personal brand

Creating a personal brand is helpful for so many reasons - and it’s not just important to you - 71% of CEOs believe human capital is key source of economic value, according to a recent study from IBM.

It can help you build your own business, gain influence in your industry, make connections both online and offline, and even help you find a new job. Creating one isn’t so easy. You’re essentially creating a persona in which you want the entire world to view you upon first impression. No pressure there.

You also need to attach a visual element to that persona - what are your brand colors? What will your website and social properties look like, or talk about? Are you edgy, creative, a suit, a nerd, or a mixture of the thousands of other boxes you can squeeze yourself into? But you don’t fit in a box. You’re your own person, and now you have to define what that means - succinctly, and with flare.

The fact that you probably don’t fit in a box means your personal brand is going to be hard to develop - and also easy to screw up. 

Coined by Tom Peters in his predictive article, “The Brand Called You” in 1997, he spoke of a world where employees think of themselves as brands, and use the same tools to accomplish the same tasks.

His words are even more relevant today:

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

It’s that simple — and that hard. And that inescapable.
— Tom Peters

Inescapable is a very strong word, and it was one I took to heart about a year ago. January of 2015 was when I really decided I was going to take a crack at developing my own personal brand.

Spoiler alert: I completely sucked at it.

The good news is that I tracked exactly how and why I sucked, learned a hell of a lot about design, writing, my voice, and what it means to truly have marketing goals for yourself online.

If you’re struggling with your personal brand, don’t panic. As a personal brand newbie, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some insights to share from my own mistakes, as well as pointers for success.

Website Mania: Don’t Try to Do Too Much

personal brand

Your website is the most important part of your personal brand - it’s your opportunity to showcase exactly who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Unlike social media, its look and feel is completely under your control.

I’ve been dabbling in running various blogs and websites since my teen years, so it’s not too surprising that the thought of building a portfolio site about a year ago was very exciting.

I gave my best shot at branding myself - and that included creating graphics for a very image-heavy website.

I am not a graphic designer. The images ended up looking something like this:

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While these aren’t the worst social media and website graphics in the world - I don’t feel like they’re particularly impressive, or reflected my skill set in the way that I wanted.

Suggestion 1: Don’t Market Skills You Don’t Have

The problem was that I was using my number one method of communication, my website, to primarily showcase a skill that I didn’t have - design.

This wasn’t a conscious decision of mine, but it did subconsciously work against the confidence that I had in my brand, and in turn, my motivation to promote it.

I solved this problem with keeping the an image-heavy brand that I loved, but focusing on unique photos as opposed to original graphics:

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Not only was I more confident in this brand, my website, and my presence online, but choosing photos over graphics proved to be more versatile for me. It also drove me to think deeper about why it was there in the first place.

Suggestion 2: Clearly Define Your Goals

My website had no real purpose - I didn’t have any goals. I didn’t care about web traffic. I was only driving an average of ten visits a month.

When I decided it was time to fix it, I had real goals in mind - I wanted to convert more freelance gigs, showcase my work more simply, and spend less time maintaining my site.

Once I figured out these goals, everything else fell into place. Images, content, SEO and a social strategy practically created themselves, and I started seeing more web traffic by default.

I’ve had the most website traffic than I’ve ever seen with any of my other website portfolios - 25 percent of which was from Twitter (my main source of amplification).

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Check out those graphs - some actual traffic! Those are the numbers Squarespace has been tracking for me since launch, and I’m very excited to be keeping track of them from the start.

My ultimate goals are to start driving much more traffic than this of course, but it was good to see that the launch of a stronger website improved my SEO by default.

Suggestion 3: Track the Performance of Those Goals

I’ve never tracked the performance of my personal website, but now that I have real goals, I plan on it. I’ll be tracking the following with Squarespace’s built-in analytics:

  • Sessions - I want to know how many people are coming to visit me, and when.
  • Unique Visitors - I want to know how many new people are coming to visit, and how many are returning.
  • Acquisition Channels - I’m hoping to learn which social media channels provide me with the most success, and keep an eye on my SEO.
  • Bounce Rates and Exit Rates - For these, I will focus on the pages with forms first, and I hope people click through and convert here.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the metrics you could track for your personal brand website, but they’re the ones that make the most sense for me to start with.

