The other week, while I was at the WebWorks Roundup conference in Texas, where I was one of the featured industry speakers, I was sitting next to Anne Gentle during one of the panel sessions, and I asked her about branding. It seems like once you become branded through your blog, it’s hard to reinvent yourself.
I was speaking at WebWorks on blogging and web 2.0. More than anything else, my blog has branded me as a blogger. This brand has led to numerous speaking invitations at conferences and chapters. The more I speak about blogging, the more I become branded as a blogging expert –- it’s a cycle of branding that perpetuates itself.
At the conference, I learned that although some people have branded themselves online in certain ways, they can be much different in person. For example, online you know Richard Hamilton, founder of XML Press, as an entrepreneurial publisher focusing on the technical communication market. You may also see Richard as an experienced manager through his recent book Managing Writers. And you may gather that Richard is a careful, analytical thinker from his lengthy conference write-up posts. That’s how Richard has branded himself — as a publisher and manager.
But Richard has another side to him as well. He’s a pilot and previously owned his own airplane. He loves reading literature, especially mysteries. For example, he has read Sue Grafton’s mystery series (A is for Alibi, B is for …) series up to G. His whole face lights up when he starts talking about mystery novels with another mystery aficionado.
He boots his computer in Ubuntu and prefers to write everything in DocBook XML. He also seems to enjoy long car drives (for example, he drove from Colorado to Texas and back for the conference). More than anything, Richard is one of the most warm, friendly, and conversational people you will ever meet.
Alan Porter is even more of an interesting figure when it comes to branding. Online you know Alan as the head of WebWorks (or VP of Operations). You read his blog as an expert in the tech comm industry, especially with wikis. His forthcoming book, Wikis: Grown Your Own for Fun and Profit, will only solidify his wiki branding. He also blogs about trends in user behavior, from observing, for example, the way his teenage daughter approaches her homework.
But in person, you’ll find that, like Richard, Alan has another side to him entirely. A cowboy-boot wearing Englishman, Alan is an avid comic artist. Mention conferences like Comicon and Dragicon and his ears perk up. He regularly writes the stories, dialog, and scripts for the comic book CARS.
In addition to his drawing talents, Alan has also written books on James Bond, Batman, Star Trek, and the Beatles. He has strong feelings about the importance of storytelling. In fact, Alan works only 30 hours a week so he can focus on his writing.
Alan has written a mystery novel set with NASCAR racing and another novel about Shakespeare pretending to be Christopher Marlowe, which an agent of his was shopping around Hollywood for a possible movie. Alan is also a consultant for Tedopres, a company focused on simplified technical English. He can fly out to your location and train your employees on simplified technical English techniques.
Alan understands the importance of recording presentations. He records all major WebWorks conference sessions, making them available at first on a limited basis and then eventually opens them up to everyone. He’s allergic to gluten, is married to a court reporter, and when you mention his competitor’s products, such as Flare, he breathes a deep sigh.
I’ve gotta say, Alan is one of the most interesting people to meet, because unless you know this other side of Alan, all of this comes as a complete surprise. It’s a surprise mostly because Alan has chosen not to brand himself this way online. In fact, he has a policy that he will not write about either his company’s products or his competitor’s products on his blog.
Blogs provide you with an opportunity to brand yourself with an identity you want to be known by. But you have to be careful what you blog about, because that brand then stays with you. You become known for that brand, and it can be hard to change.
Reinventing yourself with a new identity isn’t impossible. It just requires you to shift your focus, to start writing about a new topic.
I mentioned at the beginning that I’m not so eager to be branded as a blogger (and podcaster and WordPress person). Ideally, I would like to be a screencaster and wiki expert as well. To make that happen, I’ll have to shift the focus of my blog — for about the next 200 posts.
I could make the shift, but I think I prefer to let things happen in a more natural way. It’s more interesting to let water flow in the direction it wants to. And then every once in a while look up to see where you are.