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Facebook changed everything?

A company that didn’t exist when I was writing High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand some nine years ago, last week raised $16 billion in an initial public offering (IPO), making it worth $104 billion on paper. That company of course is Facebook, and its glitchy—not glitzy—debut on the Nasdaq Stock Market, which may have resulted in disappointing first-day trading for investors, has pundits of all kinds sounding a lot alike.

The Facebook legend is burned into the psyche of the Millennial generation, but older narcissists have embraced it as well. Over the eight years since it was founded, Facebook has annihilated nascent and established competitors alike to grow into the equivalent of the third largest nation on earth with close to one billion users. The Philippines is the eighth largest market in the world for the social network with over 27 million users and number two in Southeast Asia.

Founded in a Harvard University dormitory by boy-nerd-genius Mark Zuckerberg—the Winklevoss twins who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea describe him as an intellectual property thief as well—the company moved into an ultra-modern campus in Menlo Park near San Francisco last year. It features a prominent hackathon facility—in Hacker Square—where engineers spent the night before the IPO coding new features for Facebook as they contemplated their overnight financial transition to millionaire status.

According to analysts, the Facebook IPO was highly oversubscribed as investment banks led by Morgan Stanley scrambled to place shares with investors, who expected the stock to pop in the opening minutes of trading. That didn’t happen. Some blame a technical glitch at Nasdaq. Nadaq OMX Group chief executive Robert Greifeld said the problem was caused by a system designed to cancel orders, however, not place them.

The mood at the investment banks underwriting the IPO shifted from giddy to panicky as traders purchased shares to shore up the stock and avoid the embarrassment of a first-day closing below the offering price. Facebook’s debut was the third-largest IPO in history, after GM and Visa. It’s no ordinary IPO in any sense. But with 22 of 31 technology IPOs since last year trading below their first-day closing price, it’s probably safe to suggest investors and investment bankers spent a largely sleepless weekend.

My issue is less dramatic, although every bit as bothersome, to me. I didn’t invest in Facebook, so I have no financial interest—other than possible regret for not investing or probable relief that I didn’t—in how well the stock does or more likely doesn’t do this week and beyond. Instead, I’m bothered that my nine-year-old book is largely irrelevant to anyone who wants to distribute their personal brand and generate opportunity as a result.

While I was toiling away on High Visibility, Mr. Zuckerberg was an unknown Harvard undergraduate. Work on the micro-blogging site Twitter started a year after the book was published. LinkedIn—a social site for business and the first social media network to become profitable—was founded in 2003 but wasn’t worth a look yet in 2004, or at least so I thought. The term Web 2.0 was coined by Tim O’Reilly for a conference in late 2004 after the book had gone to the printers.

In 2004, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs—video blogs—were top-of-mind, even revolutionary, and High Visibility says so. They all continue to be powerful communication channels—although the term vlog didn’t last long for what now seems obvious reasons—but social media—specifically Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—dramatically enhance their power to influence target markets.

Social media—another term that predated High Visibility—provides the means to distribute blog, podcast, and video content. When networks of friends, followers, and connections are proactively informed that content likely to appeal to their interests, businesses, or careers is available, chances increase exponentially that they will view or listen to that content. Without social media, content sits passively waiting for people to find it.

The availability of social media and its capacity for generating visibility doesn’t alleviate the workload for aspiring personal brands, however. It adds to the workload. The first challenge is distinguishing a personal brand in a meaningful and relevant way from all the other personal brands on the Internet struggling for visibility. That’s not enough either, though. Social networks demand a constant flow of meaningful and relevant information.

Whether Facebook’s stock price increases or not, social networks are here to stay because users like them. But perhaps more so because social networks have become indispensable tools for achieving high visibility.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2012 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)