Defining these metrics drove me to take a closer look at my main method of content amplification - social media. I took a closer look at my social media properties, which weren’t consistently branded or using the right messaging any longer.

Social Media: Consistency Nightmare

personal brand

My biggest problem with social media was sustaining the amount of content that I needed to share to keep it afloat - I wasn’t producing enough content to keep my audience.

I didn’t have the right audience, or the right content.

Once I realized that not all social content was created equal, I kind of gave up for a little bit - this is not the personal brand journey I envisioned. This is most reflected in my Twitter analytics for the 2015 year.

Twitter: Keep the Content Relevant and Consistent

There is really nothing consistent in my Twitter analytics for the year - in fact they’re kind of sad - but trial and error showed me exactly where I went wrong, and the few times where I got it right.

According to Internet Live Stats, a lot of tweets go out regularly:

Every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are tweeted on Twitter (visualize them here), which corresponds to over 350,000 tweets sent per minute, 500 million tweets per day and around 200 billion tweets per year.

This year I sent 2,865 of those 200 billion tweets, but it wasn’t nearly as consistent or impressive as it should have been (but don’t worry, I think I’m fixing that for next year).

The biggest example of this is my summer months in 2015 - everything basically stops (possibly due to the amount of time I spent on the beach versus the amount of time I spent in front of a computer).

After seeing these highly fluctuating graphs, I decided to take a deeper dive into why this was happening.

Suggestion 1: Don’t Just Tweet to Tweet

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Quite a lot of people we’re viewing my tweets, about 50K for every 90 day period. This was happening even during the months where I wasn’t really posting.

The problem was the amount of people clicking:

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Basically no one clicked on anything all summer - probably the most accurate reflection of my lag in posting during these months. The meager but steady flow of clicks from January to May came as I was trying hard to promote content that I didn’t care about, just to boost my numbers.

I was tweeting with myself in mind, not my audience - I was breaking the cardinal rule of social media marketing.

Not only did this hurt my social media conversion, it affected the audience I attracted and how much they engaged.

Suggestion 2: Know Your Audience, Then Target Them

Because I had no goals, I really had no idea what audience I was targeting. All I knew was that I worked in digital marketing and PR, so it made sense for me to talk about those things.

The blue line below is the number of tweets I sent out per month. It pretty much stays the same all year, with the dip in the summer that I previously mentioned. Same goes for impressions, the yellow line.

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If I’m tweeting consistently and people are consistently viewing my tweets, those green and red following lines shouldn’t be flying all over the graph like that.

My following was inconsistent because I didn’t have any consistent topic, goals, or strategy in mind - plus I kept switching it up, as I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted.

The bump from March to June happened when I was consistently blogging on LinkedIn and my website about different general trends in digital marketing and PR. But honestly, it was kind of boring. Everything was general and didn’t require research. It was cookie cutter stuff.

It wasn’t until I started working in HR technology in September that I really started to get a grasp on how I wanted to present myself, and how to do it right (see how the lines shoot up at the end of the graph there.

It all happened because I started to get consistent about my goals and what I really wanted. It didn’t just reflect in the type of people that were following me, but  how they were talking to me too.

Suggestion 3: Pay Attention to How People are Interacting with You

When I started building my personal brand at the beginning of 2015, all I cared about was my following - huge mistake.

It wasn’t until a couple of months into my personal branding journey that I really started to pay attention to not only the quality of my audience, but how they were engaging with me.

This lack of strategy led to yet another disparate graph:

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At this moment, the two engagement metrics that are performing the best for me are URL clicks and likes (the top blue and green lines). I’m happy that URL clicks are included in this, but I would have liked to see more metrics that support a conversation - re-tweets and shares.

My numbers started to improve when I wasn’t just talking about what I was doing anymore, I was talking about what my audience was doing.

Since then I have started to tweet and write about the things my target audience cares about - marketing their technologies, whether it be HR tech, environmental tech or any other type of enterprise technology.

The trick is going to keep up with consistently writing, tweeting and engaging about the right topics with the right people - and not just on Twitter.

