Advertising Yourself: Building a Personal Brand through Social Networks

In 2007, Jim MacMillan was at the top of his profession — a photojournalist who had just shared a Pulitzer Prize for pictures from Iraq’s deadliest combat zones — but he also started to wonder what kind of future that profession had in store for him. His newsroom in Philadelphia was making steep job cuts in the face of plummeting revenues. Then MacMillan attended a BlogWorld conference and returned with a determination to re-invent himself though social networking.

MacMillan has since become highly skilled at using social networking to gain new fans of his photography, and he is hardly alone. Over the last few years, creative professionals — including musicians, writers and artists — have found they can reach an engaged audience by making songs available on a MySpace page or building a national readership by blogging. Now, with the economy mired in a recession, many individuals are wondering how to build a buzz about themselves and find new employment opportunities by adapting the same kind of branding techniques used by businesses.
“I saw that the real value of a new media profile, or a social media profile, is distribution [to an online audience],” MacMillan says. While still employed as a staff photographer at the Philadelphia Daily News, he had launched his own web site — — for posting his photos and linking to related stories in the news. Like many professionals, he also created a profile on Facebook, Twitter and every social network he could learn about, roughly 40 in all.
Eventually, he took a severance package from the newspaper and threw everything into social networking. Today, he has close to 14,000 followers reading his posts on Twitter — a number on a par with some celebrities — and keeps in touch with about 475 friends on Facebook. He believes he reaches a larger and more engaged audience than when he was at the Daily News, but he also concedes his activity is only bringing in “lunch money,” mainly through ads on his blog (which receives traffic referrals from his Twitter postings). But by expanding his network, Macmillan says he also has promising leads on better-paying job opportunities at companies, including some that want advice on social networking.

According to Jonah Berger, Wharton marketing professor, using social networking sites or a new media endeavor such as blogging can be especially useful for workers looking to reshape their career into a new kind of profile. “People will begin to see you in that role,” Berger says. “By creating these links outside of your organization, you can change your meaning to [others].”
Clearly the recession — which has cost the American economy more than five million jobs, including an estimated 1.5 million in the white collar sector — has placed a new premium on the art of networking among workers who see their jobs threatened. As The New York Times recently reported, interest in traditional face-to-face networking groups among executives — even those still collecting a paycheck — has soared in recent months.

Indeed, social networking is that rare sector of the economy that seems to be booming in the midst of the recession. MediaPost reported that businesses spent $2.2 billion on social-networking in 2008, nearly twice as much as they did in 2007, primarily through advertising on popular sites like MySpace and Facebook.

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