I hear this a lot: Which is more important – my personal “brand” or my actual business brand?

Other variations on this include,

How do I balance my personal brand with my business brand?

Really, at this point, in a world dominated by Social Media, this point has become somewhat moot, as for most of us, our personal and professional brands have become very much wrapped up in one another.

Think about it, how we view someone often has an impact on how we view their business. It is for this very reason I can never root for a football team that signs Terrell Owens (particularly after his tenure on my Eagles!). There are movies that may be great that I will never watch, just because they happen to feature a certain actor that I really dislike. Or, I might decide not to buy a product if their celebrity endorser is someone whose personal brand I dislike.

This week’s news of the death of Steve Jobs is a perfect example of this. Steve Jobs’ personal brand was so strong, and so closely identified with that of Apple, that when he decided to step down from the company, there were those who wondered if it would hurt the company. When the news of his death hit Twitter and the Internet, it spread rapidly, much because Jobs and Apple were synonymous in the minds of many. And I believe their love of Jobs had a major impact on their love of the company and it’s products, and vice versa. If Jobs had been an unlikable individual, it might have had an impact on the success of the company.

Another news story from this week shows the other side of the coin. Singer Hank Williams, Jr. made some rather harsh and inflammatory comments about the President of the United States. As a result, his intro song was pulled from this week’s broadcast of Monday Night Football. And despite an apology, ESPN has now announced that Hank and the song will no longer be a part of MNF at all. Ever. Williams’ comments drew fire from many and tarnished his personal brand. Because of his close affiliation with Monday Night Football (for many of us, this might be the only exposure we have ever had to him or his music), ESPN made the determination that to continue identifying with him would have a negative impact on their brand. They had to weigh the pros and cons, and made the decision that they were better off without him.

Certainly this can be a greater problem for smaller businesses when the person identified with that business is rather high profile. For instance, I AM my business. If someone doesn’t like me, they won’t be working with Inkling Media.

The point is, as we spend more of our lives engaging online, perhaps with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, our personal brand is becoming much more important than ever before. People have access to our thoughts, feelings, interests, and the like. They can make judgements, valid or not, based on what they perceive. What we say and do online DOES have an impact on how people view us. And, if they make the connection between us and our business, their thoughts about us might be transferred to our business, regardless of whether they are positive, negative, or neutral.

And it goes the other way as well. If we have a bad experience with a company, our perception of that brand could be transferred on to employees of the brand. For instance, if I feel as though I received subpar service and a subpar meal at Local Bar & Grill, and I later discover that Fred owns the place, even if he wasn’t there that night, I might view him as being a lousy business owner who doesn’t care about his customers. It may not be true, but it’s my perception of his business brand transferring to his personal brand.

And I think we all do this on some level.

So what does it mean to us?

Simply, it means that we need to keep an eye on both our personal and business brands, and understand the impact that they have on one another. It doesn’t mean we are fake and try to hide things.

On the contrary; we should still strive for those buzzwords of authenticity and transparency. But in so doing, we need to be genuine and honest in all that we do. And we need to have filters. Understanding that people might transpose our brand onto our business, we should not just be careful in how we live our lives, but in how we choose to share those lives online.

When you post pictures on Facebook or Twitter, do you think about how it might color people’s perceptions not just of you, but of your business?

When you tweet something in haste, do we realize that it might just affect how others view our work life?

When I see a local businessman tweeting crude and drunken pictures of his night on the town, I no longer want to send business his way. When a local professional is always making off-color jokes in a public forum, it makes me less likely to do business with him.

Thanks to the Internet and Social Media, our personal brands and our business brands are forever entwined.

Does knowing this affect how you act and interact online? Are you doing your best to protect both your personal brand and your business brand?