I recently contributed a “Personal Branding for Dummies” article for a local community newspaper in Toronto called MY ROOTS (Malvern Youth Recognizing Our Opportunities to Succeed).
MY ROOTS was created for and by the youth in the Malvern area. Its goal is to inspire, educate, and support young leaders in the community through its quarterly publication and various other activities. I grew up in this area, which has traditionally been characterized by hopelessness and crime.
Fortunately, that’s not all true.
The article is aimed at a beginner’s audience – high school students just starting to define who they are today and what they eventually want to become. You will also notice some continuing themes from previous posts on my blog.
I wanted to share it with you and thank MY ROOTS’ Managing Editor (and my good friend) Hilori Kaloti for the opportunity.
It was more than a decade ago when the first article was written on “The Brand Called You” in FastCompany magazine. Tom Peters, a guru on business theory, became responsible for defining the era of personal branding that followed.
But beyond all of the hoopla, most of us today still have little or no idea of what personal branding is and why it should matter to us. If you choose to read this (because today is also all about choices), I’ll share some lessons on creating “brand you” for beginners and why you need to be ready.
Lesson One: If you don’t brand “you”, someone else will.
The Internet is all-knowing. It’s pushed the boundaries of access to information, leaving us all exposed. Because of this, anyone can find out anything about you if it’s been posted on the web.
If you search your full name right now, you’ll see a plethora of information about you. Do you have a Facebook profile? It’s there. Are you on a local sports team? It’s there. Did you interact with someone on a forum? It’s there.
All of this is your personal brand. Everything said about you, whether you said it or someone else did, aggregates into it. If you don’t take control of this conversation, you’ll only be left with how everyone else judges you.
Your personal brand is out there and people will use it in many ways. Employers will use it to get to know you before they even meet you, the same way your next date will.
Lesson 2: You need an objective.
When you start taking control, you need to give yourself a clear focus. Your personal brand should become something unique and valuable to you. It can stand for something that you are really interested in (i.e. a topic, activity, or pastime) or even some characteristics that reflect you (i.e. creative, active, or party-er).
For example, brand “Satish Kanwar” is aimed at being a technology marketer. That translates into characteristics like marketer, geek, go-getter, and evangelist.
Another way to think about it, from marketer Seth Godin, is knowing your superpower. Everyone in the Justice League had their own unique role. It was who they were and how they were valuable to the people around them. So when you have a personal brand and you meet someone (online or off), you’re no longer just another face. Instead of “Hi, I’m Satish, I’m from Toronto”, it’s instead “Hi, I’m Satish, I evangelize new technology”.
Lesson 3: You’ve already got the tools.
There are a lot of ways to do this, but the easiest places to start are actually where you already are.
Facebook is a big opportunity and an even bigger danger. It allows you to form stronger relationships with people you know. These are the people that care the most about your personal brand, so it’s important to make it clear to them and not let them down.
Make sure that you fill out your full profile with interesting and relevant information, not just random facts. Also use the specific privacy settings available to protect your more personal information. Block your public profile and sort all your friends in lists so you can show them different parts of you. Even go as far as removing your public listing if you don’t want this to show around the web.
Then clean up your other social tools. Go across your Google, Windows Live, Yahoo!, and other properties and implement your personal brand, a professional photo, and links back to your other sites.
Explore things like LinkedIn (online resume), Twitter (micro conversations), and especially a blog as next steps. There are tools out there for everything, but you should just choose a few and do them really well.
Things to Remember
While there is no definitive template to follow when it comes to creating “brand you”, there are a few virtues to follow that will help you succeed in the long run.
The first is consistency. If and when you decide to tackle your personal brand, don’t give it a sudden push and then disappear. Always keep your end game in mind and your tools of choice updated.
The second is longevity. Once you’ve decided what your focus is going to be, hold out for the long haul. You won’t see results immediately, but if you give it the right amount of time you’ll come up on top.
The third is simplicity. Don’t overthink it. Focus on impressing yourself with what you do, not on impressing others.