As I watch people build their personal brands on the Web, I see a lot of personal-branding disasters — efforts that detract from brand value rather than increase it. Here are the personal-branding mistakes I see repeated over and over. Avoid them to build a powerful and compelling presence that increases your brand equity.
1. Be fake.
Personal branding is not about fabricating a persona; strong personal brands are based in authenticity. You can’t start building your brand until you understand who you are, what you want and what makes you exceptional. What are your superpowers? What do others think about you? Don’t create an image; be yourself — your best self. As writer/aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.”
2. Be wishy-washy.
Trying to be all things to all people is the opposite of branding. Strong brands take a stand and often repel as many people as they attract. You need to know what you want to communicate and how that message differs from what your peers are communicating. What’s your area of thought leadership? What’s your position? How do you want to express your personality? Answer these questions, and stick to your guns.
3. Act before you think.
Thanks to the availability and ease of social media, you can increase your visibility very quickly. But visibility is not the same as effective personal branding. If you don’t have a clear plan — a message that you want to communicate consistently along with a strategy for expressing yourself — you will create confusion rather than build a fan club. Personal branding requires thinking before acting. What’s your overall communications plan? Which communications vehicles are the best for you? How will you link your communications activities? Answer these questions before putting finger to key!
4. Talk just for the sake of it.
I see some people tweet multiple times an hour — re-tweeting anything they see, reposting their own tweets — just to seem like they have a lot to say. And I’ve seen similar misguided fervor on blogs. People can see through this. It’s better to make a few high-quality posts to your blog or tweets that add value to your brand community than to be associated with content that is vapid, regurgitated or stale. Create content when you have something thoughtful to say that is valuable to your brand community and reinforces what you want people to know about you. Quality trumps quantity.
5. Aim for as many contacts as possible.
Branding is not about fame; it’s about selective fame. The only people who need to know you are those decision-makers and influencers who can help you reach your goals. Trying to be everywhere with your message will exhaust you without adding much value to your brand. Think about your target audience, then research the best places on the Web to express yourself. The scattershot approach isn’t very effective … and it isn’t very fulfilling, either.
6. Switch tools often.
Social media is attractive. So attractive that some people jump onto the latest social-media tool with reckless abandon. I was speaking with an executive the other day who told me that he was a big fan of social media. When LinkedIn came along, he worked hard to connect with everyone he ever met. After time, he lost interest. Then Facebook gained prominence; he began “friending” all his LinkedIn contacts, and he updated his status hourly. He became tired of this as well and switched his attention to Twitter. This approach will not only wear you out, it will do little to build brand value. Choose the social-media tools you are going to use and commit to using them regularly.
7. Forget traditional vehicles.
The ubiquity of social media has convinced some that personal branding is an exclusively Web-based activity. Sure, social media has made it much easier to express yourself to a much larger audience, but it doesn’t replace real-world relationships and communications.
I started my personal-branding business, Reach, almost a decade ago — long before Facebook, blogs and Twitter existed. Before social media, personal branding was focused on real-world activities, like public speaking and publishing books. A lot has changed in the world of personal branding since I founded Reach, but the core principles remain the same.
Those who are most effective in building their brands combine the real with the virtual. They continue to write and provide content for traditional media; they speak publicly, attend professional association events, volunteer for professional organizations, sit on boards and so on. The trick is to connect the real and the virtual — expanding what you are doing locally by making it visible on the Web.
8. Do it yourself.
If you think people who are making decisions about you are impressed by the photo your mother took of you at last year’s family picnic or the poor-quality video you posted to YouTube, you’re fooling yourself. You need to invest in services and tools that will help you present your best self. The New York Times said it best in its article about video resumes: “A well-produced video can send the message that the applicant is both professional and on top of new technology, while something that looks like a home video can send the opposite message.”If it’s really important to you, invest in the right resources — career coaches, resume-writing services, Web designers, video producers and more. Sure, there are costs involved in these services; but what’s the cost to you of damaging your reputation with poor-quality copy, images and video?
9. Talk about yourself
Personal branding is about giving to your brand community — value, insights, feedback, recognition. I see so many people confusing social media with billboard advertising — blatantly promoting their services 24/7. As social media expert Chris Brogan says (I’m paraphrasing) : Use the 12:1 ratio — make 12 posts about your brand community for every one that is about you. Just as people use TiVo to skip TV ads, people will start to tune you out if you come across as an immodest self-promoter.
10. Don’t measure your efforts.
Are you spending a lot of time implementing your personal-branding plan without asking yourself, “How is this helping me reach my goals?” I spent 20 years in corporate marketing and branding, and one of the most important parts of any campaign we launched was metrics. You need some way to evaluate your progress and see if your efforts are paying off. Decide on what metrics you will use up front (onlineIDCalculator .com, Klout.net or another tool), and establish a baseline. Then remember to measure progress along the way. Have you increased the volume and relevance of your Google results? Are you growing your brand community with the right people?
If you avoid these brand-busters and focus on being your best (high-quality) self — on- and offline — you’ll bolster your brand with everything you do.