If You Aren't Being Intentional About Personal Branding... You're Making a Mistake.
Why the hell should you care about personal branding?
WANT TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION? Click below!
The term “personal branding” bears the weight of so many people’s perceptions, judgments, and misconceptions, particularly about Kim Kardashian, Instagram Influencers, and the oh-so-many people who seem to be famous for nothing.
Far too often, our minds go to the stories of the worst cases of personal branding. People who crafted “brands” seemingly out of nowhere, all for personal material gain. The term often makes us roll our eyes or feel our skin crawl.
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs because when we really get down to it, the term isn’t so darn icky, and in fact, is a rather powerful concept.
Years ago, we would have used the word “reputation” in its place. But reputation also has its own loaded meaning, especially if you’re a woman.
While I’m not the biggest fan of Jeff Bezos and everything he stands for, he refers to a personal brand as:
“What people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
It’s how you’re known and what you’re known for.
And here’s the crux of it. You have a brand whether you think you do or not. The question is whether you’ve intentionally crafted it, or left it to chance. You can probably guess which option I’d recommend.
“Reputation” just doesn’t work anymore because reputation implies some sort of personal interaction or experience with another person. And our world simply does not function that way anymore.
We live in a digital world and that means, for better or for worse, people can gather an impression of us without actually knowing us personally, or in real life.
Think about it. How many celebrities, public influencers, or thought leaders in your industry, do you feel like you know?
You think about them and make all kinds of guesses about what they are like, how they behave, the opinions they have, and what it would be like to hang out with them. We all do this, for uber-famous people, and people who happen to be leaders in our industry but are relatively unknown everywhere else.
This reality only compounded in the age of COVID, when suddenly we were thrust into shelter-in-place life, and forced to conduct all of our business and interactions online.
Sure, we could network on Zoom and over the phone, but our digital reputation — our brand — suddenly became vastly more important and valuable.
The Power of Your Personal Brand -- Especially Online
For those of you with a little more experience under your belt, this new reality might have been a harsh transition. But the younger generation has dealt with the increasing reliance on digital versions of ourselves for years.
Since at least the early 2010s, any time you apply for a job, the recruiter or hiring manager reviewed your social media profiles to get a better sense of who you were and what you stood for. Heck, the recruiter might have even found you on a social media platform like LinkedIn.
This trend has only increased over time.
Eighty-five percent of recruiters say a job candidate’s online presence matters to some degree in their hiring process, while over half of those same recruiters say a “strong online reputation” can have a big impact on their decision to hire them or not. And this isn’t just for lower-level positions either—ninety percent of executive recruiters also review candidates online.
And sure, maybe your online presence won’t be the deciding factor, but we need every advantage we can get in this crowded and competitive job market.
Early on, the warnings were about all the content and information that you shouldn’t post. No scandalous photos. No drinking pictures. No off-color humor. The warnings were largely focused on schooling Millennials on how they needed to be more guarded and more private, lest a potential employer judges them harshly.
But as our online life and selves evolved, so too did our understanding of what’s appropriate and what’s desirable. For years we’ve been dating online, keeping in touch with old friends and family online, learning online, and, yes, even building our careers online.
And while this evolution has been stressful for some, it’s been downright liberating for many. If personal branding has been more confusing than liberating for you so far, I have a free 5 Step Guide to Personal Branding to give you the clarity and insight you need.
The Rise of the Authentic Personal Brand
Suddenly, or at least that’s how it seems, it’s not just okay, to be honest and vulnerable on social media, it’s lauded as brave. It can propel people into the spotlight.
People have made whole careers from this desire to share themselves with the world. Take a look at Glennon Doyle, Brene Brown, Dax Shepherd, Joe Rogan, or countless others.
The practice isn’t just for solopreneurs, authors, or podcasters. Take a scroll through LinkedIn these days and you’ll see incredibly personal stories shared in the context of work and career.
We know far more about the personal lives of business leaders than we ever did a decade ago.
While some people may still find this willingness to bear all distasteful, the majority find it helpful, insightful, or even inspiring. And what’s more, I can share countless stories of people who found jobs this way, or rather, who had hiring managers and recruiters find them this way.
Aside from the plethora of entertaining content, the real benefit here is that we have an online opportunity to paint a more detailed and nuanced picture of who we are, what we stand for, and how we’re different. It means that before people do business with us, they will likely have a pretty good idea of who we are and what we’re about.
We can create a context for our work and our expertise before we even talk to someone.
And why does your personal brand matter so much?
You might be asking:
“Why does someone need all of this personal information?
Especially when it has nothing to do with my work?”
The sometimes harsh reality is that the world is a busy, noisy place. And it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, because there are likely a dozen other (or, if you’re like most, thousands of others) that do basically the same thing you do, provide the same service, sell the same product, deliver the same results.
So why should they work with you, and not someone else?
People choose their collaborative partners, their vendors, coaches, consultants, freelancers, and employees based on something more nuanced. They make these decisions based on the way that person or company makes them feel. On the experience, they have interacting and working together.
And yes, there is a worrisome element to this state of business. You have perhaps read the ample literature and analysis of the dangers of hiring for “culture fit.” The way this type of evaluation criteria can lead to group-think, and building a team that is glaring in its lack of diversity.
But the flip side is that when we know more about who a person is, their values, their passions, their personality, and their perspective, we can better understand if we are aligned as people. And I don’t know about you, but I would rather work with someone whose values align with mine and who I know will really get me and what I’m all about.
Also, I’d rather work with someone whom I like being around.
And not only that, but personal branding allows for personal relationship building in a new and exciting way. The friendships I have made online -- and yes there are plenty -- developed and deepened at a far greater pace than the traditional friend-making process.
By the time we start talking, we feel like we already know each other because, in a sense, we already do.
And while I only get to see my in-real-life friends a few times a month at most, or engage in the occasional text message throughout the week, my social media friends and I see each other’s content, engage with each other’s updates, and support each other far more readily and frequently because of that proximity.
So what does this emphasis on personal branding mean for you?
It doesn’t mean that you’re required to share deeply personal experiences online. But it does mean that when someone first hears your name or learns about your business for the first time, they are absolutely going to look you up and check you out.
What will they find?
Will they find a record of you at all?
Will they get a sense of your personality, the focus of your work, or what makes you different from all your competitors?
You have this remarkable opportunity to set the tone and layout expectations right from the jump.
The question is: Do you seize that opportunity or let it pass you by?