Personal branding among PR professionals on Twitter: key takeouts from my dissertation

Nowadays, every person can be considered as a brand. This phenomenon is especially common in the digital age with social platforms dominating our existence online, and sometimes even defining us. These are some of the key takeouts from my dissertation that was on the personal branding of comms professionals on Twitter. I was really privileged to interview some of the greatest industry minds, who tweet on a daily basis — Mary Whenman, Maja Pawinska Sims, Stephen Waddington, Andrew Bloch, and Chris Owen. My dissertation got the first and I am proud to share some of its learnings.

#1 Different ways to create a brand

Whether it boils down to sharing a lot of visuals with witty comments, engaging with journalists, promoting own work and the projects of organisation we work for, or staying professionals and sharing industry-oriented content, everyone has their own way of curating a brand that can then become distinctive and distinguishable. It does not matter which one you choose, your social presence will stay original and reflect your personality in one way or the other.

Everyone has their own way of curating a brand that can then become distinctive and distinguishable.

#2 Authenticity vs curation

“Being you” case leads me to the next key learning, which is about staying authentic and true to yourself. What is the balance between authenticity and curation? As the in-depth interviews suggest, practitioners keep a balance between their private and work life. Most of them chuckle when I ask about their social persona and answer that they don’t have alter egos online.

What about privacy? Most of them claim to leave private content — updates on their family, relationships, and other sensitive issues — away from social channels, and especially Twitter. There are, though, very few instances when PR professionals share photos of children or stories from their children’s’ experience, yet these flashes of private life are rather indicators that a “real person” is tweeting, not a corporate account holder. They are rarely revealing and never occupy central stage in the person’s Twitter presence. Some use other social platforms, like Facebook or Instagram for this type of content. This also relates to the Goffman’s theories that talk about us putting “masks” on, when in public, and changing them to accommodate to the circumstances. These concepts apply aptly to the digital space.

#3 Personal branding and corporate branding

Branding a persona and branding a product might at a glance seem like two very separate things. They are, however, inextricably bound together. The lines between those two disciplines are blurring and it becomes one practice. We can notice this phenomenon on the Twitter feed of Andrew Bloch, whose communications agency Frank PR don’t have a corporate Twitter account. Frank’s chief admits that this is a very deliberate action and that the self-branding of his employees would paint a much better picture of the agency than a “boring” corporate Twitter account. This shows that digital and social platforms change the way companies can approach promoting their services.

Digital and social platforms change the way companies can approach promoting their services.

#4 Freelance vs full-time branding

I have previously remarked that branding can differ from a person. It is because everyone has a different personality, particular views and a way of looking at the world. Not forgetting, in the communications industry, we have both full-time, employed practitioners, as well as freelance workers, who are quite often employed on the part-time or ad-hoc/project basis. Full-time practitioners already have a job and want to focus on doing it the best they can. They move on to establishing their connections with journalists to promote certain aspects of the professional activity. Freelancers, however, are constantly on the lookout for the new business leads and new projects. Sharing their current work, showcasing diversity of the content they are able to produce may work as a digital portfolio and help them find a job.

#5 Networking and other benefits of Twitter

Personal branding has a purpose. It is not just branding oneself for a sake of it. Distinguishing oneself from the crowd of others can lead to many opportunities — be it judging at the prestigious creativity festival, landing a book deal or a speaking engagement. A well branded professional can be a great advocate for the business and can lead to many new contracts and new clients. At last, PR professionals need to stay on the top of the news agenda, which Twitter is almost made for. Moreover, communications practitioners need to have an open mind, in order to deal with the varied portfolio of clients. “If Google is search, Twitter is discovery,” says Chris Owen — the most engaged tweeter from the studied. Many PRs use Twitter as a self-development tool: “I read more widely,” highlights the accomplished communications director Mary WhenmanMaja Pawinska Sims tweets a lot about her interests and learns from her feed. As Maja remarks: “My account reflects everything I am interested in in the world, from quantum physics and new technology innovations, to music and art, to books and writing, to creativity and communications.”

Distinguishing oneself from the crowd of others can lead to many opportunities.

#6 “There’s a difference between being influential and being engaged”

M&C Saatchi PR’s own Chris Owen highlights in the interview that being influential and being engaged are two, very different things. An influencer tweets an update and it gets plenty of impressions, retweets, and likes. A lot of people might follow them, but they might not have built a relationship. On the other hand, engaged user can be the one with a modest following, but the rapport they have built with their followers might be substantial. And this can apply to personal branding, as well. Some practitioners, who are senior in their communications roles might not post a lot, but whatever they post, gets picked up by the trade media and their thoughts might start a debate. Other practitioners, very often those starting out, have a small group of people that they interact with.

In the analysed case studies, we can identify a variety of users. Mary Whenman, as a communications director and a president of the industry association, shares her opinions that are usually really appreciated and respected by the industry. She does not engage a lot and does not get herself into online debates. Contrary to the president of Women in PR, Chris Owen mostly engages with his audience and chats about everything, ranging from sex robots to media issues with journalists. Stephen Waddington is both engaging and influential. His blog provokes many industry voices to start debating on the issues surrounding it, ranging from measurement and professional development to gender pay gap. Stephen, however, still appreciates Twitter as an engagement tool.

Being influential and being engaged are two, very different things.

Not a single way of building a personal brand

To conclude, using Twitter to brand oneself is a helpful practice for those seeking to establish their status in the professional industry, promote their knowledge, expertise and communication skills when looking for jobs, as well as connecting with journalists and other practitioners in the communications field. One of the greatest findings from my thesis is the fact that ego-centrism and self-promotion are not the way of being recognised in the social and digital space. It is all about others – engaging with them, promoting them, and building connections and rapport.


Acknowledgements

A huge thank you to my luminary interviewees – Mary Whenman, Maja Pawinska Sims, Stephen Waddington, Andrew Bloch, and Chris Owen. Thank you for dedicating your precious time and giving me an opportunity to explore this area. My dissertation wouldn’t have received the top mark without you!

A massive thank you to Anastasia Denisova, whose supervision was outstandingly professional, critical, but always encouraging and motivating.


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Author: Marcel Klebba

Junior Account Executive at M&C Saatchi PR. Working across the corporate & B2B accounts. Freshly graduated from the PR course at the University of Westminster. Interested in current affairs, tech, social and digital.

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