LinkedIn: More is Not Always Better

Generally if you’re concerned about your professional appearance, you have a LinkedIn. I already had a profile when I started this journey, but it wasn’t optimized, and I wasn’t making any type of effort to engage with an audience.

I did the same thing on LinkedIn that I did on Twitter - yes, breaking another cardinal rule of social media marketing: don’t just spray the same content across all of your social profiles.

I tried tackling all of LinkedIn’s capabilities at once - I optimized my profile, starting posting regular updates, and started taking advantage of the LinkedIn publishing platform. It didn’t really work out as well as I had hoped.

Suggestion 1: Your Profile Should Accurately Reflect Both Your Brand and Your Experience

My profile was all over the place - It wasn’t formatted nicely, and contained literally everything I had ever done in my life (half of which wasn’t relevant to the types of opportunities I wanted to pursue).

This confuses an audience - the types of things I was posting weren’t immediately connected to the type of persona I was projecting. “Who is this person,” they were thinking, “and why should I follow her?”

You know how you can tell when you didn’t get your LinkedIn profile right? When you start receiving messages from recruiters for positions that have absolutely nothing to do with what you do. It was time to fix something.

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Fixing this problem took a bit of soul searching - in order to better optimize my profile, I needed to know exactly what types of opportunities I wanted to land long-term.

I optimized my profile with better keywords, and cut out the experience that wasn’t relevant. I also pursued some recommendations, and started giving them myself. Once it was done, I tackled my outreach.

Suggestion 2: Don’t Post Too Much About Yourself

People tend to talk a lot about themselves on LinkedIn, and this makes sense. The platform’s purpose is to promote yourself, but you can have too much of a good thing.

I tried to balance promotion with engagement by spraying my entire feed with links to cool content, but I wasn’t stopping to ensure that they were providing value for my connections.

Links drove 69.9% of my engagements this past year, most of which were clicks. I’m hoping this number will grow to include images next year, now that I’m posting more images in light of the LinkedIn’s new update.

I was getting some clicks, but they weren’t consistent, and I wasn’t starting any valuable conversations with my connections.

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In the end, I decided to start talking directly to my audience a little bit more.

My text posts ended up being the posts that got the most engagement, and I intend to make my promotional posts a bit more conversational in the future.

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My image posts drove way more clicks, but my text posts were the ones that really got people commenting and liking. My goal is to combine the two in 2016 - your personal brand on social media should be about your experience with others, not about your vision for yourself.

Suggestion 3: Blog on LinkedIn - Carefully

My biggest challenge with LinkedIn’s new publishing platform (which as a blogger, I was very excited to try) was that I wasn’t sure exactly how my blogging and voice on LinkedIn would target my audience there.

Generally, career advice does the best on LinkedIn, with business topics coming in second, but I was spreading myself too thin by trying to find topics for both my website and for LinkedIn.

I didn’t approach blogging on LinkedIn with a careful enough strategy, and when you don’t do this, blogging gets annoying for a LinkedIn audience. It gets annoying because LinkedIn blasts all of your connections with a notification every time you post something.

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As a result of my non-strategic efforts and LinkedIn's built-in promotion efforts, I was getting a lot of views but not a lot of engagements. I was posting things too often, or things that weren’t of real value to my audience, I was essentially being annoying.

This is the opposite of how I wanted to create a loyal audience and following - and in the end, drive more traffic back to my website.

I stopped posting on LinkedIn early in the year - it just wasn’t a sustainable enough feat without a solid plan, and it honestly is working better for me.

Maybe it’s something I will pick up again in the future (I do think the concept is really cool), but until I can find a real purpose or motivation behind it, the numbers just weren’t strong enough.

Overall, these insights helped me to improve my LinkedIn strategy for this year and get to the right place with my audience and goals.

Finally Landing in the Right place

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While I am absolutely sure it’s not perfect and that there’s room for improvement, I think I finally landed in the right starting point with my personal brand.

I’m excited about my new website, my new voice, and the goals that I have set for myself.

This year I want to drive more conversions through my site, start more conversations on social media, let my personal voice shine, and really track my progress.

My personal brand journey isn’t over, but I’m happy to definitively say for the first time - things are looking up.

If you’ve had an trouble building your personal brand and want to talk about it, leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’d love to hear your story.