Jessica Lee = the Paris Hilton of HR. Huh? Personal Branding & Retention…

Here’s the thing I like about social media and the blogosphere – you grow your network by leaps and bounds and get to start calling some really smart, interesting people your friends. That would be the case for me and Jason Alba of Jibber Jobber. Sans social media, I would have never met Jason. But because of the magic of social media, I had the opportunity to have him come and speak with our staff last week about career management.

Think about it – once you get the job, and if you’re happy in the organization, what should you do to grow and develop your career from within? Much of what Jason talked about centered on three things:

  • Personal branding
  • Growing your network
  • Nurturing relationships

It was a great topic, and we had a great turnout of staff. It was cool to even see a staff member tweet out some of Jason’s tidbits after the seminar with some personal action items for herself and managing her career. The topic got me thinking though. As an employer, what happens when one’s personal brand becomes too big? And is it possible for an employee to become too visible and over-exposed?

Let’s take me as an example. Little ‘ole me. I’m nine years into my HR career. I started blogging here for fun. And somehow, during the course of my blogging, a personal brand was born. I never planned on it, but it happened. The brand bled over onto Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Facebook. And as a result? I’ve been published and cited in PR industry mags to recruiting and HR focused media outlets to… holy cow, even Glamour magazine. Then I get called one of HR’s top 100 influencers this year by John Sumser and Add in that this year alone includes more than a dozen local and national speaking opportunities. (And folks, I still have the day job. That hasn’t gone away.)

Personally, I worry that I’m on the verge of over-exposure and before you know it, I’m going to become the Paris Hilton of HR at some point… just a pretty face to parade around. Ugh. It’s manageable for now though. My personal brand is tied pretty clearly to my employer, APCO Worldwide, and this blog… I hope, I think. But at what point could my brand get in the way and detract from my employer and my work? And at what point does it become dangerous for me to have this much exposure? Doesn’t this allow for someone to easily poach me?

It’s something for HR folks to think about and explore within their organizations – and it’s probably not considered enough from a retention perspective. Personal branding for career management and career development is smart. But where do you draw the line? Protect and micro-manage, shaping the message of your employees as they develop their personal brand too much, and personal brands won’t flourish as they come off as being too corporate, controlled, and possibly lacking personality. Allow employees to run free completely with their personal branding efforts and then you run the risk of having a renegade on your hands who becomes a personality in and of themselves, independent of the employer. The sweet spot has got to be somewhere in between. I think. I hope. But what do you think?

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Rianne says:

    As long as you have meaningful content to share I don’t think you will be overexposured. I do have to say I didn’t know you before.
    And there is still a lot to think about regarding the future of HR, what role HR can play in helping changing organizations from a hierarchical towards a networked structure. So please stay.

  2. Bret Simmons says:

    Dangerous? I’m not sure what you mean by dangerous. How can it be dangerous to add value to the discussion of HR and have that value be associated with your name? Please forgive me for saying this, but is your HR police hat showing through? If I had someone like you in my organization, I’d be thinking strategically about how to leverage the value of your unique asset to develop our corporate value platform.
    You raise an important issue here. Thanks! Bret

  3. I need to pay better attention so I can be famous too. LOL I think a bigger issue is a personal one for you. At what point do you reach burnout? And when you reach that point what gives? Job?
    Of course there is always the option of turning that extra stuff, and the notoriety into a paying gig. Can you move from being Paris Hilton to being Tom Peters? Paris inherited her money, Tom earns his.

  4. Such an important reflection Jessica. I think this is why many companies shy away from letting smart, branded employees speak on behalf of their company or even mention their company in blogs, on Twitter etc. Sooner or later it will be impossible to be separate so kudos to APCO for trusting you sooner rather than losing you later.

  5. I think you overlooked something that is very important. Having a personal brand that is authentic to who you are, what your strengths are, what you like to do and are good at can only benefit your employer. What they get is an employee that performs well because they have the confidence that comes from having a strong personal brand. Since personal brands are not static, they also get an employee who wants to continue growing her brand, extending her reach, and producing better results each time. Instead of worrying about losing employees like you companies should be thinking of ways to provide you with ample opportunities to continue to grow and build your brand.

