Personal branding is not a new concept, but it’s something small business owners and marketers have to pay attention to now and certainly through 2010. Your brand is your clear differentiator and your competitive advantage. It’s also the first impression you have with potential customers and the source of attachment you create with your current customers.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen personal branding become more and more important because of the pressure of the economy and through the rise and acceptance of social media technologies for both business and personal use.
With a 10.2% unemployment rate across the U.S., we have to stand out and become more exceptional in what we do. Aside from competition, business is being shifted into new territory. Instead of traditional transactions offline, we are starting to use social networks for business more and more. For instance, Facebook, with 325 million active users, has been turned into a money making empire. In previous years, the company was laughed at for not having a business model, much like Twitter was earlier this year. It’s now obvious that readership and engagement amounts to big money.
So without further ado, here are some personal branding trends to watch out for in 2010:
1. New content models are on the rise
Content, such as the articles you find on Small Business Trends or Anita’s podcasts, is made freely available across the web. In many instances, this makes a lot of people stop paying for content because they can access free content on any topic they desire. A recent Forrester report stated that 80% of U.S. consumers won’t pay for online content. Another survey by BCG showed that for online paid subscriptions, the most people will pay is $3 per month. What this tells us is that the personal brands of 2010 are going to be built through a different model, based on consumer demand, the endless supply of content and the free distribution systems we all have. The more people that know about your brand (free content), the better, but since you have to make money, the options are freemium (having some free content and then some paid content), advertising or selling products and services on your site. News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch has even announced that all of his media properties will be blocked from Google spiders next year. 2010 will be the year of the major content shift, new business models and the fall of many media properties. You can benefit from this by turning your corporate site into a media property.
2. The year of building lists
2010 will be the year of small businesses developing and building upon their lists, including email and blog subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, LinkedIn contacts, etc. A survey by VerticalResponse, Inc. shows that 74% of small businesses plan to increase email marketing and 68% will increase social media marketing. More and more small businesses are viewing social media and email as an important way to build lists of people interested in their products and services and then to convert them over time. We’ll see this more next year because of the competition and the understanding of how these tools can be used to support overall corporate efforts.
3. A saturated web
Most small businesses have websites, but the world is forcing every single person to have their own website. A lot of business owners have ignored their own personal brands in the past because they feel that their brand might conflict with their company’s brand. In 2010 and beyond, everyone in every company (anyone with a pulse) will have a website, typically under theirname.com. Right now, there are over 1.3 billion internet users, with 200 million websites and there will be a 40,000 fold increase in websites in 15 years. There are incredible disadvantages to ignoring the explosions of websites and blogs, such as lack of online visibility. Next year, there will be a lot more websites because of this.
4. Reputation management fatigue
Over the past few years, it’s been a best practice to review online brand mentions using a variety of tools, such as Google.com/alerts, search.twitter.com and backtype.com. With more and more consumers making decisions based on what they find online, small business owners are going to have to set time aside every single day (not every week or month) to review comments said about their brands. According to a survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, 84% of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. In 2010, reviewing comments isn’t going to be good enough. Brands will be forced to react to brand mentions in order to prevent negative word of mouth. There will be victims and there will be winners next year. Those that invest more time protecting their online identities will succeed.
5. Transparency will rock your world, literally
The truth about you and your company is going to come out next year, whether you like it or not. Search engines are starting to blend with social networks and status updates are being made visible and accessible just about everywhere on the web. This poses incredible opportunities but also some threats that you will have to be aware of. Every single time you publish a tweet, it will appear in Google and other search engines and, with your permission, it can appear on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other places like Brazen Careerist and Ning networks. This is starting to occur because it’s a revenue stream for social networks and because the “real-time web” makes search engines more relevant to the end user. When consumers start trashing a brand (such as yours), it might make the first page of your Google search results and damage your brand. This is something to really pay attention to in 2010.
6. Brand realization
A lot of people don’t have a deep understanding of what their brand really is. What’s starting to happen is that your online audience is giving you feedback, without you even realizing it. For instance, Twitter lists are really personal brand categories. If someone puts you in a list of influencers under a certain topic such as “personal finance,” then they are giving you a hint about how you’re branded. People will make categorization decisions based off of two things: your profile and your tweets. When you’re on a hundred of so lists, then you have great survey data that will show you if you’re branding yourself properly or not. More brands will start using tools such as mustexist.com to figure out what their brands are and get feedback from their audience if they are doing a good job.
7. The cream will rise to the top and niches are inevitable
I introduced this post by talking about competition and then went on to explain how the free nature of content destroys barriers to entry and creates an ecosystem of unlimited choices. Well, the truth is that not everyone will be able to become mega brands. Those that have the best content next year will float to the top, while everyone else will make less money and have fewer opportunities. What we’ve already seen is that the first-movers, such as Anita Campbell and Pete Cashmore (of Mashable) have owned their niches. It will be much harder to compete with big brands, which means next year the focus will be on niches and “hyper-niches.” People will have to really narrow down their market in order to stand out and succeed.
8. The value of information will increase substantially
If you aren’t in tune with what’s going on in your industry and with the latest technology developments, you are set to lose out next year. Have you heard of FourSquare.com? If not, then you better Google it right now. Are you reading at least 20 articles or blog posts each day? If not, then you better start because you’re competitors are and they are forming relationships with the media and bloggers as we speak. By not keeping current and not being open to new trends, you’re going to be in a world of anxiety in 2010. The business world is moving too fast and if you can’t keep up, then you’re out of business.
9. The video and mobile scene catch fire
According to “The Global Web Index,” from Trendstream, with research conducted by Lightspeed Research, early this year 72% of US Internet users watched video clips monthly. You might have seen your favorite show on Hulu.com or watch music videos on YouTube before, and that’s where a lot of the action is now. Video is the most powerful personal branding medium because it closes the gap because between knowing of someone and actually meeting them. In business, this is called building trust and a connection with your audience. Text and audio doesn’t have that type of impact, which is why video will be a huge trend next year. 607.5 million mobile users will be using social networks by 2013, which means that businesses will have to start making their websites mobile friendly. It also means that a lot of branding will be viewed and spread from one mobile device to the next.
10. You will be judged on voice, not just your resume
Most people judge others by their resume. A resume is an account of what you’ve accomplished in the past and an attempt to show a prospective customer what you’re capable of in the future. Sorry to say that a resume won’t be powerful enough to build your brand in 2010. In addition to all that work experience and all of that credibility you’ve built up, your online conversations will be just as valuable. If you don’t blog or comment on blogs or at least update your status on social networks, then you won’t be perceived as a valuable contributor. Your opinions and thoughts is what people will want to hear in 2010 and beyond, not just previous projects that get outdated really fast.
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About the author: Dan Schawbel is the bestselling author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, the owner of the award winning Personal Branding Blog and publisher of Personal Branding Magazine.