More reactive than flourine. Funnier than boron.
The Peanut Butter Principle – Spreading Yourself Too Thin
Categories: marketing, social media

I have a question to which I don’t pretend to have an answer. I’m not sure anyone has an answer yet, but it’s an interesting one to consider.

First some background: “Personal brands” is a subject about which many social media mavens love to wax philosophic. Just like a brand message for a product, it’s the bundle of qualities and characteristics that your online presence projects. In short, it’s the various answers to the question “What is Person X all about?” And just like a corporate brand, it has real value, especially to those who look to their online personal brand to help them with professional and career advancement.

A friend of mine who spends a lot of time considering personal brands (he’s a recruiter) recommended sticking to a few networks, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. That struck me as almost counterintuitive. I’m already on those sites, but why not put my stuff out on a few more. No harm, right? From a PR perspective, it’s all about presence. Yet here is a recruiter saying it’s possible to over-extend. Why? Because social media is different from PR in that it’s not all about projecting a presence. It’s about relationships, and relationships are as much about listening as they are about talking. (Somewhere my wife just had an urge to say “duh!”) I can’t maintain a relationship everywhere and hope to provide updated content, feedback and responses. On those sites where my presence is lacking attention, I do myself a disservice by seeming disengaged.

There are all sorts of discussions to be had about social media and personal brands. How do you create them? How do you expand them? How do you protect them? I have come across a ton of people who are self-proclaimed experts on creating and sustaining a personal brand. Some are completely full of themselves, but others make good sense and I’m fascinated by the entire phenomenon. After all, it’s about people taking control of the online reputations that are coming to define them more and more.

And here’s my follow-up question: What does this mean for the social media sites themselves? How does the market determine where people congregate and where they simply abandon a network? Is their an online equivalent to the old real estate adage about location, location, location? How will this play out for these companies once people begin to sense that their social networks are basically located in a bad neighborhood? Is there room for all of them? We’re all buzzing about social media at the moment, but how soon before we start hearing about social networking sites closing down or migrating somewhere else? It’s a mean old world right now. Doesn’t something have to give?

Reed’s Law says the value of a social network scales exponentially with the number of its members. If members begin to leave, is there a tipping point where the value diminishes exponentially as well? Will people abandon a network because they just don’t perceive any value to themselves or their personal brand? How do networks that see that behavior in their members react? Do they rebrand? Do they become niche networks, something like “the network of left-leaning European pop artists,” or just whither away?

I just tweaked some tools on this blog last week and redid the plug-in that allows readers to post content on their network pages. It had a list of social networks that was huge, literally dozens of sites, many of which I had never heard of. Someone feels it’s necessary to make these sites available via a coded link, so obviously there are people using them. Is that how they all will survive. Will they end up being so linked together through API’s and shared authentications that users barely know when they’ve crossed into another network, and updates migrate out to various parts of their online brand automatically. All I know at this point is that keeping an eye on content at more than a few places is time-consuming and difficult. I’ll hope that some smart coder figures out how to keep it all updated and relevant. If that same coder can figure out how to make me sound smarter, funnier and more accomplished, that would be great too.

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