How Facebook Is Crushing Your Personal Brand (And You Don't Even Know It)

Posted by

I think I had a meltdown on twitter today.

tweet #1 – "do people really understand the ramifications of constantly sending invites and questions via Facebook? There are ramifications. Major ones."

tweet #2 – "ramifications = I think less of you. I stop listening to you. Others do the same. Your online social network status relegates you to Spam."

I wonder how many people realize what Facebook is doing to their personal brand. I think most people who use Facebook and add applications or join events don’t realize that some of these applications actually notify your entire network, invite them to join or other semi-malicious tactics in an attempt to build traffic (and their databases).

There are two incidents that spurred this Blog posting, and my thinking about one’s Personal Brand and the negative impact it could face in the wake of these open applications. First, someone sent a "what are you doing for New Year’s" question, and then I got barraged by someone else with no less than invites to groups and events. I understand the kind of scrutiny I’m opening myself up to. Stuff like, "that’s what you get for having 1,330 ‘friends’." I’m fine with that, and I have no issue hitting the "ignore" button for invites or causes that don’t make sense to me. My concern is that the people who are sending these messages may not even really understand that they’re doing this. You know, pre-checked boxes that say things like, "notify my entire network" and other disloyal Marketing tactics.

Bottom line: this is building the Facebook application developer’s brand… and killing your personal brand. Whether you do it knowingly or are an unwilling accomplice, I see messages and invites from certain people and there’s a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve read all about adjusting my security options so I don’t get these messages/invites, but that’s not the point either. I want the people who are "sending" them to be educated. I want them to know how badly it’s hurting their Personal Brand. I want them to better understand how these channels connect and what their online personal brand feels like to others.

When Tom Peters got all excited about the power of Personal Branding (nearly ten years ago), there was no way he could have seen how online social networks would change and enhance one’s ability to develop their Personal Brand. With the amount of Facebook spam floating around today, my guess is he’d be equally disgusted with what it could do to hurt one’s personal brand.


  1. Mitch — This is definitely an education thing. Facebook is so new that people don’t know the repercussions of their actions on the site and what they’re sending to/spamming their friends. Marketers need to be super cautious when they step into this arena. It’s a slippery slope and reputations can be lost quickly.

  2. funny, christine was just talking about her 12-yr old nephew who just started using email. he keeps forwarding her (and everyone he knows) email jokes … remember when adults used to do that too?
    i can’t remember the last time i got something like that … people eventually figured out it annoyed *them* so they stopped doing it to others.
    only a matter of time w facebook.

  3. I think you’re right – that it is only a “matter of time” – the issue though is that most people don’t even realize that it’s going out to their entire network. At least with Christine’s nephew, he’s physically choosing who he is sending it to.
    Side bar: I thought young people don’t use email. I thought that they thought it was something that only old people use… like us.

  4. Yeah, it’s an education issue – any new comminucations toy on the net causes this to happen. It sure isn’t limited to facebook – In fact, I tend to forgive facebook blunders more easily because I know that this is the first “online socializing experience” for so many people. In fact, for many people, facebook IS the internet.. scary,eh ?
    I have much less tolerance for “experienced people” of our circle whose RSS feeds are nothing but garbage like :
    “New utterz message”
    “New utterz message”
    “New utterz message”
    a summary of tweets for November
    “New utterz message”
    “New utterz message”
    Wonder if they realize the damage that does?
    As “experienced social media folk”, we need to realize that it takes time for people to learn how to act in a new situation, “nudge” our peers when they aren’t setting a good example to follow or just simply drop annoyances from our “friends list” and sooner or later, they’ll get it – or keep spamming people who don’t mind.

  5. The “young people don’t use email” is a load of bravo sierra. 66% of ad impressions served up recently according to Media Metrics were on Webmail sites – Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo. Regardless of ROI, just the fact that 2/3 of advertising is being seen on Webmail sites means email is alive and well, for young and old. Email is the ONLY way to cross networks – whenever you join a social network, the first thing it asks you to do is… check your address book.
    I can see in my Feedburner stats the number of people who read and listen to my podcast via Feedblitz’s email service – and it’s “kids” as well as “old people”.
    Email isn’t going anywhere. The “email is dead” is usually touted by people who have an agenda or service to promote that isn’t email… like Facebook.

