Tag Archives: Sandy Carter

Personal networking and branding with social media: Sandy Carter

sandy_virtualIn this session from IBM Impact 2009 I’m hoping to get some insights from Sandy Carter (Vice President, SOA & WebSphere Marketing, Strategy, and Channels), social media advocate and author of The New Language of Marketing 2.0. Thankfully, she doesn’t disappoint and she even sets us ‘homework’ to improve our social media standing.

Sandy is introduced by Carolyn Leighton (Founder of Women in Technology International, or WITI) and to put this in context Sandy says there are more women on social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn) than men… generally in the region of 61-68%. This breaks down the popular notion that these sites are frequented by young mail teens. Indeed, most of the crowd at this well-attended session are women.

Much of this lively presentation concentrates on discussions around personal branding – a vital ingredient to achieving success in the world of social networking.

How exactly do you define and manage your brand?

The whole thorny subject of branding is one that is analyzed in detail in the corporate world and so Sandy uses her own experience as brand owner for Websphere, one of the top-rated brands in existence. As for definition, you need to consider the following:

  • The image of a brand and the perception of it
  • Experience of the brand: end to end, including everything from the sales person who sold the product to your ongoing experience with the product (which touches on many areas of the organization, including customer service)
  • Trust: is the brand delivering on its promise? This is of key importance because if trust falters, rebuilding it is a considerable effort
  • Relationship: the emotional connection your constituency has towards you (Sandy uses the example of her love of Diet Coke even though she’s failed taste tests with Pepsi in the past!)

So, what does that mean for us as individuals? All these principles can be applied on a personal basis and come into play the minute we interact with others, either on- or offline. In person you can ask people what they think of you. Online this can mean looking at your appearance: whether it be on Google, Technorati or your profile picture on Twitter. Do you offer total continuity across your brand? For everything you do, think whether this is consistent with the brand image you want to project.

On the subject of image, remember that this is about perception, not about reality. Therefore you really need to make the effort to find out how you are viewed by others. Sandy gives the example of how she used to curl her hair, but on questioning her peers she found that they considered it disrespectful when they were speaking to her. She didn’t mean it that way: that’s just how it was often interpreted. So, beware and look for traits that could be perceived in a negative light.

One area that is particularly relevant in the current climate is job-hunting and what Sandy calls the Resume 2.0. You need to remember that prospective employers could well Google you and see a part of your life you’d rather they didn’t. To get round this, make sure you professional-ize your image. For instance, use your own domain on which to host your online portfolio and offer a blended resume: a paper version with links to your online appearance.

Building trust

How do you maintain your personal trust? Make sure you follow through on commitments, make sure you walk the walk and act with integrity and honesty. Don’t over-promise. When it comes to mistakes, make sure you are honest and transparent. Fake profiles can be detected and you’ll attract negative press if these are discovered.

Sandy talks of the Streisand effect: where Barbara Streisand took the heavy-handed approach of issuing a legal letter to a fan who photographed her house. This incensed the online community and within days 100s of pictures of her house appeared online. The crucial point here is the way you handle a mistake is very important. If you handle a mistake in a good way, this can actually improve your brand image (although she doesn’t recommend running out and making mistakes just to improve your image!). Whatever you do, make some effort to recover from a mistake. Don’t bury your head in the sand.

Building relationships

In terms of building relationships: Sandy talks of the wheel of influence. The wheel reflects all the groups with which you interact and who you need to take into account. At a corporate level, IBM does this for each product, with the groups including employees, sales, customers, other marketers, partners, suppliers, business leaders.

You should think of your own personal wheel of influence. Sandy offers this example:


As you build up relationships Sandy makes the point that there is no such thing as a neutral interaction with another individual. This will always be either positive or negative. Bear this in mind particularly when you interact with others on the web. Also remember that relationship is not just one way: you need to build a dialogue and you need to listen. In the online context, here are some example tools you can use for listening:

Which social networks are right for you?

There are so many networks out there, make sure you don’t fall victim to social media fatigue! Only use the networks you find value with – if you start seeing this interaction as a chore you will lose interest over time. Once you pick a network, spend some time seeking out your existing contacts on these properties. Some more in-depth tips:


  • Actively manage what is posted on your wall
  • Share through groups
  • Be prepared to make mistakes


  • Leverage groups
  • Stay in touch regularly: link back to your blogs
  • Discover the connections
  • Contrast the business setting with friendliness

It’s important to interact on social networks as often the last place someone goes to look for you now is on your site.

Steps to improve your personal brand

Now we get to the homework Sandy is setting us. These are intended to look at how we are perceived and learn how we can build our own personal skills and networks.

I am currently known for these: (list 2 to 4 things)
But by next year, I want to be known for these things: (2 to 4 things)

My public visibility program includes: (list 3 sites/areas you can concentrate on)

My current project is leveraging my skills, but is challenging me in the following ways: (list 4 things)

More on Sandy Carter

I’ve tried to capture some of the excellent points Sandy touched on in this presentation. You can access the full presentation on the IBM website and searching for presentations from Sandy Carter.

You can follow Sandy on Twitter, where she is highly active.

This presentation only touches the surface of many subjects that Sandy covers in more detail in The New Language of Marketing 2.0.

(In the interest of disclosure, I should point out that I am an IBM employee)

Is the consumer really your brand?

This morning I listened to Sandy Carter from IBM (the world’s number 2 brand after Coke) explain how now more than ever the concept of the brand goes way beyond the bricks and mortar of the corporate HQ. In her book The New Language of Marketing 2.0 and accompanying blog, Sandy points out that as we now have a situation where consumers are producers of information (whether it be through blog posts, Twitter, Facebook or other social networks), they are the ones forming the messaging and perceptions around a brand. I’d say these days it’s hard to find a PR agency that isn’t grappling with the issue of monitoring and participating in the multifarious conversions taking place on different online networks around a brand.

However, can you go too far?

Skittles, the Mars-owned confectionery brand may have with the latest incarnation of its website. Actually you can’t really call it Skittles’ website – as the normal corporate blurb and messaging has been replaced with user (consumer) generated content from popular social networks such as Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


The Twitter portion has come under considerable fire – mainly because as soon as people realised they could have their Tweets display prominently on the Skittles homepage, many took the opportunity to post obscenities and toilet-wall style humor targetting Skittles.

Generally, the approach taken by Skittles has attracted criticism for doing little more than attract hype. For instance, Shel Holtz in the For Immediate Release podcast referred to the design as gimmicky. I’d have to admit that to my mind they have gone over the top by almost completely scrapping their own content (apart from minimal information in the red widget in the top left corner).

On the other hand, I think we will start to see this more and more on corporate websites, if we are to believe the assertion that consumers shape the brand. In many cases, wouldn’t the audience be equally (if not more interested) in what your consumers are saying about you? I’m guessing prospects and press definitely would be. If this is the case, there will reach a tipping point where not providing this kind of information will look authoritarian and defensive.

A perhaps unintended consequence of this approach is that you really can keep the copywriting costs at a minimum!