It’s a common misconception that personal branding is reserved for authors, speakers or those looking to become well-known personalities. In our digitally savvy world, where potential clients, investors and employers are just as apt to look you up on Facebook or Google search your name as they are to call your references, personal branding is mission critical.
Your personal brand is your credibility, your reputation and your presence. Your personal brand is you and let’s face it, it’s near impossible to avoid having some kind of online presence in this era.
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Whether you’re actively participating in its development or not, your personal brand is being taken in one direction or another with every tweet, photo and update you share – or that others share about you.
Even with a complete understanding of the importance of a solid personal brand, it can seem daunting or discouraging to try to build one in a competitive space. You might think the dominant players are so established they can’t possibly be unseated, or that the space is so saturated it’s not worth investing your time in trying to appear there.
Don’t let the challenge of a crowded space scare you away
Imagine a brand new travel blogger, just deciding today that they’d like to become known for their reviews of luxury resorts. Now, go to Google and search “luxury resort reviews” and check out the number of results – over 248 million!
Tech is similarly saturated in many areas, from gaming to app development and marketing to ad tech.
As you get more granular, you may still find that even local markets are saturated with specific types of content and personalities – perhaps there are a number of lawyers in your area, many specializing in the areas of service you offer. Maybe you live in a cosmetic surgery hot spot and the competition is completely cut-throat.
It helps to think of the available digital space across social media channels, search results, email newsletter, and more as a zero-sum game. Consumers in your space are clearly interested in receiving content and messaging from people and businesses like yours, or the opportunity wouldn’t exist.
Someone is ranking at the top of the search results – someone is winning at the email marketing game. That someone could be you.
Your competitors might have the edge today, but you have a completely equal opportunity to get yourself in front of those audience members and build your personal brand.
The great news is that as you put more effort into the right tactics, you become better known and a kind of snowball effect begins to take place. You’re better known and more trusted, so your audience shares your content more, exposing you to more people. As those people come to trust and respect you, they become your advocates as well.
So how can you start building your personal brand in a crazy competitive space?
Personal brand building best practices
First and foremost, you need to get your online presence in order so that as people are becoming familiar with you and inevitably seeking out more information about you, they get a positive and consistent impression.
I advocate that people focus on building three key attributes; you want your personal brand to become:
Each personal branding activity in which you invest your time and effort should serve one of those three objectives.
Making your personal brand discoverable
There’s nothing more disconcerting than searching for information to verify a person’s employment history or claims about their experience and coming up completely empty. In fact, I was once asked to speak with a startup founder about his complete and total lack of an online presence, as it was such a deterrent to prospective funders.
In order to make your personal brand more discoverable:
- Use your real name across all profiles, accounts, websites and blogs.
- Ensure each of your online profiles are crosslinked, and that they’re optimized for search using relevant keywords and tags (depending on the platform).
- Update your profiles regularly with your new accomplishments, articles published, speaking engagements, awards, etc.
- Create discoverable content across the channels that make sense, whether that means starting a blog, participating in Quora, public speaking, making time for Twitter chats, or otherwise putting your name out there where it’s apt to be found.
Making your personal brand shareable
What is it about you that will make a person not only want to listen or engage, but to think you’re so awesome they just have to tell their friends and colleagues (and social followers) about you?
I used to work with the fantastically smart Carolyn Everson from Facebook and am a huge proponent of her theory that all professionals must become “social by design.” It’s a unique take on the old battle cry that brands be “digital by design,” and it’s critical in crowded industries.
Being social by design means getting your social infrastructure down by ensuring your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social profiles are all set up properly and consistently branded. You might have fantastic content on your Facebook but if your security settings prevent the right audiences from seeing it, you’re seriously limiting the potential return on the time you’re investing there.
Other ways you can make your personal brand shareable include:
- Creating great content. It all starts by giving people something awesome to share.
- Maximizing the value of your speaking engagements by optimizing them for social sharing. Encourage people to tweet, take photos and participate in a conversation online with one another around your presentation.
- Giving people something physical to remember you by, whether it’s a creative business card or perhaps even a piece of clothing – Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute famously punctuates everything he does with the color orange.
Making your personal brand memorable
Finally, you want all of that awesome content and social attention to stick. Improving your personal brand recall is key in maximizing your ROI.
Start by crafting your personal branding statement, which will guide the information you’re sharing with visitors to each of your online profiles. What is it that makes your personal brand unique and noteworthy?
To find out:
Discover your professional purpose. What is it (beyond money) that drives you to get out of bed in the morning and do what you do?
Companies have core values – what are yours?
What value do you offer your contacts, your audience and the world? What is your background, what are your passions, etc.?
With this enhanced understanding of yourself and what you stand for, you can craft a compelling and completely buzzword-free one-to-two-paragraph personal branding statement to set you apart from your many competitors.
Sure, it’s important to keep track of your competitors and what’s working (and not working) for them.
Yet by focusing on making your personal brand discoverable, shareable and memorable, you’ll already be far ahead of the vast majority of professionals. You’ll have a consistent, recognizable online and offline presence, providing a solid foundation from which to launch more targeted campaigns designed to propel you past the competition.
Curious for more? Here are some more specific ideas I’ve outlined.