by Kirsten Hodgson
Julian Summerhayes runs Brand You, a UK based company helping people become the best they can be: his strap line is “to become what we truly are.”
He works mainly within the professional services sector, assisting clients to leverage their talent to maximise client wins and revenue, mainly using social media.
Julian is a former lawyer who specialised in sports law and dispute resolution; he practised for 14 years. I started following Julian on Twitter (@Ju_Summerhayes) about 18 months ago and love his straight-up, practical advice and his clear passion for what he does.
I talked to him about his raison d’être and how he envisages social media helping professionals build and develop their personal brand (amongst a number of other interesting, service orientated issues – Excellence being Julian’s other big thing!)
KH: Tell me about Brand You?
JS: I had an epiphany one day. My passion has always been people – or the reason why some people make more of their talents than do others. I have been a long time student of personal development in the broadest sense (Napoleon Hill being high up as one of my all time favourite authors). I set up Brand You to help my clients – mainly service professionals – leverage their intellectual and creative capital to become the best version of their brand indentity/persona. Brand You is about passion. It’s about finding your unique voice, being different, memorable and making a lasting impression. It’s also about talent and managing your talent.
KH: When and why did you start using social media tools?
JS: When I was a practising lawyer I set up a sports law team acting for agents and athletes, which I loved; it stems from my passion for cycling. Lance Armstrong was an early adopter of Twitter and, because he was on there, a number of other professional cyclists also joined. I did too.
KH: How can leveraging social media help lawyers and other professionals to harness the power of their own brand?
JS: If someone is passionate about what they do, and if they have the patience to make a difference in their area, then they can think about how social media tools can help them to make a dent in their world. Social media isn’t an instant fix. I think lawyers (in particular) expect to do one thing one day and see an immediate return the next. For me, it’s about tapping someone’s passion, focusing on why they got into their profession and what they want to achieve and then using some of the social media tools and methodologies to make more of that passion. In a way it feels like I am helping people who have a message to share reach out and connect with their tribe.
One suite of tools will be right for one person, another suite will work for someone else and that’s the great thing. One person might say let’s do a blog and another person might put some videos out: It’s about finding your unique voice.
I think the key thing many professionals struggle with is the idea of a USP. I always say to people think about how you can sum yourself up in the smallest number of words that you possibly can. I try to tap into this and help people convey their passion succinctly. Using Twitter as an example, I’d ask what the difference between your Twitter feed and your competitors’ feeds is. If you’re all dishing out the same news, the same reports of case law, and the same piece of legislation, why should people follow you?
What you will see soon, I suspect, is lots of redundant accounts, lots of people who give up on it because they think that’s a waste of time, and a distraction. Quite what they will revert back to, who knows!
There are professionals who absolutely hate what they do and social media is the last thing in the world that they need. What they need is some coaching, possibly some career counselling to say ‘Do you know what, you have this absolute passion for painting. Why the heck are you pursuing law when you should be painting?” People are not fixed to their careers – yes there’s a financial constraint if you’re a senior partner, you’ve got a huge amount resting on this but ultimately you won’t be happy and won’t deliver the best value nor the best service if you don’t enjoy what you do.
It’s a complex issue but in terms of the power of social media it’s about maximising the how rather than just the what. If you pursue something that you are passionate about, then everything else will fall into place.
Some firms in the UK have really gone niche, but they haven’t done it from a passion point of view, they have done it from an economics point of view, which is actually wrong. For example, they’ve got into spinal injuries claims because there’s a rash of these coming through. Is it something they’re passionate about?
Then why do it?
If you don’t have passion you can’t sustain anything for very long.
KH: Assuming someone is passionate about what they do and they want to build their own brand, what do they need to think about before they start using social media?
JS: Less is more. Just start with one thing and get good at it. Get really, really good at it. In terms of building your tribe, you need to be thinking about each platform having its own individual theme, ecosystem and way of doing things.
Try not to do too much. If I was starting off again, frankly I’d probably only start with a blog and maybe Twitter but I wouldn’t end up as I did at one point, having about 40 platforms that I messed around with.
You need to be quite strategic, you need to think about where your clients/referrers/fans are going to congregate. If you’re in a private client scenario, you may not start with LinkedIn. You may start with Twitter, a blog, a video. It’s important that you understand the viewing habits of your audience. The book Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research introduces the Social Technographics Ladder, which breaks users into groups based on their level of participation online.
In terms of ROI you can have that conversation but it’s pointless at this early state, I want to see how committed you are. Are you going to master the two platforms, are you going to stay engaged, are you going to fall off the wagon after three months?
Social networks are just tools! They will evolve and change over time. Don’t get hung up on the tools. Focus on the passion, focus on your messaging.
I follow the POST philosophy – People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology. Focus on the people first. Don’t worry about the objectives, the strategy will come and the technology is last. I have a thing about it, strategy is execution. Strategy will come out as you do more stuff. The more stuff you do, the better your strategy will become. I think too many firms spend hours and hours drafting a strategy. Then, when they execute it they think ‘hmmm, maybe we should try something else’.
Do lots of stuff
That way you’ll know what works through trial and error. Try different messaging, different content. Don’t expect instant results.
I believe it’s going to be the quirky ones, the edgy ones, the rebels who are going to get noted. Their service may be frankly no better than others but that doesn’t matter. From a social media point of view it’s these quirky personalities that get picked up.
KH: Talking about client service…
JS: The thing that attracts me to social media is the collaborative spirit, which you just don’t get in many professional services firms. It is counter-intuitive. At the end of the day it’s about the client experience. Without the client you have no business. What you should be thinking about is am I the best person for this job, if I’m not then who can I refer this work to who will do a better job than me?
If you don’t do the very, very best job you can, clients are going to go somewhere else. Put your people first or equal first with your clients because with the people doing a fantastic job, marketing will take care of itself. If you make promises to someone else and keep them, you will be doing well.
Social media for me is just a tool, an extension of who you are and if it helps you do your job better, great. But don’t get wrapped up in it in thinking that people will go around and forget the fact that you provide a lousy service and your receptionist doesn’t answer the phone in a very polite manner. Those are things that, for most people, make more of a difference than regular tweets.
What’s your view?
You can find out more about Julian and Brand You at www.juliansummerhayes.com