03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tiger's Brand Bogey

What's the real business lesson in Tiger's astonishingly precipitous fall from grace? In the age of the personal brand, one major misstep can cost you a fortune.

Tiger has given us all a great insight -- at a terrible cost to his own life and family. In a world with Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, Perez Hilton and the even supposedly all-business LinkedIn, he's become living proof that the traditional corporate branding illusions of control are dead.

Nike, Accenture and Gillette could do nothing to protect their pitchman. Tiger was the only one who could have stood before the cameras -- bandages and all -- and courageously faced his shortcomings. Tiger's brand was about much more than excellence; it was also about integrity, family and honor. Tiger didn't need a PR crisis team on his Black Friday. He needed to take the hit head on.

His failure is a lesson in the essential fragility of the personal brand. Celebrities, executives, authors and athletes are all rushing to build their own brand. Whether you're a multimillion dollar mover and shaker or just trying to extend your connections on LinkedIn or earn a modest following on Twitter -- the electronic world has its risks.

Nothing is off the record, and today's friend may be tomorrow's Judas. We've entered a digital, instantaneous version of Raymond Chandler's film noir world. The personal messes that studios and agents used to be able to mop up and keep out of the papers are now free game -- in real time.

Media may change but human nature doesn't. For years Tiger relied on handlers to shut out the real press, and closed himself off from the world in a gated community. Behind that veil his perfection and control was apparently a well-orchestrated illusion. Tiger, it seems, was acting just like a Hollywood studio star in the 40's and 50's without realizing that the safety net was gone -- that the day would come when all the corporate advisers and money in the world couldn't save him from the barracudas.

Tiger needed to carry his own clubs here, and in the biggest test of his character he was worse than a duffer. The legendary athlete who once won a major championship on one leg couldn't muster the nerve to leave his living room.

Building a personal brand is what millions of us dream about today. But it's about more than your followers on Twitter or the size of your Internet footprint.

Tiger showed us what happens when you forget that your brand is, well, very personal.

Jonathan Littman is the co-author of the new book I HATE PEOPLE! (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Marc Hershon. A Contributing Editor at Playboy, Jonathan is the co-author of the best selling Art of Innovation.