Personal branding can make or break you in a world filled with self-proclaimed "gurus" and "influencers." It can help you to stand out in your niche, making it easier to build your business and position yourself as an authority in your chosen expertise. But how exactly do you build your personal brand? Where do you start, and how do you keep the momentum going without falling into any of the common traps that can hold us back?
During last week’s #SEMrushchat, expert Mel Carson joined us to talk about personal branding. Carson is the founder of Delightful Communications, an award-winning marketing and digital PR firm that specializes in personal branding. We also had industry experts like Dr. Khushbu Pandya weighing in, so this is one recap that you won’t want to miss.
Q1. Let’s say a person is just starting to build their personal brand. What is the best piece of advice you would give them?
Building your personal brand isn’t something that can happen overnight (even if we all wish it could). The key is to go both slow and steady, consistently working towards building that brand over time.
First, though, you need to figure out who you are and what you want your business to be. What type of solution do you want to offer? Why is better than your competitors? Take a close look at who your target audience is, and ask yourself what makes your product or service more valuable to that audience than anything else that is already out there. Answer these questions thoroughly, because they will become a central pillar of the brand you build.
As you start to build this, you can start to both create and share content that can help bolster this image. You shouldn’t be sharing just anything, after all; every link you post on Twitter should be intentional. Mel Carson recommends that you focus on your “halo effect,” which is the result of your AURA. AURA, in this case, stands for content that is Authentic, Useful, Relevant, and Actionable. This is important because:
Authenticity is key to getting people to trust you. And as they trust you more, your brand reputation goes up.
Useful content will provide immediate value to your target audience.
Relevant content will help put you in front of your desired audience much more quickly.
Actionable content (like “how to” content) is useful, and also increases the likelihood of shares. You aren’t just giving theories; you are telling people exactly how and why to do this. This will set you apart as a true industry expert.
As you do this, you can begin to build your network of industry peers, connecting with other individuals in your niche. Be active on social media, in professional online groups, and in industry forums. Go out of your way to meet people at conferences and actually create lasting relationships with them. Engage in discussions, and then do what you can do spark them. At the end of the day, you will never create a thriving brand without successful networking on some level.
Over time, people will begin to recognize your name and your brand, and you will be the one they are coming to for answers.
Q2. Are there any pitfalls when it comes to personal branding? What are they and why?
Personal branding is a marathon, not a sprint. Forgetting this is actually one of the biggest mistakes people make in this area. It is a long-term discipline, and you can’t just rush in and expect everything to happen in just a few days. There is no such thing as launching yourself into superstardom overnight, so don’t get disappointed or discouraged when things are moving a little slower than you would like.
You need time to develop authentic relationships, and to build a reputation of someone who is consistently solid and trustworthy. This means continuing to show up in those forums, professional networks, and conferences. It means making the effort to stay connected and to put yourself out there.
If you start struggling with impatience, focus on what you can do right now that will put you one step closer towards establishing your brand and becoming recognized as the expert you know you are. This may include:
Writing new, actionable content to pitch to industry publications.
Reaching out to individuals in your network.
Find new forums or groups to join to continue establishing your brand.
Check over your site and social profiles to make sure that they represent your brand the way you would like.
Find a store of great content to share on your channels.
Take a look at your competition, and see if you can find ways to differentiate yourself.
It is, after all, essential to remember that while your brand and your business should complement each other; they shouldn’t be exclusively one and the same. You should be building them both at the same time. You want your business to have the go-to product, but you still want to be the go-to expert.
Another pitfall of personal branding is thinking that this will be a temporary or part-time job. In reality, you never fully get a break. To truly build a brand, your online presence needs to be public in order to show that you’re open and transparent. This means that you need to be “on” 24/7. You need to stay professional, polished, and at the very top of your game. People expect prompt responses, and one misstep can be damaging, especially when you’re early in the journey of building your brand. And most importantly, they want you to be authentic instead of being a constant salesperson.
While you will have a public online presence, you are also allowed to have a private one. You can have a public Twitter, for example, but a private Instagram listed under a pseudonym just for friends in family. Keep in mind that nothing online is ever truly private, so keep anything controversial off even private social channels, but this will give you some semblance of balance between private and public.
All that being said, you can’t please everyone, and you will go crazy trying. While you should try to stay away from getting negative comments, you likely won’t be able to avoid them forever. When some arise, remember to keep a level head and address the issue if needed. Remember that transparency is an important part of being an influencer, so people may notice if you start deleting negative comments or reviews, but you can work even harder to increase the number of positive public engagement you’re getting. Focus on your target audience and the people who you can help, and don’t be too concerned with the ones you can’t.
