I’ve been addressing the importance of digital leadership and personal branding for over a decade. In fact, the original version of this article was created six years ago. This is the much-needed update! How you appear online has grown increasingly important in the last year as more and more of our interactions, both personal and professional, have relied on digital communication. When it comes to how you present yourself digitally, you need a personal brand.
Chances are that you already have some kind of brand established, whether that includes a full-blown website and social media strategy, or if it is simply the consistent way you interact with colleagues while you’re working from home. Either way, take some time to consider how you appear to people online and what you can do to boost your success in 2021.
Figure out where you can build trust and add value
The basis of a personal brand is figuring out how you can cut through the noise to build trust and add value to the lives of your audience. Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
What do you wish for people to associate with you when they think of your name? Is there a certain subject matter in which you want to be perceived as an expert or are there general qualities you want to be linked to your brand? When people describe you to others, what do you want them to say?
Once you understand how you wish your brand to be perceived, you can start to be much more strategic about your personal brand. This doesn't mean you can’t be human. On the contrary, authenticity is key in the digital age. A strong personal brand can yield tremendous ROI whether you are working with an organization or leading one.
Something to note: you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to have a brand. Many “intrapreneurs” do a great job of building their brand. Rani Mani works internally at Adobe, but she has an established personal brand that revolves around fostering trust, empathy, and compassion in the corporate world. This tracks with her career, as she is the Head of Employee Advocacy at Adobe.
Once you’ve decided how you want to be perceived, here’s the best way to put it into practice: Decide if you’re a Creator, Curator, or Connector.
These are the three C’s of building a personal brand, and they provide a framework for the day-to-day aspects of establishing your brand. Think of this as one of those personality tests in the pages of a magazine, it’s time to figure out which one you are.
You’re a creator if the primary way you communicate with your audience is by generating original content that meets the needs of your audience. This means that your work revolves around your own ideas, thoughts, and the things that you create from scratch. To put it simply, you’re constantly creating things. An example of this is someone who creates original recipes and shares them.
You’re a curator if the way you engage with your audience is primarily through sharing information, resources, and content with them that meets their needs. You solve your audience’s problems by helping them sift through the wealth of information online to find exactly what they need. The content they share isn’t necessarily of their own creation, but they collect and curate information that is consistent with their messaging and adds value to the lives of their audience. Podcasts are usually products of curation in that hosts invite guests to speak who will benefit their audience.
You’re a connector if the way you add value to your audience is by bridging the gap between their needs and the person who can fulfill them. Connectors are more concerned with one-on-one relationships and figuring out how to solve an individual’s problem by connecting them to the right resource. Building a brand as a successful connector requires establishing contacts and keeping up with them regularly so you stay top of mind. Great connectors are like salespeople who anticipate the needs of their clients before they even ask, and then reach out to connect with them.
Which one of these sounds most like you? You might even feel like you’re a mix of all of these, which is great too. Use these three identities to understand how your personal brand will affect your audience.
Find your cadence and be consistent
Once you establish your brand, figure out how you can share valuable content consistently. Don’t just post for the sake of posting, make sure you’re sharing something that adds value to the conversation. More than anything, make sure you’re sharing consistently. While you should certainly be intentional about what you share, it matters more that you develop a consistent cadence in how you interact online.
In order to stay consistent, you have to find a cadence that works with your unique lifestyle. Be realistic, figure out what works for you and stick with it. This requires discipline, and you can’t rely on the moments where creativity or motivation strikes.
Building a cadence creates something your audience can rely on, which ultimately keeps you top-of-mind. Create a practice until it becomes second nature. There is no personal brand without consistency.
Keep the narrative the same across platforms
Keep your personal brand consistent across platforms, from your email to your Instagram. If possible, try to use the same username across platforms. Staying consistent across platforms not only further establishes your brand, but gives you more content to share because you can repurpose it. If you write something on a blog, share it across social media. The same applies to various platforms: if you post it on one, figure out how to share it on the others.
Consider your digital body language, and adjust where needed
Working from home has certainly brought its own set of challenges, among them: digital body language, or how you show up in online interactions. Digital body language can mean the way you message on Slack, how you respond to emails, whether or not you turn on the video camera during conferencing calls, and so on.
Consider these things: Do you show up to virtual meetings on time? Do you regularly use the video feature? Do you participate in more casual conversations with your colleagues, whether through a messaging system or calls? All of these contribute to the way people relate to you, and they’ve become even more important as most companies have shifted to work-from-home styles.
Written communication matters more now than ever before, and that includes email. It may not be the most fun aspect of personal branding, but there is no way around email. Everyone uses it, so you might as well use it to your advantage.
Make your emails easy to read and reference. Start by highlighting your key points or takeaways in bold. Use specific dates when communicating about past events or upcoming deadlines.
Keep emails short and to the point, but if you must write a long email, add structure with straightforward headings.
And most important: Be specific about what you want and who you want it from. Don’t clutter the email with unnecessary explanations or conversational tidbits, get straight to the point.
Now more than ever, people are reinventing themselves, breaking into new industries, or changing careers altogether. Perhaps you’ve changed your career recently, too?
Years ago, we talked about how a personal brand depends on a strong narrative. The same still applies today, but differently. A strong narrative ties together the past, present, and future of your personal brand, it can be the bridge between industry and career changes.
Dorie Clark’s personal narrative is consistent even though her story includes multiple career and industry shifts. She worked in journalism, was a teacher, created a documentary, produced a Grammy-winning album, wrote books, and is an entrepreneur. All of those things are held together by the thread of her personal brand, which is that she is “passionate about helping others take control of their professional lives and make an impact on the world” —something she has done for herself.
If you have multiple passions or areas of interest, a narrative becomes even more crucial so there can be a unified theme. If you need help defining your story, I highly recommend reading Reinventing You by Dorie Clark.
Most importantly, remember that a strong personal brand should be ubiquitous and ever-evolving.
How do you plan on reinventing and refreshing your personal brand in 2021? Send me a Tweet and let me know how you’re taking these tips to heart.