, brought up an awesome point that I hadn't even thought about, which is the fact that one of the best ways an employee can advance in their career is to actually become an internal influencer for a company.
"Companies have been trying to get external influencers, such as celebrities, to represent their brands for decades, but they've only recently discovered that their best influencers may actually be their own employees. While employees may not have as vast of networks as some of these much bigger social media stars, they have a vested interest in their employer's success and a much better understanding of the company than anyone else," said Heinilä.
He went on to explain that employees are beginning to see the personal benefits of advocating for their employers, benefits which include a reputation for thought leadership, as well as internal and external recognition as they position themselves as experts in their field.
When you have a personal brand, people take you more seriously. That's a fact.
Think about it. When you meet someone new, what do you do? You look them up online.
When you interview someone and are contemplating hiring them, what do you do? You look them up online.
Even when you're considering going on a date with your friend's friend, what do you do? You look them up online.
Who we are "online" is, at its most basic form, a representation of who we are--or who we want to be seen as. The moment you become intentional with that image you are portraying, and do so with the awareness of who you want to speak to, you have begun shaping your "personal brand."
But having a personal brand isn't just about having thousands upon thousands of followers on social media, or having a professional headshot as your profile picture (although those things do help). It has far more to do with your expertise, what value you're sharing in any given niche, and how many people see you as a credible source.
I find this to be a fascinating twist on influence, since the term "influencer" has always been seen as a lone ranger position. An easy parallel would be what many big brands in the fitness and fashion spaces have done, creating vast networks of influencers and affiliates to represent a company's mission and products. That same model can be applied to any business, and it can give employees the opportunity to promote the company they work for and build a name for themselves in the process.
I'm not sure how long it's going to take the masses to realize that the shift away from resumes and towards personal brands has already happened.
"There has been a huge surge in interest toward personal branding in the past few years, and there's no reason why that shouldn't work hand-in-hand with employee advocacy," Heinilä told me. "Companies can (and should) help their employees brand themselves as experts in their field, because it not only helps the company but helps employees become more knowledgeable about their work and industry."
Furthermore, and one of the things that Smarp does for companies through gamification, is that by letting employees represent the company they work for actively on social media, they become vastly more engaged. According to a study by Gallup, only 13% of the global workforce considers themselves engaged at work. That's both astonishing and depressing. But by having a knowledge hub and making it easy for employees to share content (both internally and externally) on a regular basis, they can take more ownership over their work and even the direction of their careers.
This is something that I speak on frequently, this idea that if you can build yourself into a thought leader in your industry, you have so much more control over the direction of your future--and that's something many people in the workforce, young and old, crave.
Many feel frustrated when they find themselves stuck in a job that doesn't allow them to move fast enough, or doesn't give clear direction for how to advance. So by giving employees the opportunity to take that ownership into their own hands, the company itself reaps the rewards of having even more knowledgeable employees--who then promote the company.
"Of course, there's the other issue that companies face, where they struggle with the authenticity of their messaging," said Heinilä. "Trust toward messages coming directly from a brand is typically fairly low. So by having employees act as the voice of the company, the authenticity of the overall message increases, as does the total reach. However, for this to happen effectively, companies need to trust their employees to be advocates with their own voice--not just parrots to the same general marketing messages."
So, as an employee, if you want to advance in your career, then consider what you can do to begin building social equity and thought leadership within your company and your industry. There is tremendous value, both to yourself and the company you work for, in build an active audience--and something you can no doubt ladder up to bigger opportunities both within the company or elsewhere.
And employers, consider turning your staff into your own influencer network. After all, the voices of your employees are the most trustworthy of all.