3 Keys to Establishing Your Personal Brand

Whether you own a business, are looking to land your ideal job, or desire to turn your side hustle into full-time work, it’s just as important to be intentional about what you share on your personal profiles as it is on your business profiles. So let’s talk about three keys to building a personal brand on social media.

When we say social media, we aren’t only referring to LinkedIn; we’re also talking about any and all social platforms you use because your prospects are looking at those accounts, as well. What do your accounts say about you now compared to how you would like to be portrayed if the ideal client, customer, or recruiter came along to vet you?

The first key to building your personal brand is to share facets of your personal life while keeping other elements private. This key is by far the most challenging to get right, which is why a large portion of this blog is dedicated to helping you understand how to avoid some critical yet common mistakes. What this key means is that you want to share certain aspects of who you are, including what makes you tick outside of work, but you don’t want to share information that is too personal. Why? If you are a business owner (or aspire to be), you want to be seen as a leader. It’s difficult to lead people when they think you’re on the same level as them.

Woman looking at smartphone
People want to connect with professionals who can provide them with the knowledge that will enable them to grow, and it’s difficult to put forth that image when you’re sharing ongoing or daily struggles on social media. A little can come across as a lot for people who only know a limited amount about you. That’s why it’s crucial to differentiate between what you should and should not be sharing.

If you’re a small business owner or you have your own coaching or consulting agency, it’s appealing to potential clients/customers when you share behind-the-scenes glances of your work. It allows them to feel a personal connection to you before you’ve even met and characterizes you as a person who enjoys their work.

You could share pictures taken (with permission) at a client meeting, your excitement about a project you’re working on, or stories that depict how your work, in general, has positively impacted your life. You could also show “behind the scenes” photos or videos of venues you’re scouting for an event, how you’ve chosen to decorate/remodel your office, you and your colleagues welcoming a new team member, etc. You can use these behind-the-scenes glimpses not only to portray an image but to illustrate the story you want to tell about what’s going on in your world. It should be somewhat personal while still maintaining professionalism.

Woman handing out shirts at an outdoor event

When posting about the things that make you tick outside of work, focus on your passions, influences, hobbies, and community involvement. Try to keep the topics related to what you do/want to do professionally, always viewing the content you create through a lens that asks, “What do I want my viewers to take away from this, and will it have that desired effect?”

What is the message you wish you convey? Are you trying to be relatable? Inspirational? A good hire? Answer those questions first. Then, consider if what you’re about to share will paint you in that light.

Another thing you can post about are events you attend. In-person events are finally back, but virtual events are still prominent, as well. Why did you choose to attend a particular event? What did you gain from the experience? What kind of events do you typically attend? Have you been a speaker at any events lately?

For example, “I just did a podcast interview, and I want to share that with my followers so they can tune in.” If you’re taking part in a public event that hasn’t happened yet, be sure to share details about it so your viewers have the option to join too — especially if you’re speaking or being interviewed.

If you go on vacation, you can share photos of your trip or tidbits such as why you chose your destination and what you enjoyed about the experience. The caveat here is to wait until after you return home to share about a vacation, especially if you’re traveling to a remote location or tagging/mentioning a place (your hotel, for example) where a stranger could easily find and approach you when you’re not expecting it. Also, home robbers frequently use social media to figure out when families are away so they can break in without getting caught. In any case, you should always be smart about the timing of your posts and about disclosing information concerning where you live or your current whereabouts.

It’s also great to share your favorite books or authors. If you’re reading a book that is somehow related to your business or the career you wish to have, definitely share that with your audience. Keep in mind that any content you choose to share should somehow reflect the professional you are/aim to be and the future you envision for yourself.

Laptop with social media icons hovering above keyboard

Depending on the platform you’re using, you may have the option to limit your audience by selecting who can view certain posts, such as sharing with only family members, close friends, or other social circles. Even so, it can be difficult to remember to use audience filters, and you’ll still want to share some posts publicly so there is content available to potential clients or employers who are looking to learn more about you on social media.

