6 tips for shaping a strong personal brand

How do we want others to see us? What kind of first impression we want to leave? Does our presence in virtual life support our aims in real life? What can people learn about me in internet? Ragnar Siil, Cultural and Creative Industries Expert, answers these and other questions.

Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined in his “Rhetoric” three modes of persuasion – ethos, pathos and logos. In short, to be convincing, we need to have strong supportive arguments (logos), we need to create a desired emotion so that people could feel excited about our viewpoint (pathos) and we have to be credible and trustworthy ourselves (ethos).

Sometimes people have a false idea that first impression happens in itself and there is not much you can do about it. We acquire information from multiple of sources – from internet and social media, by talking to other people, asking professional references, etc. – before we make the decision. The same way that we judge a movie by scores of other users or quality of a restaurant or a hotel by feedback left in TripAdvisor, we are all judged by our virtual footprint we have left over the years. Here are six tips to make sure that your personal brand works for you, not against you.

1. Make a self-audit of your virtual footprint.

Who hasn’t googled his or her own name at least once? Try this and look at the result. Is there too little presence (people might wonder if you actually exist) or too much (did you post half-naked pictures with lots of tequila on your Facebook page and forgot to change the privacy settings)? What have you written before – in comments, in blogs, in articles – and does this represent your views and values today? The self-audit shouldn’t stop with virtual realm. Conduct a 360-degree feedback, where people around you give feedback based on their experience in working with you. This can be very important source of information about how people see you and how they value your professional skills and competences. 

2. Know your target groups.

Who is your target group? What are their main sources of information? How to best engage with them? These questions are important to choose the right channels for building the personal brand. For professionals in Europe and the US, LinkedIn is important tool to showcase professional skills and connect with other professionals, if you are not there, something is strange. Twitter is important for engaging people and showing your activeness. In Facebook, there is increasingly grey area between its use as personal communication tool and channel for promotion and sales. And many successful creative companies use cleverly other tools, e.g. YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Russia and China have their own mainstream channels, it all depends on where you want to be and with whom you want to communicate. It doesn’t mean you should start making accounts in every thinkable social media channel, but it does mean you need to be present where your potential clients, partners, investors or employers are.

3. Be sincere, be yourself.

Building personal brands might come across as fake and insincere, and many people use this to present themselves very differently from reality. This is not a winning strategy. People will recognise, sooner or later, what is true and what is fake. Your audience will want to see a real person with its strengths and weaknesses. Don’t share only your successes, also share your lessons. If you are in third start-up business, then you should lie that all the previous start-ups were total successes, rather explain what you learned from this experience and how this helps you to build even stronger company now with all this previous experience.

4. Build strong networks.

The old proverb says: “Tell me who are your friends and I’ll tell you who you are”. Your professional contacts, partners and referees can tell your future employer a lot about who you are. Professional people ask their partners and clients to write few words, good feedback or positive testimonials and post them on their websites, LinkedIn profiles and CVs. We feel more secure in dealing with people that have proven background, so you need to prove you are trustworthy partner. Memberships in different professional organisations carry the same message, it is like a stamp of approval. Your words should match your practice – if you say you are active person that thrives to make the world a better place, then you better have something to show for it.

5. Showcase your strengths.

A picture is worth a thousand words. We can write or talk about the music we make, photos we take, films we direct, projects we do or conferences we organise, but strong visual material can convince the audience much better than simply words. It is a total disaster, when a person claims he speaks fluent English in a CV full of grammar mistakes, or when person boast about her designing skills in very badly formatted motivation letter. The form and the content needs to support each other. Use your websites, blogs, social media channels, or online portfolios to showcase your skills, invest time and effort (and money, if necessary) to make it look professional. Don’t be generic, don’t be boring. Try to be unique, try to shine out from the masses.

6. Be up-to-date. Always.

Building and maintaining personal brand is ongoing process, which needs to be constantly updated. If you need a job, but your LinkedIn profile states you are still happily working for your old employer, then there is a problem. Make sure you keep your public data as fresh as possible. You finished your studies, received a certificate for a new skill, got a new job or promotion, published new book or record, gave a lecture or speech at a conference – update the information on all necessary channels. Don’t forget you probably have more than one profile (CV on your company’s website, LinkedIn profile, member page on professional organisation, etc.), you need to keep them all updated.

Building personal brand is a process that takes time. It is not a project that you can do in a day or two, it is rather an attitude towards self-awareness and self-promotion, being present and active. Strong personal brand is important tool in convincing people to trust your skills and experience. Remember – your personal virtual footprint might not win you a client or a job right away, but it can surely loose them for you very quickly. Stop simply leaving first impressions, start managing them.

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