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Colin Firth plays King George VI, who hired a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to cure his stammer, in The King's Speech.
Colin Firth plays King George VI, who hired a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to cure his stammer, in The King's Speech.

Grow: Mia Pearson

Leaders have less control over reputation Add to ...

This week I am speaking at the Young Women of Influence evening series on the importance of personal branding. Something really interesting happened leading up to the event - an experience I believe, as small business owners, we can learn from in terms of making a strong first impression.

We all understand the importance of that first meeting. It takes only minutes for our customers, partners, investors or potential employees to develop a perception of us and our business. It is how our long-term reputation is often built. And in most of my presentations that is the area I focus my attention.

But this week, I experienced something different. I watched, first-hand, the power of pre-promotion and positive-impact conversations that social networks could have on my personal brand.

It started with a few tweets. The team at Women of Influence started sending updates about my topic, other presentations I had given, and other like-minded business leaders that followers should link up with. Not all event organizers are that aggressive at pre-promotion, but I was shocked by how much dialogue has already started in advance of my talk. And while my focus was all about preparing for my entrance onto the stage, it was clear that the majority of the audience will already have a strong, preconceived view of who I am and what they think of me, well before hearing me speak.

As business leaders, it is clear our focus needs to shift. In the past, we have spent a lot of time working on the things we can control: How we speak. The messages we deliver. What we wear.

But that is only a small portion of what creates a strong first impression. Our reputations are built not only on how we behave and interact with our customers, partners and employees, but also in how our key audiences interact with us. As strong communicators, we need to put way more emphasis on what is said in advance, often across multiple social networks, and incorporate that into our overall branding strategy.

But we can only do that well if we play an active role in social networking. If I did not have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, it would have made it hard for the event organizers to build out their story and link to my broader profile. This online profile enables the pre-promotion activity to take on a life of its own. A strong online brand and broad network of followers provides a platform to further build on the awareness and reputation of you and your company.

As an entrepreneur, I fully appreciate the pressures on our time. And in a world full of multiple priorities, taking the time to build an online presence and brand often does not make it to the top of the list. It takes time to build, and it must be fed on a regular basis.

But if you are taking the time to do the speaking circuit, or to engage in external promotions, I believe this needs to be a key part of your strategy. As I saw first-hand this week, once established, the payoffs can be huge, and ultimately you are letting others spread the good word about you and your company.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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