Personal Brand, Professional Brand, and Perceived Bias in Social Media
So apprarently, my spirited defense about LMS value and role in the future of our industry has kicked off a lively debate. I’m glad. As I noted to Janet Clarey (@jclarey) a few nights ago on Twitter, I think it’s long overdue.
I will admit that I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of comment by other vendors. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt though as it’s a very tough line to walk when we as vendors or employees of vendors start engaging in these kinds of debates. Do we mention what competitors are doing? Do we call them out by name and praise them for cool stuff? If we do, does that conflict with our responsibilities to our brands and company success? Do we rip them for not being innovative enough and dragging us down into the sea of their discontent? In other words, where does one’s personal brand intersect with the company brand? In my case, where does “dwilkinsnh” end and Learn.com begin (or vice versa).
I’m not sure there are too many other folks in our space that maintain a professional blog and personal brand as I do while I also representing and helping to craft a company brand. I know Tom Stone is out there too, but who else? It’s unchartered waters, and a very tough balancing act.
And I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of this over time. As we see increasing levels of comfort with social media and user-generated content, more and more people will be creating content — whether it’s comments, microblogs, YouTube, or blogs. What happens if a competitor runs an idea generation contest with a big cash prize, and you have a great idea. Can you contribute? I mean, you obviously can’t contribute anything you’ve learned from your own company, but what about ideas you’ve had on your own? Can you separate the two? What would a court say? Leaving aside the legalities, is it ethical to contribute to a competitor’s success if it means betting against your own company? Banks apparently do it all the time, but it seems kind of unsavory right?
With regard to the current debate I seem to have sparked, there lots of things I’d like to say, but don’t, for fear that people will wrongly assume I’m speaking on behalf of Learn.com in this channel. I understand that. There is obviously some amount of overlap between my brand and the company’s, and as I’ve continued to take on roles of increasingly leadership, that overlap is increasing. I sort of picture it as a Ven diagram with two circles, one is my personal brand, one is the company’s brand. If I were the janitor, these would be almost entirely separate. As a district manager, maybe more overlapped. As a VP of Product Marketing, maybe a lot overlapped. And as CEO, they might as well be the same circle.
Which means I’m probably long overdue for a disclaimer: Let me be clear that I am not speaking for Learn.com with regard to this debate. This is not a Learn.com blog; it’s a David Wilkins blog and extends back across three companies. The views up here are my own and the extent to which I reference my employer, it’s in support of my own personal opinion and a reflection of my own personal experience. That also goes for my Twitter account, SlideShare accounts etc… They are all dwilkinsnh, and that’s obviously me and not the company I work for.
Given the above, let me also cover some related matters. A few folks have come pretty close to describing my position as “of course he feels that way, he’s an LMS vendor.” Given my comments above, I can see why, but it’s still disappointing. Intentional or not, in effect it’s a “fruit from the poisonous tree” kind of argument and even in some ways an ad hominen attack (even if unintended), especially when you consider the body of my work. For example, in this blog, I’ve written over 100 posts, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve blogged about LMS. I’ve been speaking, publishing and doing webinars for over 10 years and I think I’ve maybe covered LMS three or four times. Over the last 12 months alone, I presented at over 30 national, regional, and local events, including a Training 2010 keynote where I covered social learning. I’ve also been invited to present at the Web 2.0 consortium and the Conference Board, both of which are invite-only. Over the last six months, I co-created a Social Learning Strategy checklist with Kevin Jones, Social Strategist at NASA, and I created a Social Learning Assessment tool to help newbies better define and articulate their needs based on their culture, business problem, and talent profile.
So in this case, my company brand affiliation, in some people’s eyes, actually undermines my credibility in addressing this topic. Of course, I prefer to believe that it gives me a broader view… ; ) I have to live in the day-to-day reality that our clients live in, and I need to keep up with research by Gartner, Aberdeen, Forrester, and Bersin. So as much as I obviously want to move the industry forward toward a greater reliance on social and informal models, I also need to be acutely aware of how ready our clients and prospects are, what the analysts think, and where all of this is ultimately going. I’m a “strategy meets implementation” kind of guy. It’s great to have big ideas, but if you can’t get them implemented, they are pretty worthless.
As we continue this debate, I hope that we can focus on the merits of the argument and not make assumptions about people’s bias. One could just as easily posit that consultants recommend solutions that lead to more consulting work and analysts recommend solutions according to the vendors that best “educate” them via paid analysis work. This is not the world I want to live in. It’s superficial, and doesn’t reflect the current and growing complexities between personal and company brands. In this new world, it will continue to be critical for all of us to reveal our affiliations and connections, but it’s just as important that we don’t make judgments based solely on these relationships.
Dan Pontefract I think has provided one of the best and most professional responses to date, and I agree with about 90% of his post. I’ll be replying later today. Dick did a great job in his second comment in laying out a broader case. I actually with about 90% of what he says too. The debate here is less about the role of social and informal in the end-game, and more about the role that formal learning and LMS platforms play in getting us there.
I’m sold on social and informal learning as a dominant model in the workplace (and I’ve been doing a lot of the “selling” too… ; ) In my opinion, there has been comparitively little talk of what the end game looks like, the role of LMS and formal in the end game, and how we get from here to there. If we’re going to get serious about a move toward greater organizational support for social and informal learning models, we need to start talking about these issues. Theory and generalities are great, but we also need tactics, strategies, and starting points. We need to actually “do” this stuff somewhere in accordance with existing company rules about privacy, security, data storage and retrieval, compliance, HIPPA, Sarbanes Oxley etc… So for those of you wondering about my bias, that’s my bias – that we stop talking about how great social and informal learning will be in our heads and start figuring out how to actually get it done in real companies with legitimate IT, legal, and compliance challenges. And when we do, it’s my contention that leading LMS solutions will start to look a lot more attractive since they have built-in support for these enterprise-level requirements.