Personal branding is all about positioning yourself as favorable to corporate recruiters, while HR’s job is to hire the top talent, position the company as the best place to work (employer branding), figure out benefits packages for employees and much more.  Social media has changed the way applicants and recruiters communicate with each other and has started to dismantle corporate job boards by giving both parties direct access to each other through blogs, and social networks.  For instance, Rick Mahn, a long-time columnist for Personal Branding Magazine, was just recruited through LinkedIn to be a social media strategist for Land O’Lakes.  In order to figure out how personal branding, HR and social media collide, I had a great discussion with Steph K, who is an HR Director at HP.  Much like what Polly Pearson does for EMC, Steph K gives an inside look at working for HP through her blog.

Below is our recent discussion:

Me: You’re an HR blogger.  Why do you think HR people should blog?

Steph K: I started to blog when I was managing a large staffing organization because I was finding it difficult to get information out to people quickly and easily.  You see survey after survey on best places to work, perks that companies have, and cool websites, but we were running a pretty lean organization so even though we had a lot of that to offer, it was really challenging to get the word out.  I figured by starting a blog, I could communicate easier and get the word out better.

Steph K: What’s your philosophy on networking – are you an advocate of more-is-better when it comes to links & friends, or is it better to be selective in your networking?

Me: Stephanie, this is a very controversial question and I’m glad you asked.  Seth Godin believes that quality is more important than quality when building followings (i.e. Twitter followers, Facebook friends), while Guy Kawasaki thinks the opposite.  I stand between both of them.  The number of subscribers or followers you has is extremely important because of social proof and the random nature of this world.  When a recruiter glances at your LinkedIn profile, and they see you only have 3 connections, there’s a problem.

If you go to a blog with an RSS count of below 50, you might not subscribe based upon that low number, despite the good content.  It’s human nature.  When you have a lot of followers, there is a greater chance that someone will be able to help you out, even if you’ve never spoken them before.  You have to have a “anything is possible” mindset in the social media world.  Quality is also significant.  The people I’m closest with will work to promote my book over those who don’t know me as well.

“People will go out of their way for friends over acquaintances.”

Me: Do you think applicants respond favorable to companies in social media?

Steph K: From my experience, yes. I’ve gotten some really good questions that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to address.  But I was not so sure about that at first — my biggest surprise in starting the blog was that very issue before I even did my first post.  Here I was, looking for a way to get information out there without constraints, only to be told that people don’t have a high level of trust in corporate blogs!

Then I thought about my own experience with feeling like any interaction with a company felt like a marketing pitch, and realized that if you’re going to do a useful blog, you need to avoid being the corporate equivalent of a ski resort’s ski report — “The snow is great today, come on out!” – OF COURSE they’re going to tell you the snow is great.  But if I’m really going to be a useful source of information, instead of telling you that the snow is great, tell you the facts about the resort and the skiing conditions, and let you decide if that’s a good fit for you.  Same thing applies to corporate blogs.

“So, going back to your first question, HR people should blog if they’re able to give people useful insight, if they’re able to talk about the good and the bad, be authentic and be relevant.”

Good HR people have a lot of experience to share. Most of us have a lot of friends and family members who have started a conversation with “I’ve got an HR question for you….” and we deal with those kinds of questions on a daily basis, and in many cases we’ve done it for years.  The HR blog can be a great resource of information and advice, and a good way resource to add to anyone’s network.

Steph K: What’s your advice for people who want to build their personal brand and network, but not risk alienating their current employer?  For example, should a happily employed person list “interested in career opportunities” on their LinkedIn profile?  And do you think there are implications to doing that?

Me: Everything reverts back to your career strategy. Are you looking to climb the corporate ladder at your company or are you using it as a stepping stone to something else, such as a new business opportunity or role at a company you want to work at in the future.  I think you need to be very careful with how you position yourself on the web because people will judge you instantly and there’s no rebuttal.  Companies should support your personal development and if they don’t, then you might want to move somewhere else.  You could lose your job if you’re making yourself out to look like a job hopper.  At the end of the day, if you do your job better than anyone else, you probably won’t get laid off anyways.

Me:What are the top 3 things you’ve learned as an HR professional while blogging that you didn’t know before?

Steph K:

  1. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own company and not pay enough attention to trends in the outside world.  Blogging and reading blogs has helped me stay informed about the world and people outside my company, more than I expected.
  2. A blog is not PR. Corporate blogs are not the company line or the company position, they’re just a place to write the blog around a common interest.  Bloggers are asked to represent their own viewpoints, they are not a spokesperson for the company.  At the same time, bloggers have a lot of responsibility.  We need to be aware of things like privacy and be able to achieve the perfect balance of discretion and transparency.
  3. I’ve been pretty amazed at the amount and quality of information that’s out in the blogosphere. In HR, recruiters seem to be the biggest group out there blogging and reading.  This should be good news for job seekers because recruiters are always looking for candidates to match the positions they’re working on, even in tough times when they have fewer positions to fill.  The world is in the midst of a changing recruitment model and companies as well as candidates are trying to figure out better ways to find each other.  I think social media has a huge role to play in that.

The other thing I found about the amount and quality of information is that the web is the great equalizer, so there’s this constant correction and improvement of information.  I like blogs that allow people to post comments, because if someone gives flaky advice, there’s almost always someone there in the comments calling it out, or offering better advice than the post, or even calling out bad advice by other commenters.  I love that when it’s done effectively – it leads to better information for everyone.

Steph K: Even before social media, networking was often touted as the best way to get a job and this can be tough for people who are early in their careers.  Personal branding seems instrumental to that.  What do you think is the best way to get a new job, and if you had to pick one piece of advice to give new grads, what would you tell them?

Me: I would recommend that they start as early as possible. If I knew then what I know now, I would never had to have applied to a company upon graduation.  Instead of submitting your resume, invest in the development of content that you can use in your interviews or to attract new opportunities.  Again, this depends on your goals.  You need to be known for something and position yourself accordingly.  Social networks have truly leveled the playing field, such that you can connect directly with hiring managers and recruiters, instead of submitting your resume to job boards.  This is a significant change and if you care enough to use this route, you’ll see extraordinary results!