All CEOs have the daily opportunity (and obligation) to build their personal brand in service of their own and their company’s reputation. In addition, many companies are beginning to realize that their executives need to have polished personal brands that highlight their expertise and knowledge to an outside audience.
Far from being a luxury or an exercise in ego, building an executive brand is a requirement in our digital world. Like it or not, today’s CEO has been pre-cast in the role of the company’s chief brand ambassador. For many CEOs, the key to integrating this into their role is to create a parallel brand.
A parallel brand is the perfect blend of a CEO’s personal and company brands. While remaining distinct, these two brands should work in concert. In order to be maximally effective, a parallel CEO brand must:
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- Complement, not conflict with, the business brand
- Be authentic and sustainable over time
- Be positive, affirming and aspirational or intriguing, contrarian and captivating
- Be obvious both internally to the CEO’s company and externally to the public
- Simultaneously enhance the reputation of the CEO and the business
The best parallel executive and CEO brands produce a wide range of results. A 2015 study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research reported that:
- Global executives attribute 45 percent of their company’s reputation to the reputation of their CEO
- A CEO’s reputation plays an important role in attracting employees to a company (according to 77 percent of respondents) as well as motivating them to stay (70 percent)
- Global executives attribute 44 percent of their company’s market value to the reputation of their CEO
In addition, other benefits of a strong CEO reputation include attracting investors, generating positive media attention and affording crisis protection.
The C-Suite/CEO brand matrix
Assuming you’ve accepted the necessity of leveraging your personal brand for the good of your organization, the question becomes, how do you get there? A key first step is to practice C-Suite and CEO reputation management.
Any time day or night, you need only turn on CNN or check out Twitter to see how wildfire-fast information (and disinformation) can spread. As the lines between company and CEO reputation blur, and increasingly ridiculous amounts of information on individuals become readily available in just a few clicks, CEO reputation management is a mandate. To manage yours, at a minimum, you need to take the following steps.
Claim Your Name
In the gold-rush days, would-be wealthy miners placed stakes in the ground to mark off their territory. In the digital era, CEOs and executives need to stake their claim to their name and own as much of their digital brand territory as possible. In practical terms, this means a few things.
Registering your name for a website is essential. Even if you never create a personal brand website, you need to protect yourself from others using your name to damage your image and reputation.
While the ideal situation is to get your exact name as your URL (e.g., www.karenleland.com), with 850 million active websites on the internet, many names are already spoken for. If your name is taken, try one of the following:
- Your first initial and last name
- Your first name, middle initial and last name
- Your first, middle and last names
- A hyphen between your first and last names
- A qualifying word at the end of your name (e.g., www.janedoeceo.com)
- Try buying your name. The person who owns it may be willing to sell it for a fair price. I’ve even had occasions where the individual who owned a domain name wasn’t using it and transferred it for free out of courtesy.
Next, get a personal URL on all key social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other social media platforms allow you to generate a vanity URL that acts as a personalized domain on these sites. For example: www.facebook.com/JaneDoe, twitter.com/JaneDoe, and www.linkedin.com/in/JaneD.
Stay on Top of the Search Engines
If you or one of your staff hasn’t checked out what pops up when your name gets put into a search engine, your online reputation isn’t being managed. Routinely Googling yourself allows you to keep track of what the search engines are saying about you and take corrective actions when possible.
To stay on top of your search engine results, set a Google Alert on yourself to receive an email when you’re mentioned on the web. This way you can see who’s talking about you -- and what they’re saying. If you don’t like what you see, take a proactive stance and shape the narrative of your CEO brand. While it’s not effortless, and certainly not perfect, there are some useful workarounds you can employ to manage how you show up on the search engines.
Replace old photos. One of my clients had lost a substantial amount of weight but still had old photos popping up online. She was able to contact the purveyors of these pics and request that they replace them with an updated photo. Almost all agreed, and within a short period of time, the newer photos were what came up in the search engine results.
Push undesirable results down. If you want to get outdated, unfair and inaccurate content off the first few pages of your search results, try the following:
- Write desirable new content (blog posts, articles etc.) aimed at specific keywords to drive older, less desirable content (which features those same keywords) farther down the list.
- Create public profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Since these always rank toward the top in search engine results, they can push poor content off the first page.
- Use a comment and status update strategy to weigh in -- using your real name, constructive opinions and proper spelling and grammar -- on forums, blog posts, articles and social media sites.
Be a Social CEO
One key way to manage your CEO reputation is to participate in social media. In our continuously connected, always-wired world, customers, employees and shareholders have a constant hunger for -- and access to -- information about a company and its executives. Being a social CEO is a necessity for any leader who doesn’t want to get left in the online dust.
BRANDfog’s 2014 “The Global Social CEO Survey” uncovered some of the primary reasons CEOs should go social or go home. According to the report, major benefits of leadership participation in social networks include better communication, improved brand image, more transparency and improved company morale.
Leverage Your LinkedIn Profile
While there’s no one right strategy for being a social CEO, as the leader in the B2B social space, LinkedIn is a must-have. With few exceptions, almost every executive I run across has an insufficient LinkedIn profile. The with-it ones know it matters and want a profile makeover; the not-so-well-informed toss out a dismissive “No one really reads that.” In fact, they do. As the premium B2B social media site, more than likely, the customers, colleagues, employees and future employers you work with will check you out on the site.
How does this impact your CEO brand? Let’s say you’re scheduled to give a keynote speech at an industry conference. There’s a potential investor you want to connect with and you’ve found out he’ll be there. You look him up on LinkedIn, reach out on the site and suggest you meet up at the conference. It’s almost a certainty that he’ll look over your profile. Your online impression may be the deciding factor in whether he says yea or nay to your proposed meeting.
A solid LinkedIn profile makes good social media branding sense and should include:
- A current headshot
- Your current job position
- Your two most recent job positions
- Your education
- A profile summary
- Additional skills
- At least four recommendations