Should PR professionals use social media to build their personal brand?

Ketchum's Nancy Martira and Jeremy Pepper, formerly of Boingo Wireless, debate PR professionals' use of social media to build their personal brands.


Nancy Martira
Senior interactive strategist, Ketchum
More than 1,900 Twitter followers; more than 400 friends on Facebook

Social media is like the New York lottery, “You've gotta be in it to win it.”

As a PR practitioner, I can't counsel clients on how to organically engage in on-line communities unless I truly understand the culture – and that understanding comes from my daily participation in social networks, influential blogs, and the Twitter community. Every thought I publish online reflects not only on my clients and my agency, but on me, personally. It's not a question of whether I seek to build my personal brand online; it's an inevitability of being active in the space.

One of the key benefits of participating in social media is the opportunity to humanize your brand; people don't want to talk to a logo, they want to talk to a face.

The most compelling username you can have online is your own name. The names Adam Denison and Scott Monty have become synonymous with Chevrolet and Ford, respectively, but do you know who the individual is behind @jetblue and @southwestair? It's so much easier to be angry at an anonymous corporation than at a human being with whom you have developed a personal connection.

Blogging is all about the free exchange of ideas and experiences. I'm continually impressed by the heartfelt, personal writing I encounter in the community of moms online. I can never expect those women to trust me un-less I'm similarly willing to share my own triumphs and frustrations.

The greatest response I've had online has not come from branded content, but from universally relatable queries such as, “Is this brown guacamole still good to eat?” It may seem trivial, but relating personally with bloggers makes them more inclined to come to me proactively with a great idea or seek my assistance if they're feeling frustrated with one of our brands.

If PR practitioners are thoughtful about the way they engage online, the credibility they develop will serve them well both personally and professionally.


Jeremy Pepper
Former manager, global PR, Boingo Wireless
More than 6,000 Twitter followers; 1,155 friends on Facebook

As someone who has built a strong personal brand – not through any concentrated effort, but by the luck of the draw of being an early adopter and willing to take a position, popular or not – I can take a seat and see that the personal brand push, mainly through social media, is to the detriment of both the industry and client work.

When I first started in PR, I had a great boss who taught me a few lessons. One of the most important lessons is: clients come first. He explained to me that while we worked at an agency, the clients pay our salary. That means that we are here to make the client look good and do our work for them.

Ultimately, the job of the social media expert is to work with the client or agency to make others look good and to stay in the background. People forget this and push for their own brand.

The reality is that social media is hurting PR because the way to get ahead is to build a personal brand in a “damn the torpedoes” mindset. Unfortunately, those torpedoes are client work.

There is indeed a push by PR firms to hire social media experts. And, agencies are potentially confusing visibility with experience and knowledge in social media. Yes, the fastest and easiest way to build a personal brand is using social media – and that “shows” agencies and clients that you “know” social media.

I'm a big believer in eating the dog food – understanding what you are touting to clients and being a user of the same technology. However, does that personal brand knowledge relate to applicable client work? Do the skills that are put into building a personal brand translate into working on social media strategies and tactics for a corporation?

An individual is not a corporation, and the pitfalls and issues that a corporation encounters in social media are rarely (if ever) the same issues people encounter building a personal brand. All the person is doing is making oneself more marketable – on some-one else's dime.

PRWeek's View
Social media should be used to build a PR professional's personal brand. However, it is essential that any efforts to do so ultimately benefit the work being done on behalf of clients.

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