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  • Personal Branding Interview: Robin Wauters

    Today, I spoke to Robin Wauters, who is best known as a TechCrunch writer based in Europe.  In this interview, Robin talks to us about his annual social media conference, other projects that he’s working on, how social media is different in various countries, and his thought on personal branding.

    You organize an annual conference called Plugg, which beings social media innovators from all over Europe together. What kinds of things have you learned from past conferences?

    This is the second year I’ve organized Plugg, which I started sort of on a whim after I noticed European web conference organizers tend to invite a lot of U.S.-based entrepreneurs and pundits – which is fine, of course, but it speaks volumes about our tendency to play down our own achievements and role models. I wanted to show Europeans that this continent effectively has a number of advantages over regions like Silicon Valley, India and China (the traditional hotbeds for technology upstarts) and that we can build great companies here too, although we face a number of challenges that need to be discussed thoroughly so we can all learn from it.

    On a related note, I’ve been amazed by the quality of startups who submit their profile for a chance to compete in our pitching competition. When you scratch the surface, there’s a lot of innovation happening in Europe that most observers aren’t even aware of. I’m hoping Plugg changes that, even if in just a small way.

    Can you tell us about some of the other projects you work on, like Oxynade and Talking Heads?

    Oxynade is an international, venture capital backed startup based in Ghent that interested me from the very first moment I caught wind of it (it was co-founded by an ex-colleague of mine). I kinda got involved in the starting phase and became a small shareholder while at the same time helping the company get off the ground in terms of marketing, PR and general strategy. The company basically makes it possible to aggregate hyper-local event information from across Europe and matches this with a robust online ticketing solution, which makes the startup both a content player (selling calendar event information to media groups) and a technology / service provider (making it possible for event organizers to spread the word about their events and sell more tickets via the web).

    As for Talking Heads, there’s not a lot to say about the company yet. It’s a conversational marketing agency based in and focused on Belgium. We’re the first company of our kind here in Belgium, and even though we’ve only started a couple of months ago, we see a tremendous amount of interest in social media from companies, government, non-profit organizations and individuals alike. Talking Heads basically helps them get started and guides them along the way to a more conversational marketing approach made possible by new technologies and social networking services.

    As editor at TechCrunch, you probably have access to and review all kinds of social networking sites. Which ones do you think are the best or most important? Are there any that we should know about?

    The ones you hear most about today are the ones that matter. It’s that simple. I don’t think there are going to be any newcomers who are going to become a threat to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn in their respective fields any time soon. Of course, I do remember what happened to Friendster and I’m always curious about new social networks, particularly when they target niches. I think there’s still a lot more ground that can be covered in the field of lifestreaming, although again I think the dominant social networks will figure out a way to best cater for those looking for that type of service, leaving little breathing room for upcoming community sites.

    How is social media used differently in Europe than in the US?

    Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s that much difference. That said, I think it’s wrong to look at Europe as a whole when it comes to the way we use social media. For example, if you’d compare the way Scandinavians – both commercial entities and persons – deal with social media compared to people from Spain, Italy or Greece, you’ll notice differences based on their respective cultures. That said, in general people just tend to do the same thing online anywhere in the world: share thoughts, photos, videos and news, and plan offline social activities with friends and family.

    With the growth of web 2.0, do you see a growth in importance of using personal branding to stand out from the crowd?

    What’s Web 2.0?

    Perhaps surprisingly, I was never a big believer in personal branding until I witnessed first-hand what doors can open when you manage to market yourself effectively on the web. I started blogging because I saw a friend land a great job because of his blog, actually, and that kind of opened my eyes at the time. That said, as with everything, if you want to stand out from the crowd you have to have an ability that makes you stand out from the crowd. No amount of personal branding will make you more interesting if you’re not an interesting person, and people are not stupid. Let your actions, the services you launch, the products you create, etc. speak for themselves and look at personal branding as an extra (unless of course that’s the centerpiece of your business).

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    Robin Wauters is an entrepreneur, blogger, conference organizer, social media consultant, startup advisor and allround web addict, based in Belgium, Europe.  He is a writer at TechCrunch and managing editor of Virtualization.com. He was one of the first writers to join blognation, an ambitious effort to centralize reports about Web 2.0 startups from around the world into one blog platform. He is mostly known for setting up Plugg, a one-day conference in Brussels aimed to raise awareness for European entrepreneurship as well as the continent’s most promising Web / Mobile 2.0 startups. He’s also the organizer of the monthly OpenCoffee Club Brussels meetups.  Wauters combines these efforts with startup life, as a Partner in Oxynade and social media agency Talking Heads.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Interview, People, Personal Branding, Social Media
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