On Instagram, your account can be public or private. Instagram Stories on both private and public accounts can be shared using audience filters, but posts to your wall do not allow this. Even if your account is private, everyone you allow to follow you will be able to see the images you post to your wall (unless you archive them — in which case, only you can view them). That said, a potential client or employer may not think it’s appropriate to send a follow request to your private account. So, if you want to influence their opinion regarding who you are personally, you should consider having a public account.

Now, let’s discuss what (and when) not to share. One of the worst times to share is when you’re in the midst of a crisis. It’s okay to post about a previous crisis that you’ve already worked through because you can share the story of how you prevailed. However, people are — understandably — not their best selves when they’re in the process of going through something difficult, and even if your followers don’t judge you for it (though some always will), they will still have a hard time viewing you as the strong person that you want them to see.

If you experience the loss of someone close to you, it’s okay to share a post about how much they meant to you. What you don’t want to do is overshare by posting about it every day or crying and pouring your heart out in a story/live stream. Everyone experiences difficult times, but if you want to be viewed as a leader, showcase the version of you that can help others through their difficult times. This doesn’t mean that you should never express vulnerability but do so after you’ve faced your demons and won. That way, you can share about it in the context of, “This was the challenge I faced, this is how I felt in the middle of it, and this is how I worked through my feelings and overcame that challenge.”

The place to share your deepest struggles is with family, friends, or a mental health professional, and there is absolutely no shame in doing so. Just don’t share so much publicly that you make the mistake of letting your lowest times get in the way of the person you wish to become, the places you wish to go, or the goals you wish to achieve.

The second key to establishing your personal brand is building your expertise. Even if your business is just starting out or you’re working your first job, you can share what you’re good at and begin building your personal brand in a professional way. A phrase we like to use at Prosper for Purpose is, “Show up and give value.”

Two women writing on a whiteboard

If you’re showing up and adding value to your business or place of employment, you have the ability to say, “This is what I’ve done and these are the lessons I’ve learned.” If you’re in school, you can begin shaping your personal brand by saying, “This is what I’ve learned in class,” or “Here’s something I learned from my favorite business book.” No matter what career stage you’re at, you’ll find that you have many opportunities to start building your personal brand.

If you do happen to be further along in your career, you’ll want to be more pointed about what you share. For example, you could say, “Here are five things you can do to ensure that your company ends up in the black in your first year.” You too can share content about your favorite business books and why they speak to you. (Even better, if you’ve published any literature pertaining to your field, be sure to share that!)

You can discuss your work history or education and how those experiences have contributed to your career. You can also share your professional opinions, especially in relation to what you feel is right or wrong about your industry’s current philosophy. You can even offer how-to tutorials on successful efforts you’ve made to increase productivity or profitability. Really, the possibilities are endless!

The third and final key to establishing your personal brand is telling stories. We mentioned this earlier when we noted different ways to appropriately share your personal life on social media. Along every step of your journey, you will notice your impact expanding as an increasing number of people remember you and the content you’ve shared. The most effective way to boost that impact is by telling stories.

How do stories help people remember you? Storytelling is a scientifically supported visualization and association technique used to enhance memory. Attaching a narrative to any given piece (or pieces) of information can significantly increase one’s ability to recall that information by painting a picture in the mind’s eye (a visual memory) and creating associations. Later, the given information is recalled more readily in response to the associative memory than it would be on its own. The more unique your story, the more vivid the associations. The more vivid the associations, the more easily you’ll be remembered.

Storytelling is at the core of most of what we do here at Prosper for Purpose, and it can work wonders for you too. You can share a mini-story about a project you worked on or a university you attended, or you can opt to write a longer narrative about a job you held previously that was terrible and the lessons you learned from that experience. No matter where you are on your career trajectory, you can use stories to help build your personal brand, engage more followers, and encourage public support as you continue to grow your success.

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