Social Media is arguably the most transformational phenomenon in recent history. It has rendered a flat, transparent and interactive world.
Platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other web-based publishing tools, have provided ready outlets for self-expression.
The fact that these platforms have grown astronomically, bears testament to our rampant dependence on them.
Thanks to social media, our public and private worlds have converged. Ordinary people are uninhibited in sharing their thoughts with the world. These new-age platforms have fueled our narcissistic and voyeuristic tendencies. And the adrenaline rush that we derive from these puerile pursuits leaves us wanting more…
Even as many have embraced these self-expression tools with unbridled enthusiasm, few have paused to ponder the impact on their personal brand.
Why is Personal Branding important?
Social Media has heightened the importance of branding. Research indicates that consumers spend considerable time researching products and services online, prior to purchase. Consequently, companies have augmented their online brand building budgets, in an effort to distinguish themselves in the digital world.
But brand-building is not limited to companies alone. It is relevant to individuals too.
When we look for people, often the first place we search is Google. Our online presence has wide-reaching impact: whether we are professionals looking for employment, entrepreneurs looking for investors, or singles looking for life partners. Those considering an association with us, will likely view our professional and social media posts.
As such, social media has significant bearing on our personal brand and should be managed with care.
What is Personal Branding?
Personal branding describes our efforts in portraying ourselves to the world at large. In the age of transparency, our profiles are available for all to see at the click of a keyboard. Social media impacts all facets of our lives- professional and personal.
Important as personal branding is, it remains one of the most overlooked aspects of social media. People erroneously assume that it applies only to famous people: politicians, celebrities, business leaders and the like.
With the explosion of online platforms, and with it, our private worlds on broad display, personal branding applies to everyone. Indeed, the internet is our calling card, our claim to fame (or infamy).
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to thoughtfully navigate the platforms that abound, and proactively manage our online reputation.
Outlined below are the building-blocks of personal branding using social media tools:
Define your Objectives:
As with corporate branding, personal branding begins with clearly defined objectives. What do you want to achieve through your online presence? What do you want people to see when they search for you online? Your professional network and competence? Your social interests and connections? Having a clear idea of your online goals will steer your focus to the right platforms.
Professional objectives are best-served via platforms such as LinkedIn. The 70 million member strong forum is the confluence of professionals and entrepreneurs – it enables professionals to grow their network, entrepreneurs to raise funds and job seekers to find employment.
Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, enable social connections and reveal your ‘human side’.
Twitter facilitates reach of your message to a broader audience.
Web-based publishing platforms display your capacity for reflection on industry-specific matters and those that impact the community at large.
But before you take to these platforms, you must decide which ones are important to your goals and where you will focus your efforts.
Moreover, you must balance your public and private persona. Dimensions presented in your social media posts, will feed perceptions of your public persona and vice-versa. Therefore, it is necessary to be carefully in what, where, and how much is revealed, aligned to your overarching objectives.
Carve your Positioning:
What do we want to be known for? What is your unique selling proposition? What is your expertise? What is the lasting impression you want to create? Defining your positioning across platforms will help project the desired brand image. That said, you must be careful not to over-engineer your persona; it could come off as contrived and phoney. The online person must mirror your real-life self.
Drafting a positioning statement, encapsulating your expertise, skills, achievements and interests would provide direction for the content you post online.
Create an Action Plan:
The first course of action should be updating existing profiles, highlighting your expertise and interests, in line with your positioning statement.
It is also prudent to clean up any controversial posts. The audience perspective should serve as the gauge for the clean-up process. For example, what posts would you not want potential employers, customers or business prospects to see?
The action plan must take into account the frequency of posts. You should consider how you are going to stay active, including the time and resources you can dedicate to managing your profile across platforms. Consistency is the unequivocal mantra for personal branding success.
Your social media content will define your personal brand. Building a ‘thoughtful’ persona requires time and effort in expanding your knowledge horizon, through committed research on topics pertinent to your area(s) of expertise.
A good starting point for developing your content strategy, is researching conversations and topics around your chosen area. Fortunately, there are tools that can aid your efforts including:
Twitter: enables keyword or hashtag searches, including targeted search options based on location and sentiment.
Rite Tag: ranks hashtags based on volume of conversations around a particular topic.
BuzzSumo: gauges popularity of articles, videos and stories based on keyword search.
With that said it, is inadvisable to choose a topic based on popularity alone. Selecting topics based on volume of interactions, could be determinant to your brand-building efforts. The wiser practise is have a ear to the ground, to see what topics are generally interesting to people, and align your content strategy as far as authentically possible.
Several platforms exists on which to build your personal brand. The following guidelines apply to popular platforms:
LinkedIn is a professional networking platform. Keep things professional on this forum and build relationships with important people in your industry. A good place to start is your immediate circle – work colleagues, alumni, mentors, teachers etc.
Join a chat, group or community to expand your network. Do not shy away from connecting with business leaders and those whom you admire. Share their stories; comment intelligently on their posts – people generally enjoy being celebrated, and will share your post with their network. Follow high-profile people. Be available to peers and colleagues. Stay in touch with connections. Share content consistently and judiciously.
LinkedIn is also a fantastic platform to showcase your credentials and advertise your skills to potential employers. Research indicates that 70% of businesses recruit on LinkedIn. Therefore, it is smart to keep your profile up to date and accurate. Your profile should include a compelling headline statement, encapsulating your skills, achievements and interests. If you are unsure how to do this, follow the lead of people whom you admire in your field.
