Most personal branding advice you see on the Internet tells you to “create valuable content”, “share other people’s content on social media” and so on. This advice is not entirely wrong, however it overvalues the role of technology in the process of creating a personal brand.
It leads us to believe that personal branding is more a process of posting interesting links on Twitter and owning a good-looking website than discovering who you truly are and making meaningful connections with other people.
Don’t get me wrong – digital technology is crucial in the process of building your personal brand. It enables you to leverage your time, distribute your message and – of course – reach out to, and be discovered by, potential employers.
However, long before technology is mentioned, an appropriate context for your actions must be defined. Without it any online activity you take part in will yield disappointing results.
Avoiding The Trap.
To see the biggest trap which catches most job seekers who attempt to build their brands, we must go back in time and take a quick look at the evolution of the world wide web.
If you’re like me, you started using the web during its most industrialised phase. It was called Web 1.0 and it was an individualistic, impersonal environment where people viewed other online users as nameless, faceless means to their own ends.
Web 2.0 changed this. Online communities emerged. Sharing and connecting replaced buying and selling as first points of contact between users.
The problem with Web 2.0, however, has always been this – majority of users have failed to fully embrace its community spirit. Even though Web 2.0 officially started around 2004, every day we still see native Web 2.0 tools (e.g, blogs and social media platforms) being used for Web 1.0 purposes (e.g., self-promotion).
Why Do Most Personal Brands Fail?
Because personal branding is so heavily reliant on social media, the effects of this problem are often seen in the views of job seekers who are interested in taking the first steps of building their brands online.
Their questions quickly give away their approach. When it comes to using Twitter, a person with a Web 1.0 mindset would ask:
“How do I get more followers on Twitter?”
In the meantime, a person who has embraced, and is living to the standards of, Web 2.0 world, would be wrestling with questions such as:
“How do I engage with the most like-minded people on Twitter?”
“How do I serve the most people through Twitter?”
“Who on Twitter would benefit from what I have to offer?”
The difference is subtle, however the context for each person’s actions is completely different.
Their results will be vastly different, too. Because the web no longer caters to Web 1.0 mentality, people who are still approaching it with Web 1.0 mindsets will find it very difficult to build their personal brands and extend their influence.
Foundations Of Your Personal Brand.
Building a thriving personal brand in the modern Web 2.0 environment requires 3 things:
- ability to take a strategic, long-term view
- knowing who you are and what you stand for
This is not something we’re generally encouraged to do in our Western society because it requires us to pause, set aside the usual things that keep us busy and get really present with ourselves, our motivations and desires; to come face-to-face with who we really are.
A good personal branding strategist will be able to help you get there and – importantly – will do this work with you before starting work on typical personal branding assets such as your resume, LinkedIn profile, personal website or social media presence.
If you are a job seeker and you are not yet ready to hire a personal branding strategist yet you feel stuck with building your personal brand, follow this 5-step formula to get you back on track quickly.
Step 1: Start Living A Rich, Fulfilling Life.
What makes a great life? Everyone has a different definition. You need to define yours. Can I share with you a glimpse into mine?
For me a great life involves waking up early, excited to attack my day. That’s right, I like to attack my work. Work for the sake of paycheck bores me; I must feel that I get to create something, so I aim to connect even the most rudimentary, repetitive jobs to a bigger picture.
This means I’m never “doing” anything when I’m at work – I’m always building (the task remains the same, but the headspace – and my experience of the task – is very different).
Step 2: Write About Your Life.
An inevitable by-product of a great life is the abundance of stories about your lessons and discoveries. These stories are the cornerstones of your personal brand and topics for your content.
The reason most people struggle with creating content is because they skip Step 1.
Here’s a test. If you find yourself sitting down and thinking – “Geez, I need to write a blog post for my website because I know it’s good for my personal brand and SEO, but I just don’t know what to write about. Hmmm….” – you’re not pushing yourself enough in Step 1.
You’re simply not living consciously and / or are not clear on where your brand value is.
Remember that the content you create is the main vehicle through which you communicate your personal brand. As such, it has to be an organic extension of you. It has to capture your unique voice and tell stories of your struggles and victories. It can’t be rehashed, prescriptive advice you’ve adapted from somewhere else on the Internet.
Step 3: Share This Content.
This is where we start thinking about technology. If you haven’t completed the first two steps to your best ability, no technology in the world will make a difference to your personal brand.
Here are some social media platforms where, as a job-seeker, you should consider publishing your content:
- your LinkedIn profile
- the LinkedIn publishing platform (check if you’ve been invited)
- LinkedIn Groups
- Google Groups
Remember that you should not attempt to be on all platforms at the same time – you’ll spread yourself too thin.
Step 4: Create A Community.
Some people would tell you to “build a following” right now. I don’t like that phrase because it has an ego-centric appeal and lures us into believing that social media is a means for us to promote ourselves. It’s not.
The key advantage of social media and Web 2.0 is that you can find people who share the same interests, who are fighting for the same cause and who serve the same communities.
Those people are your allies. Your job is not to use them, but to create win-win situations which benefit you all.
Be strategic about your social media activity. Don’t “spray and prey”. There’s no point sharing your epiphanies about increasing your productivity in a Buddhist meditation Google Plus group, however I’m sure there are software developers in Palo Alto who want to know about them.
Because the social media world is so large it’s always tempting to build lots of very shallow connection in it. Your effectiveness, however, starts with the opposite approach – connecting with 10-20 like-minded people.
Step 5: Leverage Your Community.
This is where you amplify your influence by increasing your ability to be heard.
If you’re at this point and you’ve done the previous steps correctly, you will be seeing a multitude of opportunities through which you can evolve your personal brand.
The opportunities will come in two forms. Look out for them:
- passive (e.g., editors/writers approaching you for comment)
- active (e.g., you’ll see benefit in approaching an influential blogger to be their guest author)
Which ones you’ll act upon will depend entirely on your individual needs and your career objectives at that point in time.