There's a lot written and discussed today around social networking, the social web and personal branding. As we become more involved in the social web we create a significant online presence and that presence has intrinsic value for each individual. If, at least from an information worker point of view, we are each an individual brand that "plugs" into a larger corporate brand for a period of time, then we "lend" (or associate) our personal brand to the corporation during that period. The corporate brand is the larger umbrella but our association lends strength to that brand as well.

It's a reciprocal agreement, I associate my reputation and brand with the corporation and I gain the recognition that comes with the corporate brand in return. The "bigger" my personal brand the more value I bring to the corporate brand and vice versa. Maintaining your personal brand, and even expanding it then, is a part of your obligation to your employer and again the obligation must be reciprocal; the corporate brand must also be maintained to proper standards or it tarnishes your personal brand by association.

That makes assessing your personal brand a part of the hiring process for new positions and the better your brand the more likely you are to get hired (it should be worth higher compensation too). Presumably you would also assess the corporate brand and decide if you want to associate your personal brand with it. This is, I think, nothing particularly new, but instead it's putting new words on the process that maybe make it easier to understand and manage.

Managing the brand (both corporate and personal) is the key. No one would doubt that corporations must manage their brand, but it's less common to think about the personal brand in the same light (becoming more accepted all the time though). Along with the brand there comes the network or ecosystem that surrounds it (both corporate and personal), and that network also has value.

We have this intrinsic value associated with our personal brand. So what happens when we disassociate from one corporate brand and move our brand (and corresponding network)? The brand itself travels with you, of course, but moving the network is a little more complicated, I think. I'm not suggesting that you don't own that too -- you most certainly do -- but it becomes entangled in the corporate network to some extent. Your network grows directly because of your association with the corporate network as well.

In a way its like sorting our your joint friends after a divorce (I can speak on that topic with quite a bit of authority, btw). Some friends choose one or the other and disassociate from the non-chosen half of the couple while other friends maintain separate relationships with each. As individual brands come and go the corporate brand may also rise and sink.

In the future as organizations flatten out, something I think will happen to differing degrees because of the shift to social enterprises, we become more and more an association of individual brands that combine in different ways to create group brands, maybe for a single project or maybe in an ongoing way. In a new business venture (and in some existing ventures as well) the group brand becomes the "corporate" brand and leverages the social capital of all the individuals to create its new brand. We take the strength of the individual contributors and come together to leverage the strengths of each other's brands and skills in a synergistic way.