Like most trendy expressions, “personal branding” has become simultaneously more popular and less meaningful. A quick tour around the web turns up a plethora of articles that suggest all it takes is a little time on the Internet and maybe a haircut and voila, your personal brand will change your life for the better.
The reality is more complicated. Your personal brand is not what you wear, a workout routine or a nice watch. It’s not your resume, your blog or your Twitter feed, or even your LinkedIn profile. And although most of those articles about personal branding use celebrities as examples, you don’t need to be famous to have an effective personal brand.
Let’s begin by focusing on what personal branding is not.
Myth No. 1: Personal branding is the process of making yourself look as awesome as possible.
Personal branding is the series of choices you make to present yourself in a positive, consistent and accurate light. It’s not creating the persona that you wish you were, used to be, or might someday be. It can be aspirational, but it doesn’t involve boasting or stretching the truth.
You already have a brand. What do you do best? What are your values? What makes you happy? What would your best friend, your boss at your last job, or your grandma say about you? If you die tomorrow, what stories will people tell at your funeral?
Your personal brand should play up your best attributes without exaggerating them. A recent resume-site posting from a 2016 graduate announced, “If there is an opportunity to lead a team, I am your guru!” Protip: If you earned your bachelor’s degree in the current calendar year, you are not a guru. This person should have stuck with “team leader,” a credible achievement for a recent grad. (Also: Real gurus embody humility. This person needs to reread Siddhartha.)
Myth No. 2: Personal branding means promoting your accomplishments non-stop.
Shilling is counterproductive. Instead of selling your product, it drives people away.
You know that friend of yours who wrote a book? The one whose Facebook and Twitter feeds consist solely of reminders to order the book, positive reviews of the book, links to the Goodreads page for the book, free sample chapters of the book, announcements of upcoming readings of the book, and flattering author photos? Don’t be that person.
Duct Tape Marketing’s John Jantsch says that at least 50 percent of your feed should promote others. If your personal brand represents your best self – as it should — make your best self a supportive, informative and helpful member of your community. Promote other people’s work. Share content you find interesting. Pass along job leads. Thank those who help you. Recommend things you like.
Myth No. 3: You create a personal brand by posting profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media.
Social profiles are a great place to deploy your personal brand, but social media is not branding. Don’t confuse a communication channel with the message it contains. “I’m on Twitter!” doesn’t tell people much about you.
Specialist channels, however, are a different story. If you promote your GitHub repository, participate in forums or competitions on Kaggle, or post to subreddits like r/programming or r/coding, that lets potential partners and employers know that you’re serious about web development or data science.
Your task is to present a well-rounded portrait, not just plaster a handbill about yourself on every available wall. You define your personal brand. It doesn’t define you. It takes a little work, and future blog posts will provide strategies you can use to define your personal brand, articulate it, and put it to work for you.