OK. I'll make this clear right off the bat.
Building a personal brand - period - is hard work.
Not hard work in the sense that you'll lose a bunch of years slaving away in the scorching sun, but hard work in the sense that you'll have to sit yourself down and think - like, actually think.
When it comes to building a personal brand online, it's a slightly different ball game. The kind of game that has to weather internet shit storms, unexplainable trends, indiscriminate algorithms and lifetime scars. Yep, handling a brand online is not exactly easy.
But it's not rocket science either. That's because all you are doing, in essence, is managing and controlling what is seen about you across the web.
You are pretty much performing a role. A role that you, for the most part, get to choose.
I know. It sounds a bit like deception, but here's how I think about it. Isn't it the same thing as clearing up your home and using the best china for that incoming guest? Putting your best foot forward?
Well, that's the same thing you should do online.
Now, let's be clear. I'm not saying you should live a fake life online. I'm all for keeping it real and not hyping what doesn't exist. I'm saying be authentic and true to yourself. I'm saying be an inspiration to others. If that means sharing mostly the good, do it. If that means sharing the bad sometimes, do it.
There are a couple of things you can do to set up your online real estate and overall brand. I handled this in a previous post but when I look back at it now, I feel it needs some reinforcement.
And this post is it.
Here's what to keep in mind when managing your personal brand online. Just five key tenets to drive any form of effort related to your public persona on the web.
1. Stick to the script
Do not do what you cannot continue to deliver. For, remember, the world wants to see a continuity of delivery of set standards...!
- Sujit Lalwani
Let's imagine you are the awesome Lupita Nyong'o and you've just been handed the Black Panther script. You are over the moon, you can't wait to get the story told, you swoon over Michael B. Jordan and most importantly, you figure out how to play the best damn Nakia the world has ever seen.
What you don't do is wake up one day and decide you are now Okoye or Shuri. No, you don't. You stick to the Nakia part of the story.
Same thing with your personal brand online.
You need to stick to the script. Your chosen script. Consistency, as they say, is the all-time trick. You can't be a motivation/quote junkie one day and an unapologetic maskless internet troll the next day. Well, you can - but you shouldn't. Those two characters just don't fit together.
Once you figure out what role you are going to embody in the noisy web world, draw up some rules. Get yourself some boundaries. Be clear about your dos and don'ts and be the best damn persona that you decide you need to be.
If you choose to go with a motivational self-help-guru voice, stay away from an overly narcissistic one or a downright negative one. If what you are going for is a voice of reason, you might need to figure out where the thin line is between that and actual trolling.
Everything you do, every move you make needs to marry (and be in unadulterated love) with what you set out to be in the first place. Which brings me to the next point.
2. Find your signature
“I never took an acting class, so I’ve made all my mistakes on film.” – Heath Ledger
So you've got a script. Yey!
The bad news? Now the real work begins.
Same way a script needs an actual person to pull it off, your brand needs your fantastic self to make it happen. Sounds like an obvious thing to mention, right?
Well, not quite.
Here's what I mean. A scripted role is a shell. An actual person with an actual take on the character fills it up. That person gives it some meat, some depth and some reality. Even when the role itself has a set number of qualities and ideas behind it, the actor can add their special sauce to make it unique.
By saying "find your signature", I'm referring to finding that special sauce. Finding the thing that makes you irreplaceable. Finding the thing that'll make you one of a kind.
Think Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. I mean, who else would have played that role if not him? It's hard to even imagine someone else in that spot because it wouldn't be the same. The late Heath Ledger added his special sauce to what he thought the Joker needed to be.
He was unpredictable even to the Director and his cast members during shooting. Some of the things he did on camera were beyond the script. That was him adding his signature to that iconic role. And so came that Oscar (albeit posthumously).
What special sauce can you add to your personal brand online? What of you can you etch into the script of your online project? How can you differentiate yourself from everyone else who's almost you and can do the exact same thing you're doing?
Think about it.
And then create that uniquely authentic special sauce and splash it all over.
3. Make everything (and I mean everything) deliberate
If you don't give the market the story to talk about, they'll define your brand's story for you.
– David Brier
Once you've got your entire brand figured out and that signature (a.k.a special sauce) down to a tee, you're not going to sit there popcorn-in-hand watching the chips fall where they may.
Not at all..
You are going to keep everything under your control. Not everything, everything, but everything assigned to your jurisdiction. If you can control it, you will indeed find yourself doing just that.
This pretty much means everything will become a deliberate action. And that's okay. That's what happens with any brand. Every move, every word, every sentence, every scene, every play contributes to the third act twist.
Translation: Make sure every post, every comment, every rant, every (public) click by you is adding to your brand - not taking away from it.
You shouldn't act on any emotion or experience from your life (especially the bad ones) and blindly cue it into your online timeline. It must be in tune with your brand. If it's not, find another outlet. Like your pillow. Scream into it. And stay away from your keyboard until what you intend to do is in line with your story.
Every move you make online doesn't just define your brand, it is your brand. So make sure it's all coming out as it should.
Deliberate is the word.
4. Be haunting
Even individuals need to develop a brand for themselves …. Whatever your area of expertise, you can take steps to make people think of YOU when they think of your field. – Accelepoint Webzine
One thing that makes amazing brands great is that they stay in your head.
Not the way your teenage crush stayed in your head back when you were 16. Not like that. It's more like how your mum's random sentences of wisdom/or non-wisdom stay your head for a lifetime. It's that kind of brain-takeover.
My teenage crush might have infected my brain to the point of taking over everything happening in there but all that didn't quite endure as powerfully as my mum's quotes and sayings.
I don't exactly hear my mum's voice in my head every single waking moment but when the perfect opportunity arises, that voice chimes in without invitation. Like when I need to find something that's missing or when I get the urgent need to ugly laugh or stupid sneeze.
The greatest brands in the world don't stick around in your thoughts all day (unless you are exceptionally obsessed). They carefully sneak in front and centre exactly when they need to - exactly when your situation and brain decides you need them.
Even when these brands don't need to chime in because they are so big you would know them anyway, they still keep on. They haunt you. They haunt your days. They don't need to advertise but they'll advertise anyway. You don't need to see them but they'll be everywhere either way.
Your personal brand online needs to follow that example. And you can pull it off by being haunting. Being out there, all the time. Being seen all the damn time. This is the best way to stay in people's heads. It's the reason why brands and celebrities pull PR stunts every now and then. Heck, pull your own little PR stunt if you need to. Just try not to piss anyone off.
If you want to be known for one epic thing, be known for that one thing every (other) day, or all the time, without relenting. Make them think of you when they don't really have to. Make them think of you when the thought of your field pops up in their head.
5. Spread your worth
“It is nothing for one to know something unless another knows you know it.” - Persian Proverb
One key thing about creating a personal brand online is that it needs to be good for something - particularly to anyone experiencing it.
Personal branding should mean being able to spread your worth.
Unless you are the Kardashians, it's best to stick your behind on a chair and decide what amazing thing you can and should share with the world.
What does the world deserve to know about you and from you? Maybe it's your knowledge or experience in a particular subject, or a deep interest in a topic, or your craft, or your art. Choose it and infuse it into your brand so meticulously that they become one.
Keep it consistent and most importantly, keep it worthwhile.
Then get out there and spread your worth. Get out there and capture hearts, minds and souls.
Which of these five key tenets rings truest for you? Do you have any others you can think of?