  6. good discussion, folks! thanks for swinging by!!
    @rianne – i’m not going anywhere, no worries! 🙂
    @mary, @bret – indeed my HR hat is showing through. i had a conversation with another HR person recently though about what it was like having a big personality and big name in the social media space work for her company… and it’s a fine line to draw because you can let the “celebrity” get to you and for an budding egomaniac? you possibly lose sight of the client and work on their behalf. it’s great as a draw from a biz dev perspective, but you have to stay focused on the client since it’s easy to get caught up in the “celebrity.” i also think people fail to recognize the effort and time it takes into building a personal brand – it’s time consuming and i think there’s also the concern of one’s time being spent too much on brand building rather than actual, real work. i think orgs just need to tread carefully and watch the issue as social media spreads and spreads for personal branding.
    @mike – lol. good point. paris inherited hers. i plan to earn mine every step of the way.
    @susan – i will always, always thank APCO. most def. from an organizational standpoint, letting a personal brand flourish will leave the employee with a positive, lasting impression of the company. definitely important to consider as well…

  7. Leaders like working with other leaders.
    Having your team members establish themselves as thought leaders in their particular space lifts up your brand as long as they work for you.
    I see employers trying to have a “ya-but” social media strategy. Ya we want our team members participating..but we want to control it. And that’s where they blow it.
    Once there are parameters and controls the employee voice changes. The message is now “mar-comed” to death and lacks an authentic tone. When this occurs is challenges your market’s trust of you.
    So I say you are in or out, but don’t try to control it.
    Mark Allen Roberts

  8. We do not have to measure the value or strength or danger of an employees personal brand just by the exposure they are getting on social media sites.
    Many employees shy away from any kind of online brand or do not seek that type of exposure or may not feel they have the skills or abilities to have a voice externally. However they can do all this and more internally, be great personal brands and manage their careers without a tweet or blog comment at all.
    Also Jessica you already had a personal brand before you started blogging. What has happened is that you have found a way to communicate that brand that works for you and your employer and kudos for being able to do that. Most employees are not even at the point of identifying what that brand is, how they can communicate it in a way that is authentic to them and be noticed by the people that matter, internally as well as possibly externally.
    Just my toonies worth.

  9. I love that Jessica is always thinking with her HR hat on.
    This is such an important issue and one of the big mistakes that organizations make when plunging into social media. When employers encourage employees to participate in social media, it’s important that they discuss goals, objectives, expected outcomes and expectations.
    It doesn’t do much for an organization to create social media celebrities if the celebrity is not using their social media success to further the organization.
    Social media in the workplace is a communication and outreach tool like any other. (Ok, not like any other.) If employees are going to be using these tools in the workplace, during their work hours or as part of their work responsibilities then everything that they do should be with the goal of serving the company in some way, shape and form.
    If people are using social media purely to build their own personal brand (gosh, I hate that term) then they should be doing so extra-curricularly on their own time and resources without it interfering with their work responsibilities.
    In Jessica’s case, if Jessica worked for me I would encourage her to create a plan of the various ways that she plans to utilize her social media skills, influence and celebrity to help the HR division and the company as a whole. If she were able to make a great plan with real ROI for the organization I would then give her the added time and resources to make that vision a reality.

  10. @mark – i think it’s easier said than done. and it’s hard for me to say this since i’m so out there and visible and have created a “brand” for myself… but putting my HR hat on, and in thinking about how to protect the assets of my company (our employees), i do wonder where you draw the line and what you need to do to make sure folks in social media don’t stray too far. the good news is that it takes a lot of effort and time to build a brand – and lot of people are unwilling to do it so perhaps companies don’t have to worry too much. but i think there should be a plan of some sorts for how to manage it, how to let it flourish, and how to ensure it stays on message with/for the organization.
    @paul – interesting comments. you’re right, i did have a personal brand before i started blogging but truthfully, it had such little exposure outside of the organizations i have worked for, now work for. i guarantee you that i would not have been on anyone’s radar outside of the small circle of folks i’ve worked with/for and the exposure i had was quite limited. (jessica who? and 90% of HR still probably would say that too, i recognize!) i think social media has and will continue to expose me to a wider audience though, and that’s what can be dangerous. i’m not saying i should close up shop or organizations shouldn’t let their employees put their personal brands out there… i just think we need to be considerate in doing it though and think about the potential brain drain of having your “best and brightest” out there. you know?
    @beth – dear beth. i think this is brilliant actually. and i’m surprised others haven’t come down on the idea. i actually never thought to establish goals, objectives, expected outcomes and expectations. i just jumped in and did it. it’s worked for me. but as others in my org wish to jump into social media and try to establish their personal brand and establish themselves as “thought leaders,” i struggle with saying just go for it and try it on for size. so… this gives me some good food for thought. a plan. with goals. and objectives. and outcomes. i like it. thanks for the idea.

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