While the origins of branding are lost to recent history, the commonly held idea is that it’s a way to promote a person in much the same way as promoting a product. However, the concept has also evolved to refer to the promotion of a person’s career. This evolution has taken place as technology has improved and responsibility for career progression has shifted from the organization to the individual. The result is that many jobseekers today—especially remote jobseekers—see themselves as the promoted product, and also the internet as the perfect way to do it.
What Is Your Personal Brand?
Whether you call it your personal brand or not, you already have a personal brand. Your personal brand is how you appear to others with its basis formed on a variety of factors. According to PersonalBrand.com:
“A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, or the marketplace at large.”
In practice, your personal brand includes the totality of information that people can access about you. They discover this information by talking to others, interacting with you, and finding any written or visual information about you that they can access.
To remote workers operating in cyberspace, personal brand refers primarily to digital presence. For example, social media accounts and activities, including your public photos, posts, and videos fall under this umbrella term. Whatever information is on the internet about you will add to the impression that will be repeated about you and your personal brand.
What Is Personal Branding?
Due to the increasing popularity of personal branding, researchers have attempted to develop a common and practical definition. In a recent article, Gorbatov et al., 2018, studies undertook a comprehensive review and analysis of current literature and research on personal branding. Their research suggests that personal branding is best captured as:
“Personal branding is a strategic process of creating, positioning, and maintaining a positive impression of oneself, based in a unique combination of individual characteristics, which signal a certain promise to the target audience through a differentiated narrative and imagery.”
In other words, personal branding is the intentional means of creating a desired image through pictures and writing. While it’s not in the definition, one could ascertain the end goal is to achieve career advancement.
Expected (and Unexpected) Benefits of Building Your Personal Brand
By proactively deciding how you wish to appear to others, you can decide the image you project. Rather than allow others to create a story about you, you create your own narrative. A few benefits you can expect from building your personal brand include:
- Increase your personal power over your career. Building your personal brand means you decide who to contact, what you’re interested in posting, and how to engage and comment online. This empowers you to provide potential employers, recruiters, or clients the story that you want them to hear.
- Gain credibility in your field. Once you start putting yourself out there and engaging with individuals in your field, curating relevant content, and adding your voice to a forum, you will gain influence over time.
- Build a larger professional network. Personal branding strategies require making connections with your target audience. Developing these relationships will identify others to engage with.
- Differentiate yourself from others in your field. A well-implemented personal branding strategy will highlight what skills or attributes make you unique. Being remembered is key when you’re competing against hundreds of other applicants.
- Increase your knowledge and resourcefulness. As you post and comment on content relevant and topical to your target audience, you increase your knowledge of timely developments in your industry and profession.
- Large budgets not required. Personal branding needs only you and some basic computer skills to get started. To start with anyway. Moreover, if you end up being talented at personal branding, you may need to hire a few people to help you keep up!
A Framework for Building Your Personal Brand
As part of the Gorbatov et al. article introduced above, researchers also analyzed the reviewed papers to identify key processes involved in personal branding. According to their analysis, the following steps can minimize the gap between what you want your audience members to see and what your audience actually perceives. In this way, you can develop a strong and coherent personal brand.
1. Raising Self-Awareness
The first step to building your personal brand is knowing yourself. Therefore, you need to ask yourself a few deep questions. For example, what’s important to you? Are you aware of the key characteristics of your personality? What are your values and goals? Realize that the answers you find will change over time, so don’t assume you already know or set your discoveries in stone.
Strategy 1: Be authentic. Align your personal brand as closely as possible to your current interests and passions. This simplifies the upkeep of your brand, and you will enjoy the work more. Your enthusiasm will also resonate with your audience when you use both in-person and digital tactics. If you’re being “fake,” your audience will notice.
2. Needs Analysis & Positioning
Once you have an idea of your values, interests, and goals, conduct a needs analysis. This means determining what you need, i.e. promotion, reputation, a new position, and determining what your target audience needs, i.e. specific skills, experience, or information. Then, you can position your personal brand as the unique attributes that are perfect for your audience’s needs.
