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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Have the business networking gurus got personal branding and social capital muddled up?


Gulp, I’m going to depart from my usual safe terrority of writing nice how to articles and write something a bit more controversial. It’s a big move for me, and I am hoping that I will survive to tell the tale, and not look very stupid in the process.

Having read a lot of the literature on what makes a great networker, I think that many of the current leading thinkers on business networking have got it wrong. (There I’ve said it…) Lots of these thinkers and gurus write about the importance of cultivating social capital. I also see many of them advocating building up a strong personal brand. Whilst I agree with both of these, I think in this hyper-linked technology driven times you need both a strong personal brand AND shed loads of social capital to successfully build your career and business via networking.

When I read the literature, I often see social capital mistaken for personal branding or vice versatile. Think of someone with a high level of social capital being the equivalent of the most popular kid at your school. Everyone wanted to be with them, or be associated with them. They seemed to know everyone and were able to easily persuade and influence the class to their way of thinking. That’s great for the school playground, but when it comes to business you also need a strong personal brand, and consistently be able to deliver on it. Even if you have your entire network working very hard to help you, you are never going to land a job as a rocket scientist unless you have some pretty good skills and knowledge in astrophysics. You see what I mean? Your personal brand is a function of your social capital, but also encompasses your skills, knowledge, behaviours, traits and ideas. It is what makes you, you – and is generally the difference between being talked about fondly and getting the opportunity to interview for a role or being asked to quite for a piece of work.

For example, you can have someone who has a very strong personal brand. They may be the leading edge thinker on VAT for retailers, but if their social capital is low – e.g. they have a small network and are pretty unpopular within that network, they are not going to get sight of any new business or potential jobs.

With the rise of social networking, it is even more important to have both a strong personal brand and high levels of social capital. Social networking and Internet business forums are all about demonstrating your personal expertise (I.e. Brand) whilst building up high levels of social capital. If you read my blog on how to win business via an Internet forum, all the advice is about showcasing, but giving generously of your expertise. Your personal network now has a greater access to other professionals who may be able to deliver the same amount of technical expertise just as well as you. In fact as, David Maister identified years ago, as a professional your technical capability is a given. Therefore, the differentiating factor, which will get stronger as the world becomes even more connected, will be the quality and strength of your personal brand combined with how much you have invested in building your social capital. Not one or the other.

In your experience, who is right? Me, or other leading edge thinkers in the world of business networking?

Heather Townsend is the driving force behind The Efficiency Coach and a co-founder of 'the executive village'
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2 Responses

  1. So which would you say comes first…

    … the brand or the social capital?

    But first of all good post – really found it thought provoking and relevant in the social media world we are in.

    Going back to the question the post prompted for me, surely it would be the brand and the skill set/expertise that make it as this allows the opportunities to work on your contacts, your social capital etc? If you work on the lateter first and then neglect the brand I imagine this would lead to a lack of authenticity at some stage, as you might have great contacts then find you have nothing to provide – like having an amazing car in your garage but not having a clue how to drive it?

    Yikes – hope I am not being too controversial now!

    All the best,

    Patrick Mullarkey

  2. A little bit unfair

    A little bit unfair for business that don’t have brand names and not even marketed from various advertising mediums. But having brand name is like the ID of every product, business or a company that needs to at least promote to market to gain possible clients. Most small business are creative, though they don’t’ seek experts and ask help for branding and marketing strategy, they still sale however, not that so profitable compare to those business that consult specialist about their company brand and ideas. Nowadays, branding and naming company are popular for business branding and naming ideas.

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Heather Townsend


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