Influencers Who Inspire Series – Dan Schawbel

We continue talking with some of the greatest influencers in the industry with this week’s interview with Dan Schawbel. Dan Schawbel is the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. He is the author of the #1 international best-selling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future, now in 11 languages and he has been interviewed in top publications around the world such as Inc., Fortune and TIME, among others.
 

How do you define personal branding?
 

Personal branding is the process by which you unearth what makes you special and then communicate it to the right people who would benefit from your abilities. It’s about being authentic, having a specific audience in mind, and having flexible goals. It’s about believing in yourself, marketing yourself and making a commitment to success.  Remember that the product (you) comes before the marketing (selling yourself). If you aren’t extremely good at a skill or knowledgeable on a topic, all the marketing and social media tools in the world won’t save you, they will just bring you down faster.
 

You have interviewed so many interesting people. Who has been the most surprising?
 

Out of about 650 total interviews since 2007, I would say that Hulk Hogan was the biggest surprise. He was very laid back, generous, honest and respectful. He opened up about his family, was excited that I grew up as a fan and had a lot of good career advice. He was by his pool in Florida during the interview, so that could have been part of it.
 

What do you love about living in Boston? What do you dislike about living in Boston?

I actually just moved to Boston last year. I grew up in Newton, moved to Waltham to attend Bentley University and I now live in Seaport. I like living in the innovation area because there are a lot of young entrepreneurs (people like me) and it’s an up-and-coming scene. I dislike how there’s no parking in Boston and it can be hard to get around.
 

What inspired you to write your book, “Me 2.0” and what can someone expect to gain from buying/reading it?
 

I had eight internships, seven leadership positions in student-run organizations and had my own small business in college. It still took me about eight months to land a job at EMC after going on several interviews. After a few months at EMC, I started a blog, which eventually turned into PersonalBrandingBlog.com after I read the Tom Peters’ “Brand Called You” article in early 2007. Within six months, I launched my own magazine, online video show, and wrote articles on personal branding for online sources. Fast Company profiled me for everything I had done in six months. EMC had no idea what I was doing outside of work but saw my social media abilities and recruited me internally to be the first social media specialist. This inspired me to write Me 2.0 because I was recruited based on the personal brand I had established online, instead of applying for jobs. It was a life changing experience and I captured it in my first book.
 

What are your hobbies or passions outside of work?

Work is obviously a passion of mine but I like to run, travel and meet new people as much as possible.
 

What is your favorite travel destination and why?
 

I really don’t have a favorite travel destination. I like Chicago, LA, NYC and the Bahamas. I always enjoy coming back to Boston though because I’m a big fan of the Seaport and the community here.
 

You are certainly a young entrepreneur and have done so much so early in your career.  What are you most proud of? What else do you have planned for 2012 and beyond?
 

I would say that I’m most proud of turning Me 2.0 into the #1 book in Japan, despite not knowing the language.

I started a company called Millennial Branding back in early 2010, which started off as a full-service personal branding agency and is now a Gen-Y marketing research and consulting firm. I also signed my second book deal with St. Martins Press after over three years of rejection. The book is going to come out in the Fall of 2013 and it’s focused on how to get ahead in your career when you already have a job.

Don’t Let the Dog Groomer Cut Your Hair … or the Social Media Expert Run Your PR

Several conversations held with industry pals yesterday had me thinking a lot about public relations and the entire social media craze that is – in some minds – threatening the PR industry. I’ve been asked a lot of questions in recent interviews such as:

“What is social media?”

“Who should own the social media responsibility in business?”

“Should all companies use social media?”

“If I have social media, do I even need PR anymore?”

“Can’t my social media expert just do the blogger outreach?”

Those types of questions have sparked plenty of debates that led to bigger conversations, during which I discovered time and time again that the entire definition and concept of public relations is being confused with the term – and perception – of social media.

Ask yourself, would you:

- Let your vet perform surgery on you?

- Hire a house painter to create a family portrait?

- Have the school lunch cook cater your next big party?

- Ask your kid’s hockey coach to teach gymnastics?

- Ask the dog groomer to give you your next haircut?

While each of these experts have similar traits, they are not the same! So why would you hand the communications and PR strategy for your business to a social media evangelist/expert/guru/champion?

Get over the Whole “Social Media Expert” Moniker
What does that mean, anyway?

First of all, the term “social media expert” means nothing. It means nothing because it’s overused, mostly unproven and you’ll get a different definition from everyone that you ask.

It also means nothing because most “social media experts” are a dime a dozen, largely unproven and akin to back alley plastic surgeons – they’ll promise you a pretty face at a cheap price but in the end, you’ll wish you had paid for the real professional.

Many businesses are either glassy-eyed to the term “social media,” or panicking about how to get in on the trend. They are overwhelmed with terms, pitches and news reports about how social media will make or break your business. They see thousands of Twitter follower numbers on someone’s bio and turn to these self-defined social media experts for help. But they’re not doing their homework to determine who the experts really are – and  it’s going to get ugly when these experts make bigger PR and marketing promises that they don’t truly understand – let alone have any proven results to share.