In addition to positioning yourself conceptually to meet your audience’s needs, you also need to position yourself more literally as well. Determine what online and offline strategies you want to employ. For remote employees, the onus is on digital strategies. The Gorbatov study found the most often discussed social media in terms of personal branding are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and blogs.
Strategy 2: Identify your audience. This step assumes you know who your audience is. However, you may not. But take the time to list the types of people you hope to reach. Examples of what this list might include are:
- Former and current co-workers
- Individuals in positions you aspire to
- Hiring managers and corporate leaders in companies you would like to work for
- Industry influencers and thought leaders
Strategy 3: Identify your social media channels. But don’t try to do it all. To start, pick one or two social media channels and build from there. If you try to juggle too many channels, you will have no time to do anything else. Ask yourself two questions to help you focus your efforts: Where do your skills lie? Where will you find your audience?
3. Constructing Brand Architecture
This verbose label refers to the framework you develop and the strategies you implement to build and maintain your personal brand. How are you going to show your audience your skills, experience, and uniqueness in the way that you want to be seen? The flip side of this step, as identified by the authors, is the importance of contemplating how your personal brand is perceived by your audience, i.e. your perceived self.
Strategy 4: Create or update your marketing documents. This refers primarily to your resume, portfolio (if applicable), biography or career summary, and cover letters. Furthermore, these documents form the basis of your personal brand.
Strategy 5: Execute a content marketing plan. Personal branding requires you to express your unique attributes in a way that can be seen and experienced. The best way to do this online is to develop or curate content that’s useful or relevant to your audience. Writing articles, creating videos and photos, or researching and commenting on existing content are common methods.
Strategy 6: Leverage social media. Participating in social media platforms is vital to effective personal branding. They provide you with a place to publish and post your marketing documents and content that express your personal brand. In addition, they are an invaluable tool for researching and connecting with your target audience.
Strategy 7: Focus on LinkedIn. With a membership that includes 50+ million companies and 20+ million jobs posted, LinkedIn has become an important platform for personal branding efforts.
4. Self-Reflection and Feedback-Seeking
Both your desired self and your perceived self are equally important elements of the personal brand equation. As a result, you should engage in self-reflection to see if your efforts are resulting in an overall impression that meets your needs. Plus, you can seek feedback from your target audience or determine if this same impression is being formed.
Strategy 8: Develop success metrics. Yet the difficulty behind these is tempting to skip because it sounds difficult and potentially discouraging. But you don’t want to waste your time either. Just make sure your metrics are realistic. Initially, make them easy to achieve. Also, make them results-oriented. You may have a goal of publishing two social media posts a week or writing a blog post. Follow through.
Sense-making is building a personal brand to provide context and make sense of your professional identity and work environment. Having a strong and healthy professional identity will make you more confident and happier in your career. Research subsequent to their 2018 study, Gorbatov et al., 2019 found personal branding has a positive and significant effect on an individual’s perceived employability. In turn, this correlated with higher levels of career satisfaction.
Personal branding is particularly helpful for the development of a professional identity in remote workers. This is because remote workers do not have a shared office space nor physically present supervisors or co-workers to help develop context.
Strategy 9: Review your efforts periodically. Next, compare what you identified in the first step as your desired self with what you know about your perceived self at the end of each period. Do you see any gaps? Also, are you making your success metrics? What adjustments should you make?
What Are the Drawbacks of Building a Personal Brand?
As you implement your personal branding strategy, a few problems can arise. You may say the wrong thing or be trolled with negative comments. However, most issues like this are the result of just putting yourself “out there” and increasing your exposure on the internet. You’re not perfect, and as long as you manage these problems with maturity, you will not suffer any lasting damage.
The Continued Importance of Personal Branding
The continued growth of the remote workforce, the “gig” economy, and self-publishing opportunities means that personal branding is here to stay. Despite potential problems, it’s in almost every remote worker’s best interest to intentionally shape their personal brand. When the branding process is undertaken appropriately, building your personal brand should help you feel more knowledgeable about your strengths, confident in your skill set, and optimistic about your career direction.
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