People are naturally nosy. We want to know everything about each other, especially if it’s none of our business. Why else would magazines like People, Entertainment Weekly and US Magazine flourish, even though most of us claim not to read them?
This ingrained snoopiness isn’t just directed at Demi & Ashton & Britney & Miley et al. It applies to technology companies too. When someone gets seriously curious about a company, they want to know the back story. Yeah, if you’re an investor or journalist you need to read about the hot new product or service. But knowing about the people behind them makes the company’s story more textured. Where did they come from? How did they get where they are? What makes them successful? What do they do? What makes them tick? If you’re skeptical, consider how much money the movie “The Social Network” about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,” earned. You can mine that curiosity to build your company’s brand.
The CEO who beat cancer. The VP of engineering who dives with sharks in the Galapagos. The single mother who put herself through school and launched a successful company. Readers never get tired of personal color and anecdotes. Sick of reading about Steve Jobs’ black turtlenecks or Larry Ellison’s jet planes and Japanese mansion? Too bad. Details like that helped establish Jobs and Ellison as two of the most recognizable personalities in high tech. Their faces are on the company, love them or hate them, and are valuable tools for advancing their companies’ positions.
You don’t have to be Jobs or Ellison to use personal background to your company’s advantage. But the world wants to know who you are, where you came from, what you’ve done and what you think. Using social media channels to offer your key audiences personal nuggets helps convince them you’re more than the standard issue tech drone who was apparently born at MIT and spent every waking moment since then at Digital, HP, an Internet startup in the late nineties (yawn) … they’ve heard it all before.
Pick up a copy of any business publication. It’s not all business. It’s shot through with tidbits about the people behind the companies. In a 2010 Guardian interview, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt wasn’t just CEO, he was “the 6’4 former college footballer.” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz once hosted Mick Jagger for dinner at his house and takes a daily 6 a.m. bike ride with his wife. Time and again, we’ve seen clients with interesting backgrounds and hobbies (ultra marathon running, shark diving, extreme skiing), birthplaces (everywhere from Lowell, Mass. to Transylvania), fashion statements (a penchant for orange pants) and family life (father of triplets) win interviews or appear in print.
Putting a personal face on your company is as easy as talking about yourself beyond your professional pedigree. If you’re worried about coming off as an egomaniac, put your mind to rest. Talking about yourself does not, in itself, make you a braggart. Try these simple guidelines for putting a public face on your company:
- Open up - When you’re in an interview and a reporter asks you to tell him/her about yourself, open up a little. Go into the interview having thought about what you are going to say. Who were your earliest influences? What were some formative experiences? What do you do in your free time? How did your history influence your professional life? What was your worst job and why? How did you choose your career? What lessons did you learn along the way?
- Open door - If a blogger or journalist or investor or analyst comes to your company to talk to you, take them into your office. What you keep around your office – books, photos, mementoes – invite ice-breaking questions and help tell your story. (As a side note, if there’s anything you DON’T want them to see, get it in the bottom drawer before the interview.)
- Speak real - Don’t use colorless quotes in press releases. If your quote begins with the phrase “We are delighted …” then you’re dishing out pap. Your quotes influence the image of you that people form. Say something you’d actually want to come out of your mouth in a conversation.
- Share details - Spice up your biography with a few personal details – one or two sentences will do the trick. Also, be specific about your accomplishments. If you’re a technologist, don’t just say “developed Gigabit Ethernet switching solutions at HairNet Communications.” Tell the world that you designed the switching fabric, wrote the embedded code, managed the team, achieved this breakthrough … whatever.
- Speak simply - Don’t allow your company to sound like its competitors. This is a common trap: companies in the same space using the same buzzword-laden terminology to explain what they do without really saying what they do. Try some plain, blunt English on your website and in your marketing materials. It will set you apart from the competition.
If you’re terminally shy, or it just cuts against your grain to talk about yourself, this exercise isn’t for you. If, however, you’re comfortable talking openly about your background, then you are positioned to create value for your company by using your personal history to attract favorable coverage.