The Medium is the Message

By Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE

Click image to enlargeThe Women's SIGFarra Trompeter (left), Vice President of Big Duck, spoke at NYSAE’s Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG on Mixing Business and Pleasure: Managing Your Personal and Professional Brand. Also pictured are Valerie Cammiso (center), Executive Director of the International Council of Shopping Centers Foundation and host of the SIG at ICSC’s offices, and Holly Koenig, Vice President, Kellen Company, and SIG Chair.

Though published nearly 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan’s theory that the medium itself also carries a unique message is never more accurate than today, when the use of social media is rampant and often determines how our information is perceived. This thought was echoed by Farra Trompeter, Vice President at Big Duck, who spoke at NYSAE’s Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group about Mixing Business and Pleasure: Managing Your Business and Personal Brand.

"Find your audience and show up where they are," she advised the group who gathered for a breakfast meeting recently hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers. Trompeter spoke about different ways you can shape and manage your online brand.

Each social media outlet (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twiter, Instagram, Pinterest, FourSquare, Google+, or a blog) has its own purpose. Facebook, for example, is used to tell a story about yourself or your organization. Twitter is used for real time, in the moment conversations. Blogs can be used to establish yourself as an authority on a particular topic. Social media as a whole, said Trompeter, serves many purposes, including:

  • Spreading the word about your organization’s mission;
  • Being helpful to others;
  • Demonstrating that you are a thought leader;
  • Developing community;
  • Engaging members/donors/clients;
  • Recruiting staff or board members;
  • Building your list of contacts;
  • Getting a job or helping others to get one.

Some people, noted Trompeter, merge their personal and professional online brands, while others keep them separate. "I blend my personal and professional," she said. "The sense you get of me when you meet me in person or if you know me only online are the same."

Click image to enlargeThe Women's SIGBuilding your personal and professional brand through social media was the topic addressed at the July session of the NYSAE’s Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG. Speaker Farra Trompeter Vice President of Big Duck, suggested finding a consistent voice and showing up where your audience is are important parts of social media.

Another example of someone who blends their personal and professional brands online is Maria Ungaro, a Vice President at Kellen Company who serves as Executive Director for New York Women in Communications among others. "My entire life is who I am and what I do," said Ungaro. "I had tried to separate my personal and my professional selves but it was just too hard." Trompeter showed examples of Ungaro’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare pages, as well as her bio on Kellen’s own website. "There’s a consistency in her image, her brand," said Trompeter.

To be consistent with your brand, Trompeter suggests developing a personal positioning statement. "You want to be able to answer the question: What do you want others to think about you?" In addition to doing a Google search of yourself to find out what others are saying about you online, Trompeter suggested asking friends and colleagues the following questions:

  • What adjectives would people use to describe you?
  • What personal brand attributes are you associated with?
  • What skills do you excel at?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses?
  • Who would be interested in what you are saying?

Trompeter also offered the following suggestions for building an online brand:

  • Make time for it; start by listening 15 minutes a day to check on your network of choice;
  • Get a mentor; ask for help;
  • Find a role model; ask what would that person do?
  • Experiment; pick one channel to start with;
  • Be yourself; share your point of view and your passion; make sure you are genuine;
  • Check your privacy settings at least monthly to make sure they reflect what you want;
  • Turn it off; it's okay to have down time.

Branding Resources

Big Duck is a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits to help organizations reach supporters, build awareness, and raise money. Trompeter’s 20+ years of experience focuses on helping nonprofits create multichannel campaigns and use social media to connect with donors, activists, and other members of their community. She is also a part-time faculty member at The New School and New York University, where she teaches classes about online engagement and strategic communications for nonprofits. She holds an M.S. degree in nonprofit management from The New School. Trompeter tweets about nonprofit fundraising and communications via @farra.

NYSAE’s Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group serves as a gathering place where women leaders from the metro NY association and not-for-profit communities convene and engage in high-level, interactive discussion with like-minded peers. The next meeting will be held September 12. For information, contact Holly Koenig, Vice President, Kellen Company, and SIG Chair, (212) 297-2123,

Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE, is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, providing strategic communication services for trade associations, professional societies, and donor-based organizations, including turnkey newsletters and magazines. She is Managing Editor of InView and is the Chair of NYSAE’s 2014-15 Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687,, through her website at, or @nmillmanfalk.