  6. Hi Mitch,
    Is the facespam you’re getting coming from people who should know better?
    I get a lot of silly invitations for “superpoking” and the like, but it’s usually from friends who are on facebook just to be social and have fun.
    Childish and pointless as it may be in most cases, it’s still just people interacting with friends and probably not thinking about personal brands.
    One would think they’d know better than to befriend and then zombie bite (or whatever) their boss, professional contacts and other people they should be more formal with.
    If they don’t know any better, however, this is a pre-existing problem with their lack of good sense, and not one caused by facebook.
    I understand your frustration with the bombardment of invitations to install one inane application after another. And I think you’re on the right track talking about educating the public.
    To me this means telling them about the jerks who design these applications to automatically spam all of your friends when you use them. I’m not sure saying that I think less of them for getting suckered or letting their guard down is the right way of going about teaching.
    One of facebook’s most drawing features is that it’s simple to use, even for those not very experienced online, or with computers themselves. I think this is why it’s growth has been so explosive. Naturally, I don’t expect these people to be savvy with checking and unchecking the right boxes to tailor their feeds, etc. right off the bat.
    So yes, I’d expect more from new media oriented people, professional communicators and so on, but not from the general facebook population.
    I wasn’t sure whom you were targeting with your warnings.

  7. Branding is for instilling character, qualities, and life into things (or some people) with no real life or quality of character. In the real world I prefer to call it trying to be a good person or personal growth. Facebook seems to primarily be used for fun and connections and to waste time – “virtually” people watching. Most people like to people watch, and this is just one other way to do so. You may just use facebook as another means to propagate your professional career and appearance. Maybe your content just is a cut and paste flashy media blurb and most of your friends are not people you hang around with besides work related associations. Perhaps there is nothing personal about your personal page. I say that also sends a clear message as to your “personal brand”. Facebook is successful because it is not that for the majority. Sure, we can all question the wisdom of some of the photos and items people have up – when they eventually retrospect they could regret. But you seem to be on guard about branding non stop. It’s too far fetched to properly judge people based on Internet presence. How many dates have I been on from the net to only say, wow, it is just not the same. We are not brands; we are people. People change, people react, people have bad days, people do. Brands needs consistent messages, people don’t. Who wants to hang around with consistency? Having a coke and a smile may be the brand image that the great multinational wants to convey, however, no coke has ever made me actually smile, but rather the company I was with. I just brand them as friends.

  8. I think aside from the SPAM issue of Facebook applications there are many potential hazards to be aware of for your personal brand. I think who you accept as a friends has to seriously govern how you use your account and whether it is a network of friends or a network of colleagues/business connections. Very difficult to manage both sets under the one account without risk to your personal brand!

  9. Great comments all. I am constantly torn with respect to my Facebook page and my personal brand.
    I don’t “accept friends” I believe might have less than professional content on their pages and I refuse to add the social applications such as Superpoke and the like.
    My Facebook page is part of my professional presence on the Web and you just never know what others will post about you on their pages. I have some professional contacts as “friends” on Facebook and I have been surprised on a few occasions about stuff on their pages. It has, to a small degree, changed my perception of them.
    I heard Facebook is planning to offer a way to divide your “professional” and “social” face via the same page. I wonder how that will influence the way people use it.

  10. People who are using social media to build a personal brand also need to think about their Twitter usage along the same lines.
    I follow some people with a genuine interesting in staying connected to them, but then end up training my brain to tune them out because their tweets are too copious and not “potent” enough in the content (yes a “what are you doing?” message is content).
    In fact, I start using their avatar as an automatic cue to skip most–if not all–of their tweets. Yes, I could just un-follow them, but if these people want to build a strong social personal brand un-following is not the response they want.
    Mitch, you are a good example of someone who I don’t filter because the frequency-to-interest ratio of your tweets is spot on.

  11. It just reminds of all the people saying social media will kill email. Everytime someone sneezes on facebook I get an email, which won’t even tell me what happened… I have to login. I realize they have settings to fix this, but the default provides aggressive sending.

