Every time I hear the intro for the Six Pixels of Separation podcast (I’m that other listener), I hear Mitch Joel‘s voice rather reedily commenting on how “Consumers have never been so powerful” and making the note about how brand democratisation is a pre-eminent force in commerce these days.
Think about that for a second, and put it in the perspective of other marketing bloggers talking about personal branding. Did you think they were talking about the same thing? For a while I did, but there’s a missing step here.
When Mitch talks about brand democratisation, I take it to mean the efforts that large corporations undertake to involve people with their branding, the community essence that is becoming so popularised thanks to the internet. How brands are taking advantage of Facebook pages, and what that means for the 350 or more million users. It also brings me to his own devil’s advocate position about the jump that people have in a lot of cases not yet made in recognizing the difference between collection and engagement. When brands, companies, engage in these kinds of shifts toward democratically developed business which is at the end more profitable and more beneficial to all parties. It’s a full-win situation.
But where does personal branding fit into this?
Over the last week, I’ve been watching the fallout of Chris Brogan’s Timberland rant. From the comments on his own blog post, to the reactions of others – Chris’ own admission of spazz and Justin Kownacki’s deconstruction of the situation come to mind – and the best part of it comes from the latter post, where Justin says “Online, everyone is an axe murderer.”
The short of this argument is that with the tools we as individual people have at our disposal, it’s possible for everyone to reach massive plateaus of celebrity in whatever circle we travel, if we do a good enough job of creating our own brand, controlling our presence, we can become hyper visible to whatever democratised brand we wish to engage. We can act as the spearhead for our followers to take action and become catalysts for change. It doesn’t mean we all get to be one-blog lobbyists, but it does mean that with enough care and feeding of our communities – both those we take part in and those we create – we can begin asking them for backup in our own endeavours.
It’s worth noting that it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of believing your own press. As Brogan says in his mea culpa about the Timberland post:
We talk about how individuals can earn trust and build reputation, but it never occurred to me that people might see others (me) as a trust agent in most things.
What Chris is getting at here more specifically is that we (those of us who are building and fostering community and networks) have to be wary of our own effects on the web we build. Spiders with heavy feet don’t catch many flies once they’ve ripped their nets. If you’re building your personal brand with anything in mind, any aim other than to get yourself out there and establish who you are online, eventually you’ll hit a crossroads like Chris’. Which direction will you go? Will you have caution and stray on the side of silence? Or will you err on the side of veneficus vox and ask too much of your community?
And, out of curiosity, what would you say Chris did by voicing his troubles? Or about the method by which he responded, not just to the criticism, but the constructive and informative mea culpa? Has Brogan jumped the shark, or has he done exactly what this new system of democratisation and personal branding is set up to address: called out a problem and received an appropriate, if ad hoc, response?
Corporate brands, democratic brands, and personal brands are very different, but the differences between these concepts are becoming an integral part of how the individual can interact on a new plane with a business. Each of the three have authority for different reasons, and authority must be earned; it can never be out and out claimed.
Who do you give the benefit of authority to? How much time to you spend considering why?