Throughout this blog’s history, we have discussed at length the benefits of individual brand-building for law firm attorneys. But the same lessons can pay valuable dividends for in-house counsel as well. Recently, I had the opportunity to co-write an article on “Enhance Personal Brand Equity With New Media,” with Acumen Solutions General Counsel Affie Ambrose and Computer Systems Center Inc. General Counsel/VP of Business and Corporate Affairs Brett Coffee. The following is an excerpt from that article, which initially ran in the July/August issue of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s ACC Docket magazine:

As in-house counsel, you are busy putting out fires on a daily basis, managing risks, litigation, contracts, corporate matters and transactions. Often, the last thing on your mind or on your calendar is marketing YOUR brand.

That was particularly true before the advent of social media tools, which make brand building quicker and more efficient — indeed, possible at all for the modern in-house practitioner.

Throughout the history of legal practice, excellent work has always been promoted as the ultimate brand-builder, but this technique represents a lifetime of effort — not particularly effective as a rapid brand-builder in the digital age. In recent decades, doing great work has been supplanted by “tried-and-true” channels like speaking, writing and commenting. A rule of thumb suggests that it takes between three to four hours of work to craft each significant article or one-hour presentation. In 2011, who has that kind of time? At most, a busy lawyer who insists on high-quality writing and speaking can accommodate only an article or two, or a speaking engagement or two, each year. While effective over time, this is a very slow and laborious way to build a personal brand.

Over the last two years, there has been a marketing revolution — social media and other new- media tools — that has facilitated the ability for individuals to brand themselves and create value in that brand through technology, making it quicker, less expensive and more pervasive.

Why would in-house counsel care about their brand? The purpose of branding is to build awareness among “followers” of the promise, experience and feeling that they will derive from associating with you. That will then bring positive attention to not only you personally, but also to your company. Potential “followers” will encounter your marketing and branding submissions and then evaluate them. If your content applies to and intrigues your followers, they will likely read your other submissions and digital output. If they continue to be intrigued by the information you are putting out, the “loyalty loop” begins. These followers will begin to advocate for you with their friends, which will further enhance your personal brand. This will ultimately lead to more subscribers, who could lead to interesting networking, a possible customer or client for your firm, and enhancement of your personal brand as someone who is knowledgeable and has access to useful information.

An easy way to test your brand is to do a Google or other search-engine search on your name and examine the results. If you strategically use certain key words, focus your comments to particular blogs or repeatedly contribute to specific topics while linking your name to your submissions at the same time, the search results will eventually tell a story. In addition, make sure that your online resume is updated so that if you’ve sat on the board of a particular organization, or received recognition or press for something you’ve done, a search on your name will show your accolades. If you have enough material for a website, you could buy your domain name and have links to the various submissions, but this can be time consuming and must be kept fresh. Even without one’s own website, an in-house lawyer can make sure her name is near the top of a search on her name by making meaningful yet frequent submissions on the topic of her choice as described below.

Rising to the top of the vast pile of flotsam and jetsam on the internet requires having a clear, distinct vision of your brand. Always ask yourself questions such as:

  • What do I do best?
  • What do I want my brand to be?
  • How do I want to be perceived by clients and colleagues?
  • How does my personal brand enhance my company’s brand strategy? And
  • Does my brand align with my company’s brand?

These questions, and the answers you reach, should guide you to a few specific key terms or short phrases that will help make your brand distinctive. You should repeat these key terms and phrases often in blog posts and comments (on your own blog and others), in Tweets and LinkedIn entries, and in published articles.

The frequency of key terms helps boost your profile on internet search engines. Unlike blind repetition, strategically emphasizing and re-emphasizing the same core terms and points can be very helpful. A consistent, well-defined set of identifiable words is critical to building a successful brand. Remember: Google is the ultimate arbiter of brand success.

Also, don’t limit yourself to just one mode of social media. Use a cross-section of platforms to achieve maximum visibility. This can be done with relatively little effort by simply repurposing the same content. For example, a blog post can be distributed in a Tweet, which, in turn, is automatically linked to appear on your LinkedIn page. In just a few seconds, you have reached three distinct audiences with the same content.

Reprinted with permission from the Association of Corporate Counsel 2011 All Rights Reserved