Connecting with Bill Sobel

Dan Schawbel has been called “the millennial version of Tom Peters” — a consultant, writer, columnist and public speaker known for his energy, influence and ideas.

Schawbel is a young man with a long resume: he's the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, the author of two bestsellers, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success and a columnist at both Time and Forbes.

He's been featured in more than 1,000 media outlets, from “The Today Show” on NBC to “The Nightly Business Report” on PBS, and has spoken at some of the world’s most prestigious companies including Google, IBM, Time Warner, CitiGroup, McGraw-Hill and Siemens, as well as some of the most notable schools … Harvard, Stanford, Cornell and MIT. 

He was named to Inc. Magazine's 30 Under 30 List in 2010, the Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 List in 2012 and described by BusinessWeek as someone entrepreneurs should follow on Twitter.

Why should you care? Because he understands social media, personal branding and that ever elusive millennial workforce, among other things.

'Personal Branding Czar'

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Schawbell said one of his core beliefs is that to be successful today you have to be accountable for your career and take charge of your life. And one of the keys to success is knowing how to promote yourself.

Sobel: I was honored that you asked me to provide a quote in the first book you wrote in 2009. Since then, you've moved from Boston to New York and have re-invented yourself again. Can you tell us a bit about Dan Schawbel, then and now?

Schawbel: I worked for EMC for three and a half years when I graduated college and had three different positions during my time there, including the company's first ever social media position. This was back in 2007 after I had started a blog, magazine and video series. That eventually caught Fast Company's attention, and after a profile, I was hired internally for the social media job. The experience of creating my own job at a Fortune 200 company inspired me to write Me 2.0, which eventually led me to start my company, Millennial Branding.

My original business model was personal branding coaching for individuals and social media consulting for small businesses. Eventually I lost interest in those things, especially with the sheer amount of competition, which undercut me for similar services. I made the transition a few years ago to workplace research and consulting, with emphasis on generational dynamics. The new book, Promote Yourself, along with major clients helped me make the transition. I'm also now partnering with Career Edge, a group of experts selling a solution to embed a career curriculum into higher education.

Sobel: You are one of the first people I know that really pushed the notion of a personal brand. Tell us more about that.

Schawbel: I started blogging in 2006 under the name "Driven to Succeed," which was my take on how to navigate the employment world from a recent graduate perspective. In 2007, I turned that into and continued to write ten to twelve posts per week. A few years later, as I was expanding my services, I brought on an editor and twenty contributors that blog for it. Today, we get more than 3,000 visitors per day and our content is syndicated by the likes of Yahoo, AOL, Entrepreneur Magazine, Globe And Mail, Fox and many others. In 2006, if you had a blog, you could be found because there was a lot less noise. Today, you have to spend more time on marketing than writing content if you want any readers. You also have to be ten times better today than you would have in 2006 because of the competition for eyes. 

Sobel: Your recently moved your business from Boston to New York City. Why? 

Schawbel: It's funny because most people thought, due to the nature of my work, that I was already living in New York City. Three years ago, I was asked to go to both CBS "This Morning" and CNN in a single day and lost both opportunities because I wasn't already in New York, ready to go into the studio. This was the first moment when I really considered moving but it took a few more years because the timing wasn't right. I found myself going to New York every month for client visits. Finally, I made the move. It's an obvious career and social move for me. For my career, this city reflects all the areas of my business and personally. I have a lot more friends who moved to New York than live in Boston.

Sobel: In a recent article you wrote for, you talk about YouTube as business model and interviewed Taryn Southern, who was part of American Idol season three's Top 50. How are people like her and YouTube in general changing the way we market our companies and ourselves?

Schawbel: It's not as much about the platform but more about the content and the amount of effort you put into marketing your show. Taryn is smart because she partners with other YouTube sensations to cross-market. By doing this, the other audiences get to know her and a percentage subscribes to her channel as a result.

Not everyone can build up a strong follower base on YouTube because not everyone is entertaining on camera. You need to find a platform that aligns to your strength. For me, it has always been writing articles even though I've done podcasting and video. YouTube is the second most popular search engine under Google and if you invest the time, and are creative, you can make it work for you.

Sobel: In your first book you talk about a four-step process for discovering, creating, communicating and maintaining your personal brand. Can you talk a bit about that?

Schawbel: In Me 2.0, I laid out the process I used to build my own personal brand. The first step is "discover" and it is the most important yet most challenging task. You need to figure out what makes you different and decide on a niche market that you can best service. The second step is "create" and it's when you create the market materials to help sell the brand called you. They could include a business card, website, blog, social network profiles, portfolio of work, resume, etc. The third step is "communicate" and that's when you put yourself out there in the media, write for magazines, speak, etc. The fourth step is "maintain" and it's all about maintaining your reputation online and offline and ensuring that it's consistent.

Sobel: How do you think CIOs, CMOs and marketing and information managers can optimize the use of their organization's digital information?

Schawbel: We are slowly moving into a world where there's no privacy and data is everywhere. This means that you have to be very savvy about using the data you access to make more informed business decisions.

From a marketing standpoint, I think companies should only do campaigns that can be tested and measured. That's why the online world is so valuable and attractive to marketers. Even with Google Analytics, you can find out so much about your customer base. Advertising on billboards and a lot of traditional media just isn't effective in a mobile world. You need to adopt new technologies and follow marketing trends if you want to best budget effectively and show return on investment to CEOs.