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Choosing A Position: Navigating The Tightrope Of The Personal Brand

As somebody who is often lucky enough to speak at an event, interview somebody, or write a blog piece I am often asked about how I decide what position to take. Do I think I should be polemical, or constructive, or argumentative?


Editor’s Note: Gaining some level of notoriety or influence has always been a double edged sword, and if anything since the advent of social media it has just gotten stranger while simultaneously becoming easier for more and more people to achieve it.  This new channel of influence comes with certain potential pitfalls and implicit responsibilities as well, both of which can be challenging to navigate. In today’s post Ray Poynter, who certainly knows a thing or two about managing a personal brand, tackles this tension head on with his usual candor and erudition by discussing the process he uses to determine when, where, and how he engages in various social media activities.

This is a topic that is pertinent for all of use learning to leverage these new tools, not just the more visible folks like Ray and I. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules here, but there are a few principles that I have found help me to (hopefully) “keep it between the lines” when leveraging my role and influence. They are:

  • Do No Harm
  • Be Authentic
  • Be Transparent
  • Treat Others As You Would Like To be Treated
  • Help Others Whenever Possible
  • Operate In Context
  • You Can’t Please Everyone

These principles help inform my broader take on social media (you can find that here) and generally help guide my own decision making when it comes to choosing a position or taking action within the various brand activities I am engaged with. Even then, it’s easy to get off track and I am routinely called to account for my various positions, and that is a good thing: the court of social networks can be  harsh but just, and the very nature of the beast ensures that you get needed feedback quickly.

Well, enough about me and on to the good stuff of Ray’s post.  I hope you’ll get as much out of Ray’s thoughts and experience as I have. At heart Ray is an educator in the Socratic tradition, and while I don’t always agree with him, he continues to be a trailblazer in our industry and I always learn an awful lot from him.


By Ray Poynter

What position to take?

As somebody who is often lucky enough to speak at an event, interview somebody, or write a blog piece I am often asked about how I decide what position to take. Do I think I should be polemical, or constructive, or argumentative? I think the key thing is context, what is my role in the particular situation and what are my views about the topic. However, here are some general thoughts on what I tend to do instinctively.

I very rarely post an article to criticism something, I think that this usually looks like sour grapes and reflects badly on the person writing the article or making the speech. I tend to post about something if I think it is either newsworthy or useful, and ideally both.

If I am chairing an event, interviewing somebody, or moderating a conversation then I will tend to be neutral, even if I have relatively strong views.

Where I take my strongest positions tends to be when I comment on other people’s posts and articles. In recent weeks, for example, I have posted comments attacking: sexism in market research, the idea that all researchers can be consultants, that automated sentiment analysis works, and that any panel research can be described as random probability sampling of a meaningful target population.

On most topics, I take the view that whilst some things are clearly wrong or untrue, it is rare for something to be right in an absolute sense. This is because of issues of context and reflexivity (it is worth noting that Einstein and Jung both expressed the view that no problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it). I am a big believer in the concept of dialectics, i.e. that we can gain greater insight through engaging in reasoned and passionate debate – i.e. where two or more people argue positions that they believe in but which are in contrast to each other.

Another related topic is promotional posting. I will sometimes write a post to advance a position or topic or cause if I believe the post to be true. I have been given software and books in the past and asked to blog about them. If I like the book or service, and I have the time, I am happy to write a positive and accurate blog, and try to remember to include a line such as ‘X gave me a free copy of their book and here are my thoughts’. If I do not like the package or book then I simply do not write an article. I have written for money in the past, and apply two rules in those cases, 1) say I am being paid (but usually I don’t say how much) and 2) only write things that I believe. So the only difference in paying me to write versus not paying me is that I am more likely to get round to writing the article if I am paid, but I try not to change what I would write.

What are your thoughts? When do you tend to post or comment? Do you prefer balanced views or passionate cries from the heart? What do you think about promotional posting?