Use keywords relevant to your skills and industry, so that your profile is optimized for LinkedIn’s search engine. Include at least 5 references from previous bosses and clients, to shore up your credibility.
Platforms such as Facebook offer a window to your ‘inner’ world. It is also the place where personal and professional worlds converge. It is therefore prudent to be selective about whom you connect with, and actively monitor what they post. The whole point of personal branding is to stay in control of your posts. To pre-empt any awkward situations, create separate work and personal accounts, with the personal pages remaining strictly private. Also, avoid posting any information that is truly private – once on social media, your post is vulnerable to sharing, even on a private account.
Photos of family, pets and travels are a safe bet. Inspiring content and images from other websites are also acceptable. So too is content from your own blog, hobbies or products/services from your line of work. But exercise restraint, so that your posts don’t seem too self-serving and ‘hawkish’.
Twitter is a great platform for interacting with influencers such as celebrities, politicians, authors, business leaders etc. Follow people you admire; retweet their posts and let them know you enjoy their content.
Twitter is also the forum to air your views or join conversations around topics that impact the community at large. But be careful, so that your opinions are not controversial and detrimental to your professional reputation.
YouTube or Snapchat
YouTube or Snapchat are great channels for the visually inclined to share fun, spontaneous and creative videos.
Learn how to make quality videos using your iPhone, Android or a DSLR. Record content that showcases your talent and expertise.
Snapchat is a good choice for spontaneous content, because the short videos disappear after 1 day, allowing room for practice.
Instagram is among the more user-friendly platforms for sharing photographs. Use it to share your personal stories, passion, interests, hobbies etc.
Following people who interest you and commenting on their posts, will likely get their attention. Similarly, relevant hashtags may have your content discovered by potential followers.
Use these platforms well, to gain influence, credibility, followers and build your personal brand.
In advertising yourself and projecting a ‘thoughtful’ persona, do not compromise authenticity. That is the death-knell for personal
‘High-brow’ posts just before an interview or appraisal,would seem disingenuous. Cultivate a reading habit in your areas of expertise, including topics that you propose to discuss. But look for ways to infuse your unique perspective and present them in your natural ‘voice’.
While numerous platforms are available, being consistent in more important than mere participation. You should step back and ask yourself how many platforms you can handle at a steady and ongoing pace. What resources do you have to manage your posts? How much time can you dedicate to maintaining your presence?
It is judicious to prioritize platforms aligned to your overall objectives. If you are trying to build your professional stature and strengthen your network, you should be more active on LinkedIn and other industry networks. If you are attempting to raise your community profile, blogs and Twitter are a good choice.
No matter what you choose, continuity is important. Stick to a schedule that you can accommodate along with your other activities.
Many theories abound with respect to frequency of posting. The general guideline for brands is: 2 times a day on Facebook and Google Plus, I time on LinkedIn, 1.5 times on Instagram and 5 times on Twitter and Pinterest.
These guidelines as starting points at best for your own action plan. The more important considerations are consistency and quality (over quantity).
As with any brand activity, developing a calendar of social media posts for personal branding, would help you manage your presence across all platforms. Store links to all your social media profiles on a spreadsheet, and map out a content plan for all your profiles. At a minimum, ensure that all pertinent information is up-to-date and includes your work related information, website URL and other social links.
Reserve your name on all social channels. Tools such as KnowEm, allow you to search for your name across platforms. If your name is already taken on a particular platform, consider using a variation.
Many senior professionals, including CEOs, have taken to social media, recognizing its potential for connecting directly with employees and customers, getting feedback on products and services, and generally presenting their human side to the world.
Powerful as the tool is, it must be exercised with caution. Embarking on conversation with the public at large without weighing the risks, could become a public relations nightmare.
Therefore, it is prudent to develop a communication policy anticipating potential negativity, and have a mechanism in place for handling such situations.
The cautionary note is not for senior management professionals alone. Rank and file employees too must be mindful about the content they post, so that it does not breach company confidentiality or earn the disapproval of employers. The Internet is rife with stories about people getting fired on account of questionable blogs and social media posts.
So too with Facebook, it is important to be careful about your network and posts. A stray comment from a friend, would potentially dent your professional reputation. Actively monitor your page and stay in control of your posts. As a general rule, private information is best not posted.
The key to social media success is maintaining momentum. How do you ensure that your investment in building your online brand is not a waste of time?
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter enable easy review of followers. But how do you evaluate whether your online interactions are useful? Tools such as Google Alert, TweetDeck, Radian 6, Fisheye Analytics enable in-depth analysis, free of charge.
Mention, another such tool, allows you to track references to your name on a blog or social media post. Furthermore, its nifty dashboard feature allows you to view the mention and reply in one go.
Other popular social media dashboards such as Hootsuite or Buffer aggregate your profiles in a single location and streamline the process of management. Moreover, these platforms are linked to mobile apps, making it convenient to update profiles from an iPhone or Android device.
Set up your email notifications to track new comments, mentions, messages etc. And respond promptly to those interacting with you. A good rule of thumb is responding within 24 hours.
Monitor these platforms to see what’s working and what’s not working for you. Use the learnings to fine-tune your approach, and be well on your way to building a distinctive personal brand online!
About the Author:
Sanjita Cariappa is a brand evangelist and content writer with over 18 years of experience in Marketing, Branding and Communication. She received her MBA from Duke University, USA.