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The corporate brand is cramping my personal brand!

This guest post is written by SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board member Todd Defren. Defren is a principal at SHIFT Communications. His blog, PR-Squared,  is routinely among the top 50 blogs on AdAge’s Power150.

As the Millennial Generation comes online in the business world, corporate leaders will increasingly need to figure out how to deal with their young employee’s “personal brands.”

While we’ve all grown accustomed to the fact that prospective employers will be Googling us and scouring our Facebook profiles for incriminating photos, at some point the reverse will also be true:  Star employees will carefully evaluate the reputation and socialstreams of their would-be employers, to determine whether they want to associate their personal brand with that of the corporation.  This will only accelerate as the improving economy increases young employees’ options. 

It makes sense.  It takes an incredible commitment to cultivate a personal brand.  To go from three Facebook friends to 3,000 is no small feat; same goes for Twitter — to grow a personal fan base requires a savvy combination of content creation, curation, promotion and cool.

Why would someone go to the trouble of grooming their social graph into a consequential aspect of their job market attractiveness, only to grab at the first offer from a crappy company whose own reputation (or following) is not as impeccable or large as the employee’s own?

The same line of thinking will ultimately apply to current employees who wind up creating a following, whether on-the-job or during off-hours.  Their growing base of fans/followers will make them feel special.  If their employer does not offer that same magic feeling — or worse, if the employer makes a habit of screwing up online or off — the employee is likely to eventually walk out with those would-be customers, rather than sacrifice their own standing in the social hierarchy.

How corporations react to this emerging reality will differ.  Some will continue to be arrogant, to presume that the paycheck conquers all.  Some will bend over backward to please all employees all the time, lest an enemy rise from within and make them look foolish online.  Smart companies will find a way to attract strong personal brands to their banner.  After that, the key is to leverage these “well known” employees’ social graphs in ways that are mutually beneficial — without ever being exploitive, nor ever allowing these employees to gain enough leverage that their eventual departure could hurt the company’s reputation or revenues.

To the company: I’d suggest creating a program to identify and groom would-be stars from across the current employee base, as well as online.  Set basic (but not draconian) ground rules.  Figure out what types of corporate content they’d like to help create or promote.  Determine the pivot points where they reflexively defend the purity of their socialstreams.  Make it a process that works for both parties.

To the “personal brand”: I’d ask them to remember that a paycheck is a good thing.  I’d remind them that they elected to take their current position, and as long as they draw a paycheck, their first duty is to their employer.  Most importantly, I’d suggest that their social graph was not the only reason they were hired — the effort and savvy that they put into their personal brand is likely expected to translate to other parts of the job — the part that requires working, not tweeting.

As the push/pull of corporate and personal brands continue to intermingle, we can only expect this situation to get more nettlesome — and fascinating.

Image credit: VCTStyle, iStock Photo