When your personal brand takes a blind-side hit

Jonathan Martin noticed a sudden influx of personal messages directed to his Twitter account. New York Times reporter that he is, he figured out pretty quickly what was happening. The message senders had him confused with another Jonathan Martin, offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, who was the subject of an exploding story about hazing in football locker rooms.

Jonathan Martin, football player

Jonathan Martin (not the journalist): NY Times photo

Martin (the journalist) reported that the messages ran the gamut from encouraging to insulting to profane. As a sports fan, he found the whole experience amusing. But it also provided a window into the free-wheeling nature of social media, especially into what one of his correspondents called keyboard courage: the tendency for people to say online what they’d never dream of saying to someone’s face. Especially to a 6-foot-5, 312-pound pro football player.

I’ve written and presented about personal branding: the importance of creating and cultivating a professional image or personality. So what happens when you carefully build a personal brand, only to have something come along that casts your name in a completely unexpected light?

Since my name is less common than Jonathan Martin’s, it might seem that I have little to worry about. Yet a quick search on LinkedIn reveals no less than 15 other people named Larry Kunz. There are even more out there: my favorite is the Larry Kunz who, according to Wikipedia, contested a 2001 election in British Columbia as the Marijuana Party’s nominee. He didn’t win but the election night celebration must’ve been pretty mellow.

Seriously, to the question at hand: you can and should do your best to maintain a strong personal brand. But some things are always going to be out of your control. When you take a hit from the blind side, and Jonathan Martin (the offensive tackle) isn’t around to deflect it, you bank on the trust and respect you’ve amassed and you weather the storm with grace — as it appears Jonathan Martin (the journalist) has done.

And to all of you other Larry Kunzes: First, welcome to my blog. Although I don’t know any of you personally, I promise I’ll try not to write anything so outrageous that it sullies your name. If y’all could return the favor, I’ll be much obliged.

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