I’ve never really liked the term “personal brand.”
Just something about it. Seems cheesy. Seems inauthentic. Seems contrived.
But nevertheless, there it is: personal brand. No matter what I think of the term itself, the CONCEPT of a personal brand is a very important one.
In fact, I might argue one’s “personal brand” has never been more important.
But, the question that’s been debated ad naseum over the last 8-10 years is this: How do you go about building and maintaining and effective “personal brand”?
People much smarter than me and more well-trained than me probably have better answers to this question. But, over the last 8-10 years I’ve learned a lot through the process of building my own “personal brand” (man, it sounds even worse when I’m talking about myself!). I’ve also learned a ton from watching what others are doing online in an attempt to build their personal brands. In fact, I’ve undoubtedly learned much more from watching others than what I’ve done myself.
What’s more, building and maintaining a “personal brand” (like how I always put it in virtual air quotes?) looks a whole lot different in 2019 than it did in 2009 when I first started to build mine (online, at least). Heck, it looks a lot different than it did just 3-4 years ago.
Today, I want to talk about six rules to building and maintaining YOUR “personal brand” in 2019.
Rule #1: You don’t have to be on all social media platforms
Might seem obvious, but I still see people trying to be in all the spots on the social web. That’s a waste of time. Building a personal brand online takes consistency. And, it’s just not realistic to be consistent on 4-5 different social platforms over time. It’s just not. Life happens. You get sick. You have kids. You lose a parent. Life will take your time. And that means your activity level on one or more of those channels will drop off. Instead, why not focus on 1-2 channels at most? Commit to participating in those spots weekly at minimum. Ten years ago, for me, this was Twitter. Then, as platforms and behaviors changed, that morphed to Facebook. Then, it morphed again to LinkedIn, which is where I spend the bulk of my “personal brand” time now. Sure, I still post on Facebook, Twitter and Insta, but they’re not the priority. Most of my time is spent on one channel.
Rule #2: If you’re going to be on one social media channel to participate on, pick LinkedIn
Why have I picked LinkedIn to focus on? Pretty easy, for me. Number one, it’s where my clients show up the most to talk about business issues. Most of my clients are PR or social media managers with midsized to Fortune 500 level companies. Those people aren’t on Twitter (largely). They’re on Facebook and Insta, but usually don’t talk about work there. But, they ARE on LinkedIn. They don’t spend a ton of time there, but they do show up from time to time. So, I show up, too. Also: it’s easier to cut through the “clutter” on LinkedIn than other social channels. I don’t have to “pay to play” (yet). My posts don’t see a ton of traction, but they see the RIGHT traction. The right people (MSP-based PR/social media managers) are seeing, liking and commenting on my posts. Finally, it’s also become a great networking place for me–much like Twitter was 7-8 years ago. I’m introducing myself to new contacts here (via private message). I’m commenting on other people’s posts, as a way to get to know them better. It’s a virtual networking at its best.
Rule #3: You don’t (necessarily) need a blog or podcast
I’ve made more than 1,100 posts to this blog over the last 10 years. I’ve created 100-plus episodes of the Talking Points Podcast with my friend Kevin Hunt over the last four years. And, I’ve sent out more than 200 Talking Points enewlsetters over the last five-plus years. Those tools have all helped me build my “personal brand.” They’ve been instrumental. But, here’s the thing: You don’t necessarily need them to be successful. Sure, a long-running blog or podcast would definitely help build your “personal brand.” But, so would weekly posts on LinkedIn (just ask Monica Wiant at US Bank). So would long-form posts on Instagam (just ask Nora Purmort).
Rule #4: Treat your network like your first-born child
Because, really, when it comes to building a “personal brand”, your network is everything. After all, you have no “brand” without a network of people who recognize it. So, make sure you take the time and effort necessary to build and nurture a vibrant network. This doesn’t mean networking like crazy to get a job and then doing absolutely nothing with it until you look for another one. Networking is a 24-7-365 full-contact sport. It requires careful consideration. It requires time (you need to make time for networking, just like anything else). If you’re starting scratch, begin by networking with the uber-connected–for a couple reasons. 1) They’ll usually say “yes” (even if it is a phone call–don’t turn that down!), and 2) They’ll usually also connect you to others. The uber-connected are typically going to be: 1) Recruiters, 2) Agency folks, and 3) Entrepreneurs/solo-types (sorry, corporate folks, you’re typically not the most well networked–with obvious exceptions like Kevin Hunt, Jamie Plesser and Natalie Bushaw). Start with those folks and build from there. Don’t take weeks off. And, use networking opportunities to practice your “stump speech”–your 1-2 minute explanation about who you are, what you do, and what you want. Which leads me to…
Rule #5: Create and refine your “stump speech”
Your stump speech is probably one of the single most important components to your personal brand. It should include the 1-2 things you want people to remember about you. It should be short, to-the-point and free of industry jargon (please, no I’m a strategic communicator with 20 years experience of creating long-lasting relationships for brands–I should know, I used to do this!). Get in the weeds. Quick. Talk about specific roles and work you’ve done. And, be specific about who you are–you’re not a strategic communicator, that’s too broad. You’re a communicator with a focus on social employee advocacy programs. And, last but not least, be as specific as you can with your ask, or what you want. It’s the single biggest thing I struggle with when I meet people for coffee. Tell me how I can help you! For example, don’t say: “I’m looking for a job in PR–do you have anyone I should talk to?” Um, yeah, about 500 people. Make it easy for people. Instead, say: “I’m looking for a job in PR at a med tech company in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I have specific experience in social media marketing. Who should I talk to?” See, that makes it so much easier for me to help. I would say: “Great–that’s easy! Talk to Amanda Gebhard at Boston Scientific–she’s fantastic and will be a great connection.” Work on your stump speech. Practice it at new coffee meetups. Ask for feedback. And refine the hell out of it.
Rule #6: Don’t forget to consider your visual brand
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about developing an entire visual brand architecture–that’s reserved for solo consultants for the most part. The average PR/social professional doesn’t have to worry about that. What I am talking about is your visual brand. How do you show up, when you show up? What do your social avatars look like? What about your LinkedIn profile? What about the kinds of pics you post on Instagram? All of this plays in. And, it probably makes a bigger difference than you think. One story to illustrate that point: I have a friend, Natalie Bushaw, who somewhere along the way, decided to have a yellow door on her house. She started posting pics of this yellow door on Facebook and Instagram. She started talking about it more. She even started referring to her home as “Yellow Door World.” The yellow door started to become a part of her “personal brand.” Another example: I started to adopt the uniform mindset a number of years ago. I don’t love to shop, and I have a hard time dressing myself. But, I need to look professional, put together and fairly “hip” as a consultant. So, I started to use the jacket/jeans/tennis shoes uniform. It’s my go-to outfit. I wear it 80% of most workweeks. It’s become a part of my visual brand. So, what’s your “yellow door” or jacket/jeans/tennis shoes? And, how can it help facilitate your visual brand?