By Guest Author Dan Schawbel
[Dan closes his series with a an overview of the technological changes that made personal branding possible and a discussion of how to use technology to create your personal brand.]
Technology and Brand YOU
The World Was Not Ready in 1997
The graduating class of 1997 encountered many uncertainties when they ventured into the postcollege “working world.” They had received little preparation for its challenges. Back then, teachers, family members, and guidance counselors made fewer recommendations that students get internships. Job opportunities were growing at a rate of 27.5 percent, the largest increase in history. There were also fewer bachelor’s degrees granted between 1997 and 2000 (Scheetz, 1997-1998). Thus, the need to brand oneself as anything special seemed less urgent.
When Tom Peters’s visionary article, introducing personal branding to the masses, hit newsstands, many individuals weren’t prepared, nor did they recognize the potential for using personal branding in their own lives. Instead of pursuing entrepreneurship, the majority sought cover by enlisting as corporate employees and trudged their way up the corporate ladder, because they were instructed to by parents, peers, and teachers. Entrepreneurs at this time connected and recruited primarily through offline means, often through networking events in their communities. Few people thought of using the Internet to bond with investors or join other entrepreneurs and partners through online communities.
Back then, a resume and a cover letter were the sole criteria for the job application screening process, and human resource departments collected thousands of them in their database systems. Candidates who appeared qualified on paper were granted standard interviews; hiring managers had only a resume, cover letter, and a standard interview at their disposal. It was challenging for candidates to express themselves freely, showcase their full range of talents, and stand out from the crowd. […]
The costs associated with online branding were sky-high, from developing and designing a website to advertising. Few individuals could afford to brand themselves online for the same price big companies were paying. Media relations were too expensive for most individuals to invest in, and the likelihood they would garner significant attention was minimal. Thus, people were forced to rely on traditional communication channels, including newspapers and print magazines, which provided great circulation at the time but were and are one-dimensional, allowing for little or no interaction.
Like Web 1.0, Me 1.0 was when people hid behind their corporate brand, using their corporate logo as a shield from the outside world. Individuals conformed to corporate policy and had few networking tools at their disposal, so the opportunities for most individuals to broaden and control their careers were limited.
There were routine networking events for associations and industries, but there was no mention of connecting through the Internet. The typical career during this time tended to involve long periods of employment at a single company. This “personal brand chokehold” impeded employees, leaving them with few opportunities and one potential income source. Luckily, as time passed, individuals were ready to embrace the fine art of personal branding. As the corporate landscape progressed to the new millennium, companies started to shift their focus from viewing their talent as “fixed assets” to acknowledging the quality and performance of each employee. People became a corporation’s greatest resource and most important product, and the expense of keeping them well trained was viewed as a solid investment (BNET, 2001).
A New Century, a New State of Mind
Enter the 21st century and a new way of thinking, living, and planning for the future. The recruiting landscape has been completely reshaped. Almost two-thirds of the American population—around 194 million people—is online, where the majority of recruiting is now conducted (eMarketer, 2008). The competition to get jobs is intense; more than 1.5 million graduates will be receiving their bachelor’s or master’s degrees this year and entering the job market, when the job growth rate is expected to be its lowest in five years (CSM, 2008).
What else has changed? Human resource and hiring professionals now prioritize college major interview skills, and demonstration of initiative as main factors when deciding whom to hire (collegegrad.com, 2008). They’ve also de-emphasized one’s GPA in the selection process. Compensation is now a key focus area for employers, given that 56 percent of companies expect to increase salaries and compensation packages to attract, motivate, and retain strong performers (careerbuilder.com, 2007). As a result of increasing competition, a large percentage of recent college graduates are still searching for a job. A recent Jobweb.com survey indicated that employers receive an average of 73 applications for each available entry-level position (MonsterTRAK, 2007). Talk about being a needle in a haystack!
This intense competition for jobs is a driving factor in the acceptance of the personal branding practice. Another is the shift to Web 2.0, the transition from one-way communication to community-driven environments on the Web. Out of Web 2.0, social media was born.
This new form of media—different from traditional media outlets such as newspapers, television, books, radio, and magazines—is built on community participation. Now anyone can provide remarks on current events or formulate their own stories and receive comments from others. The New York Times and USA Today have even implemented reader commentary as a standard application throughout their online articles. They’ve also borrowed the same sharing features that blogs have, such as Digg and Del.icio.us, which allow the news to be spread easily from user to user and lets users interact with various websites. You know that media has changed when 95 percent of the top 100 U.S. newspapers and 58 percent of the top 100 magazines o?er blogs, and these numbers will surely grow in the next few years (eMarketer, 2008).
By 2001, the individual’s role on the Internet had shifted from spectator to participant. (Wikipedia). Like Web 2.0, Me 2.0 can stand in front of your brand and be an e?ective brand spokesperson. Blogging was finally adopted by the masses and regarded as a full-fledged phenomenon. Open conversations have replaced one-way dialog on a level playing field. To give you a snapshot, in 2007, there were more than 70 million blogs in the blogosphere (the entire body of blogs on the Internet), as tracked by David Sifry, founder of Technorati. Every day, approximately 120,000 new blogs are developed, with 1.5 million new posts each day worldwide. There is literally a new post created almost every second. Just think about it—every time you blink your eye, a new blog post is published! By 2012, 67 percent of the Internet population will be reading blogs at least once a month (eMarketer, 2008).
As blogs have taken off, podcasting has exploded in popularity. Podcasts make multimedia portable, production easy, and sharing seamless, and they have revolutionized the way in which we consume, promote, and distribute information. They also offer an entirely new system for building brand You. Now people can be watching a podcast of you anywhere in the world, even without a laptop or desktop computer. You can use a podcast to showcase your talents, such as a video of you speaking at an event, a music video you made with your rock band, or a promotion for your next big business idea. Podcast viewers can get a quick sense of who you are and what you’re capable of in just a few minutes. Think of the Web as a giant consortium of talent agents, waiting and watching, trying to find the next big superstar. That superstar can be you!
To sum it all up, personal branding is an amazing and versatile tool and is necessary in a world where technology is changing the way we manage our careers, express our value, and communicate with one another. Personal branding will grant you real meaning and opportunities for success in your life. I’ve seen many individuals embrace their own passion, in the workplace and socially, through the power of personal branding. They are excited to wake up each day with the confidence to live the life they always wanted to live—and that is exactly how I want you to feel. Personal branding is the ultimate Gen Y career catalyst. It will allow you to achieve your long-term goals in the short term and empower you to become the commander of your career.