Branding has been a buzzword of the advertising industry and corporate America for decades. However, the recent explosion of social media marketing and pioneers like Kim Kardashian (yep, I just called her a pioneer) have elevated the concept of personal branding and created a new phenomenon- the “Celebrity CEO”. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a CEO, this trend is not something you should ignore. In fact, crafting a brand strategy for yourself as the face of your company is arguably as important as developing your company’s brand image .
Less than two years ago I didn’t have a single social media account. In fact, I was so loathsome and fearful of social media that I decided to make a documentary about it, entitled Why I’m Not On Facebook.
The success of the film made me instantly recognizable and elevated my status to (what I jokingly call) “micro-celebrity.” Ironically, it also prompted my precipitous plunge into all things social media and awakened me to the power of being a celebrity CEO. The learning curve has been steep and sometimes painful, but ultimately it’s provided me with valuable insights into my business and personal growth strategies going forward.
Today the very concept of “celebrity” has completely changed. Every entrepreneur is one search term away from being in nearly every household in the world. Nowadays, a celebrity is defined not solely by their name recognition, but by the quantity, perception, and accessibility of their online content. In other words, if you aren’t branding yourself in the digital realm, you are missing a colossal strategic opportunity.
I recently spoke with Grant Cardone, a wildly successful entrepreneur who has embraced and capitalized on becoming a celebrity CEO. Cardone posts online content every day covering all aspects of his life, business, and finances. He’s amassed a massive following and is relentless in his self-promotion.
“The old saying goes, ‘People do business with people they trust,'” Cardone reflects. “But now with social media the saying should be, ‘People do business with people they know.’ People know me, and right now that’s more important than whether they like me. If they don’t like me, they can still choose to do business with me. If they don’t know me, I have no chance.”
Cardone is adamant about the tremendous opportunity a celebrity CEO brand can unleash. He believes the old-school method of building a company brand and trading on that brand is nearly impossible in today’s crowded marketplace. “At the end of the day, a company can only be so interesting. Look at John Legere, (CEO of T-Mobile) he’s got more followers than T-Mobile does.”
But does his personal celebrity help the company? Without hesitation, Cardone replies, “Absolutely!”
Cardone’s confidence is grounded in his own business’ astronomic growth from $4.5 million to $150 million annually. “That’s not because I’m selling product on social media; it’s because people know me on social media.”
But being a public entrepreneur or celebrity CEO is not for everyone. “A lot of entrepreneurs or CEOs can’t be transparent,” Cardone warns. “They don’t want people knowing what goes on in their business, or they may not even be planning to stay with the company. The public has a wildly good sense of authenticity. If you can’t be real and authentic, they’re going to know .”
Recently I’ve watched Brian Cristiano from BOLD Worldwide start his social media branding campaign from scratch with a self-funded web series, Growing BOLD, following his personal journey to take his company to $100 million. He started with a nominal following that has steadily grown. Since the series launched, his business has actually grown faster than his social media following. The perception, awareness, and association of his celebrity brand is more valuable than the traffic itself.
When I launched my new production company in 2016, my team spent a great deal of time and money developing our brand strategy. I quickly realized that I was being served by my personal brand more than I was my company brand. I embraced the celebrity CEO philosophy, and soon found more doors opening and far bigger opportunities. The results are indisputable; I provide more value to my company now by being a micro-celebrity than I did two years ago when I had a non-existent digital footprint.
Many entrepreneurs and CEOs, including most of my friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry, still have little to no public social media presence. So why have so many been so slow to follow… being followed? When I ask them why, they offer many of the same reasons:
“I’m too busy.”
“I’m an inherently private person.”
“I don’t like social media and the people who trade in it.”
“I just don’t see the value in it.”
While all of these excuses are rational, I believe many of my peers’ hesitancy actually stems from the fact that it’s painfully awkward to catapult yourself from private life into the land of “Hey, look at me!”
I get it. Trust me, it’s not fun when a post about your pet gets more likes than your biggest business accomplishment this year. It’s hard to thrust yourself into the virtual town square where you can be exposed to potential ridicule, judgment, or God knows what else. Not gonna lie- sometimes I even give myself an eyeroll with the self-promoting posts I’ve done. (The irony of writing an article on this topic is not lost on me either.)
After spending time with entrepreneurs like Grant Cardone and fumbling through building my own digital brand, the best advice I can offer my fellow social media troglodyte entrepreneurs is this:
Suck it up!
We must all do things in business that we don’t enjoy. Yes, it’s much safer and more comfortable to recede into obscurity and not put “look at me” content out into the world. But the reality is, being a celebrity CEO is part of the game now and if you’ve decided to sit on the sidelines and not play because it’s uncomfortable, you and your business are losing. Period.
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