  12. A couple of additional thoughts.
    – All people should know better. That’s part of the problem. If you sign up and play around you need to know what’s going on. It’s like going to a baseball game and getting whacked by a line drive when you’re not looking at the field – always watch the field when the ball is in play 😉
    – I don’t think you can separate your business and personal life online. Google doesn’t have that filter, so assume you can’t.
    – Email is not dead. It’s just a cool thing to say, and it’s even cooler when you say it and add in the words “young people” 😉
    – I think your brand is a culmination of everything – online, offline and otherwise. It’s words, images, videos, design, everything. It’s articles written about you and it’s stuff you’ve written. It’s the feeling the rest of us have about you.
    – Anyone can use any of these social networks for a variety of uses. Regardless of how private or public. However that content lives is still your personal brand.
    – Most people keep and don’t mess with default settings. That’s reality. Whether we like it or not.
    – This is not about the more “social media savvy” versus the Regular Joe. The more savvy simply know how to navigate smoother… it’s the same choppy and new waters for all of us.

  13. @DM has an important point about the lost ancient concept of friendship. Current users of Facebook, the grown-up pile-ons like me who work in the “industry” so need to “vet” Facebook, are muddling the distinction between business and friendship. Quite possibly, they are putting too much business into friendship. But that’s business, I guess.

  14. I still think we all are Personal Brands.
    You’re right, we’re not products that need to figure out their differentiators – as Humans, we’re all uniquely different. People also have varying opinions and experiences of being with the same individual, and I don’t think that “have a Coke and a smile” is the brand – I think it’s a tagline.
    A brand – for me – is the sum of everything and how it makes me feel. It’s not the logo, the business card, the ad, the tagline, the service… it’s how all of those things come together, the experience it means to mean and how I communicate that (to myself and others).
    People do have a brand. We all have the loud-mouthed friend or the guy who always does the right thing – that’s their brand – whether they are wearing Gap Khakis while doing it or in their underwear – the instances don’t make the brand… the sum of it all does.
    On Facebook, if your profile is public and you’re connecting to work people, and the pictures show that weekend bender, with friends sending you a frosty beer mug as a gift, and one of your hobbies is “drinking”… welcome to what you are portraying to the rest of the world as your Personal Brand.

  15. What you’re saying, Mitch, if I understand you correctly, is that we should always behave online as if we’re in a public space, and not as if we’re in private homes. This applies whether we’re on facebook, blogs or anywhere else on the Web. I agree 100%.
    Maybe facebook, in it’s “walled garden”ness has given some people the impression that they’re safe to do whatever they want, poke whomever they want and so on.
    It’s like the earlier days of blogging, or even going online in general, when there was a bit of a wild west mentality until people started facing very real ramifications for things they were “virtually” saying and doing.

  16. I’m with the “it’s only a matter of time” camp. To start up something like FB, you need to have a little daring to want to get to understand it. As an early adopter, I willingly accepted FB invitations, played many of the games… including the foolish vampire game. Only a few stick with me. A couple resound (try the characteristics game… it makes you sort out who you truly know…). I still think the mix of ways to communicate with your friends makes FB a great alternative to regular emails.

  17. @CT Moore – If anything, when people are posting interesting stuff and it shows up in my feed, they are highly visible. I learn more, wind up spending time on their profile and even checking out some of the groups they are involved with. I find that the more savvy user gets tons of my attention (but, maybe, that’s just me).
    @Minter Dial – I agree, you need to be provocative to get attention – I’m not saying anything wrong about that. It’s more the invites and pings those apps send out without the User really knowing that this is happening.

  18. I’m a little late in the chain, but I’m one who definately “should know better” than to risk my personal brand online – but Facebook, to me anyhow, is different. Facebook is where I’m a human being not a brand, where I connect and reconnect with my good friends, where I make jokes and attack real friends (who might happen to be coworkers and clients) with pirates and zombies… and Google doesn’t index my profile.
    LinkedIn is a great social space for professional networking – maybe not as feature rich as Facebook, but that’s how I divide the two spaces. In my mind, if not always in practice.
    On the flip side, what happened to the miracle of radical transparency? Most all of us have a good time, get crazy, take funny pictures and make stupid jokes – I’m not going to think anything less of a colleague if I see them in that situation. If anything, it will humanize them to me – and I’ll like them for it. But that’s just me. I figure if the CMO of a potential client wants to add me on facebook, we probably have a good enough relationship for him or her to see pictures of me drinking with friends or running around in my boxer shorts at our office Halloween party.

Comments are closed.