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You, Inc.: Why (and how) CIOs use social media to create a personal brand


Guest post by Elaine M. Cummings

Do you have your own slogan? You ought to. Today, branding is everything: A brand tells you how a product or service is different, and why it adds value. Big companies have known that for a long time—and now it's personal.


If the idea of crafting a personal brand seems odd, remember that you have one whether you created it or not. Friends, family, and coworkers already have a perception of who you are and what you stand for. It's your job to refine that image and then promote it. Increasingly, CIOs and other executives are using social media to build networks and promote their personal brands. They can both strike up important business relationships and position themselves as leaders to the world at large.

"If you want to show yourself as an innovator, you can post information about Big Data or artificial intelligence that says, 'I'm interested in advanced technology,'" says Martha Heller, president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and author of the forthcoming Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT (fall 2016). "Retweeting someone like Clay Christensen says you're interested in leadership, or blogging about broad industry trends pegs you as a thought leader."

Think different

A strong personal brand needs a strong narrative. Yours can include a certain degree of reinvention by imagining the persona you'd like to have (Dorie Clark has a great book on the topic, called Reinventing You). Start with the stories you tell people about who you are, verbally or through your actions. As you promote, or reinvent, think carefully about the personal brand you want to promote. What parts of you do you want to focus on, and how can you differentiate yourself? Forget your title. Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, and distinctive value? What are the things I do that make me proud?

"It's about creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories," says Paige Francis, CIO at Fairfield University, who actively uses social media to communicate with all her constituents.

At the same time, personal branding is not about blatant self-promotion, nor should it feel forced. "Too many CIOs blog about public affairs. It's too scripted, or it's written by others, and it shows," says Linda Cureton, former CIO at NASA and current CEO of Muse Technologies. "It's best to use an informal personal style and stay away from sending out something that reads like a press release."

First step: Write a quick profile of the public persona you want to communicate. What subjects are you an expert in? What do you care about? What's the style or "voice" you use? How much of your personal life ("Go Warriors!" "Loved the new Star Wars!") is in the mix?

It's the real thing

To stand out—or to stand for something—authenticity is key. Present a genuine "you," both in daily workplace interactions and on the web, that's consistent with your personal brand. Demonstrate who you are in every email you send, every blog post you write, every tweet you post.

You'll also want to find the right balance between where and how often you do it, says Heller. "If you spend a lot of time blogging, people might wonder, 'What's happening to his or her day job?'"

Cureton agrees and admits her detractors used that reproach when she was at NASA. "But I think good leaders always find time to communicate," she says. "Too many managers say they don't have time to talk to people, but what's more important than communicating? It just doesn't take that much time to come up with a 140-character tweet."

First step: What platforms will you use? How consistently? Look into best practices for your chosen platform and commit to the necessary time, so you don't abandon your effort shortly after launching.

You're soaking in it

Consultant and former CIO Tim Crawford, ranked as one of the Top 100 Most Social CIOs, notes that Twitter and other venues get really noisy, really fast. "You definitely need to learn how to manage the information feed if you are intent on managing your brand," he says. And given how quickly social media conversations can become charged or political, he also cautions against getting too controversial—or at least understand the controversy tolerance of your current job and aspirations.

"I would think twice about what I put out there," he says. "In my current position, I can post provocative things to get people talking, but if I were still a seated CIO, I might take a slightly more cautious route."

Francis agrees that the reach of social media can be both a positive and a negative. "It's great that it's super public, and it's terrible that it's super public," she says. "You have to self-edit, because you can't take it back. It's public, and it's absolutely findable. By everyone."

First step: Start any social effort by listening. Understand the style of communication, the topics, and the relationships. Respect that you're entering an established conversation.

Just do it

Once you make a commitment to create a presence on social media, find the time to do it regularly. "Blogging and tweeting cause people to become interested in you as a person," says Cureton. "I started by talking about me and technology, but when I wanted to shape myself as a more well-rounded thinker, I was able to pivot my brand to something less personal and more business oriented."

Now, Cureton uses Facebook to write blogs and Twitter to send out sound bites that link to her longer articles. And although she is no longer a CIO, she still has a big following that has allowed her to build trust within her new community. "Someone recently came up to me on the street and said, 'I know you! I'm one of your biggest Facebook and Twitter fans!'" she says. "I thought: Oh gee, they seem to know me! I guess I'm famous—or infamous, maybe!"

It's a brand new world, and social media is waiting for you. The only question is: What do you want to be famous for?

Read more articles about IT strategy and leadership at HPE Business Insights.

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