Still thinking you need an expert? Heed Dan Schwabel’s advice as you proceed:
To be labeled as an expert you need PROVEN results, with an associated endorsement to back it up.

But Isn’t Social Media the New PR?
PR is Not Social Media; Rather, Social Media is a Part of (any good) PR Strategy

I cringe every time I hear social media experts pitching their PR expertise because they “know all the bloggers,” or because they “have 25,000 followers on Twitter.” Social media has spawned an entirely new wave of “experts” who may be great at writing a blog, brush shoulders often with the Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble’s of the world or have a multi-thousand follower list on Twitter. But these talents most certainly do not equate to an understanding of the intricate and long-term strategies for branding and messaging.

PR isn’t blogger relations. It isn’t just media relations. It involves much more than simple promotion or publicity. Let us not forget what PR stands for – it’s “public relations.” The “public” part includes building positive relationships with a variety of constituents – customer, prospects, partners, media, bloggers, analysts, competitors, employees, VCs and so on. And as I’ve said before, a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with these audiences simply isn’t effective.

Popularity or activity in social media communities – how to grow a Twitter following, how to share information faster, how to create and post videos, and more – does not equate to an expert understanding of how to build a lifelong brand, what creates brand loyalty, or how to create an integrated communications strategy for building relationships with both internal and external audiences. A strategy that should support – and positively impact – the long-term corporate goals of a business.

Yes, social media is changing the face of PR, marketing and advertising. Absolutely, social media should be a part of these important business efforts. The key phrase here is “a part of these efforts.” Social media is just one of the elements of “managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.”

What’s the Difference?
A strategy vs. a tactic

There are a lot of great people out there doing very exciting things with social media. I have respect for a lot of the social media consultants or agencies that I’ve met. But the ones I most respect are sticking to what they’re good at and not laying claim to the entire PR industry. Those who are touting themselves as new PR experts don’t seem to understand the whole of PR in the first place.

As just one part of a larger communications and PR strategy, social media efforts are very often focused on the near term. Planning questions are typically “What do you want to do for this particular effort?” “Who are you trying to sell this product to?” and “How can we drive traffic for this particular time period?” The focus is often on creating shorter-term campaigns to drive temporary buzz, traffic or conversations.

(Good) PR is focused on a variety of tactics that tie into a larger and longer-term strategy. As I mentioned, social media is very often part of it (or should be – that’s an entirely other topic, currently being researched by many such as Jennifer Leggio). (Good) PR professionals also ask questions that help them understand the whole of your business, and how to support it with PR, such as:

-    What are your biggest sales challenges?
-    How do you develop brand champions?
-    What vertical markets do you play in?
-    How do you win?
-    What keeps you up at night?
-    What does your product roadmap look like?
-    Describe your business. Now describe it in 12 months.

Such questions help the PR team create an overarching plan that encompasses many elements – social media, events, speaking, awards, customer programs, media and more.

What to do – PR or Social Media?
Both. Do PR; make social media one of the elements.

Smart companies will recognize that social media isn’t a PR campaign. It’s one part of a much larger communications strategy. PR and marketing experts – with proven results – should still lead your branding efforts. Social media experts may be a part of that team. Designers and content experts may be a part of that team. But the communications and branding experts should be in the driver’s seat.

Some companies will hire both a social media agency/consultant and a PR firm. Personally, I think an integrated firm – like the handful of evolved “PR 2.0” firms – is the best choice. Or, for those companies who cannot hire outside expertise, be sure that your communications director is adept at both traditional and new digital communications strategies.

At the very least, be sure that you have an individual assigned to managing all the agencies to ensure cohesive messaging and communication. What good are all those Tweets if the messages don’t align with your brand or drive long-term value?

Persuasive Picks for the week of 04/21/08

This week brings five picks on a variety of topics to dive into. Enjoy!

Overcoming key resistence to adopting social media
If your company still hasn’t adopted a social media strategy, then it might be due to one of the reasons listed in this post. However, Shel Holtz lends his expertise to show you why these excuses no longer hold water.

Personal Brand Statement Contest – Win The Full Issue 4
If you haven’t paid for a subscription to Dan Schwabel’s excellent Personal Branding Magazine, then this post will allow you to download a sample of the upcoming issue as well as enter into a contest to win the full version when it comes out.

Video Comments? No Thanks – 5 Reasons They Don’t Work
Earlier this week TechCunch launched the ability to leave video comments on blog posts as an alternative to a traditional text comment – courtesy of the new Seesmic plugin for WordPress. At first, video comments seem to be hip alternative to typing, but in this post, Josh Catone clearly reveals a few downsides to adopting video comments on your blog.

del.icio.us as a PR measurement tool
Andrew Careaga of the Higher Ed Marketing blog gives some incite on a recent experience using the social bookmarking site del.icio.us as a measurement tool when keeping track of media coverage. His advice could also be carried over to similar tools like StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit.

Seven Types Of Highly Effective Corporate Blogs
In this post, Mitch Joel covers 6 styles of corporate blogs and provides examples of each. Does your company’s blog fall into one of these categories? Or perhaps one of these blog types will inspire you to get one started if your company still hasn’t joined the blogosphere.