Please share...

5 responses to “Choosing A Position: Navigating The Tightrope Of The Personal Brand

  1. Quite pertinent and well-put.

    It’s always a questions, isn’t it – to say or not to say, how much to say and when…..With the aspect (issue?) of Personal brands growing alongside corporate/association/group brands, it is always a delicate balance.

    Ray – does a Swiss-approach work most times?

  2. Ray – your comments (at least the ones I can remember reading on my own blogs in the past 12 months) are in my view a) well structured b) coherent, logical c) respectful. They are also often moderate – perhaps a quality that makes you well suited to be a moderator 😉 I am not sure that the concept of dialectics is one that I would have guessed at – I would like to share your optimism, however….Mr. Adorno was surely on to something with the concept of “negative dialectics”? Couple of questions here: a) the title of the piece refers to the personal brand, but you don’t really refer to it? b) objectivity versus the undeniable and irreducible drive to “promote”, even if its just a POV. Does this cause a conflict – bias by omission, for example?

  3. Good post Ray.

    Since you asked… 😉 I take slightly different approaches depending on where I’m writing/speaking. The bedrock approach – 1) attribute properly, 2) don’t be a dick – hopefully doesn’t shift!

    On my own blog the principle has always been to write posts I’d want to read (and share, comment on etc.) if I came across them written by someone else. I treat guest posts on other people’s blogs similarly.

    On the company blog the idea is to post genuinely interesting stuff I’ve found elsewhere online, and link it to the kind of things we’re thinking about.

    If I’m reporting on a conference session I’m trying to pull out the key points but also synthesise the session (or conference as a whole) thematically – point by point accounts are done better by live bloggers.

    If I’m speaking I always try to present something new – not always possible but it often is.

    Everything else goes on Twitter, where I suppose I’m unusual among (relatively) widely followed researchers in that at least half my followers aren’t interested in research. So when I post research links I try and post things which will have some level of general interest. I’m also likelier to let my own personal or political views bleed through on Twitter.

  4. Re. promotion and objectivity, and Edward’s comment.

    True objectivity is, I think, impossible. I don’t see anything wrong with using company or personal blogs to promote – whether it’s EFFECTIVE is quite another matter.

    Blogs like this, or RW Connect, or Research Live, etc. are slightly different. Promotion is more of a vice on multi-author blogs, at worst it wastes peoples’ time and pollutes the resource. But I notice nobody is mentioning the magic word “editor”! Like any journalist, it’s my responsibility to make sure my copy is on-time and ready to publish without editing (which in this case means “not just a PR job”), but there are editorial checks on overly promotional pieces, at the commissioning stage and at the publication stage.

    So if we think promotionalism IS a problem it’s partly up to Lenny, Brian Tarran, the ESOMAR editors, conference committees etc to assert editorial authority to help deal with it. (I think they do, by the way). With conferences there’s a slightly different problem, which is that the current fashion is to book as many client-agency two-hander case study presentations as possible, but these are almost invariably promotional and harder for the committee to police. But this is another issue really.

    1. Great comments everyone. I can’t speak for Ray, but I do know that in my own case I try to sublimate the more active impulses of self-promotion by focusing on bringing others content to the front of the line. Now I am not so disingenuous that I don’t recognize that in this scenario by the very act of promoting others before myself I am helping myself in the process (the success of this blog and the impact it has had on my business is a pertinent example), but personally I don’t see the problem with enlightened self-interest.

      I guess the bottom line for me is that this is a business blog, not a personal one. By it’s very nature it is designed to promote, just as almost every other activity within my business life is designed to help grow my business. That is the point. How we go about it is what matters; a little integrity and practicing The Golden Rule goes far in ensuring that my more atavistic urges are tamped down in favor of a type of social egalitarianism that is a win/win for all. That seems to be a good strategy whether we’re discussing social media, conferences, webinars, client meetings, etc..

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