Q3. What are some of your top tips on building a personal brand online? How about offline?
There are two intertwining but separate pillars of building your personal brand: online and offline. They will work together in unison, but realistically you need both to be successful in the long term.
Both, however, should involve the same basic strategy. Be consistently open and authentic, interacting with like-minded people and sharing your knowledge with those who could benefit from it. This is a great way to increase your reach and demonstrate your authority on any given subject.
You can also use the huge potential reach of social media to ask questions to your target audience, helping you to discover what they really want and how you can provide it for them. You don’t need to be on every social platform, but make sure that you are on the most valuable ones.
While it often seems easier to do all this just behind a keyboard, you will have the most successful relationship building when you attend online events and seminars. When you do, really put yourself out there by making a strong effort to engage with other attendees (and not just the one or two big names everyone wants to meet). Ask questions, learn from your peers, and make a good impression. The goal should be to start new relationships instead of just handing out business cards, so keep that in mind.
After you have established relationships, follow up with them. Offer value to these individuals before asking for anything in return. This goes for both potential customers and other industry leaders. While you know that you can directly benefit from them, there is hopefully something that you can do for them, too; focus on that part of the equation.
Q4. How do you know if your personal branding strategy is working?
We have established that personal branding is a slow burn. That is all well and good, but how can you know if it is working so that you can change strategies if needed?
One of the most tell-tale signs is that people will start to know who you are, even if you don’t know who they are. They might be approaching you with questions they have, problems they think you can solve, or opportunities. They seem to easily recognize who you are, either by name or face and are fairly familiar with what you do.
This can manifest in different ways. You may be headhunted in your specific industry, or have an influx of new clients. You may be approached to speak at conferences, write for publications, or attend events for free. You may see more traffic to your site, social media, or blog, and a nice boost in shares and engagement. People might start thanking you for mentioning them on your site, and you might start getting more backlinks. In many cases, it also means that people are approaching you out of the blue, either based on your own reputation or a direct recommendation from someone else.
One of the only ways to measure this is to keep an eye not only on what people are saying to you but also about you. What people are saying behind your back is what they really think of you, so invest in social listening software like SEMrush’s brand monitoring tool to keep an eye on what people are saying about you online.
Basically, people will know who you are. You will likely find it easier to meet the goals of your personal brand. If you are engaged as you should be when it comes to building your personal brand, you will know when it is starting to work.
Q5. When it comes to personal branding, who do you think stands out in the digital marketing industry and why?
When it comes to the “why” part of this equation, there are a few answers that our chat participants had in common. Generosity, approachability, and overall authenticity ranked high in the individuals in the digital marketing industry our participants thought stood out with their personal branding.
Generosity may translate into being happy to share knowledge and resources. This can take the form of providing information freely and without expectations in forums and on social media. Generosity involves sharing value with others, and it’s something that people will remember-- even if they only observed you sharing with someone else. Since personal branding is all about relationship building, this is a big one.
Approachability also matters. We have all known thought leaders who were so impressed with themselves that they just weren’t approachable. No one likes someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. Let people know to reach out if they have any questions for you, or if you can help. If you have to shoot someone down for a request, make sure to give a good (and not hurtful) reason, and thank them for thinking of you while letting them know what you can do for them in the future.
And finally, we are back to authenticity, bringing us full circle. People want to feel like they know the “real you”-- personal branding isn’t just about how much you know, but who you are. This means you will want to be the same person that you are online as you are offline, or people will notice.
Because of this, you want your personal branding to be a reflection of who you truly are. Think of personal branding as a bit like online dating; you want to put your best foot forward, but you don’t want people to be shocked or confused when they come for the first date.
Wondering who has mastered this trifecta and how you can learn from them? Our chat participants happily named a few influencers and thought leaders who they thought had outstanding personal branding. These names include:
- Rand Fishkin
- Greg Gifford
- Eric Enge
- Gary Vaynerchuk
- Geoffrey Colon
- Noah Kagan
- Jason Miller
- Lee Odden
- Purna Virji
- Christi Olson
- AJ Wilcox
- Dixon Jones
- Susan Wenograd
Make sure to join us this week as we discuss "Driving Loyalty & Advocacy Using Paid Media" with special guest, Samantha Noble!