Why Social Media is Not the Key to Your Personal Brand



8 min read

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Today, building an online brand is all the rage. 

After all, a whopping 4.2 billion people are active social media users — that’s 56.4% of the total world population, according to the Global State of Digital Report 2021, seven in 10 Americans use social media to connect, engage news content, share information and entertain themselves, according to Pew Research. Buying into the notion that your digital reputation is your biggest asset, there is great pressure to carve out a coherent online brand identity, share content relevant to a target audience, attract likes on posts and build a loyal following. 

Algorithmically speaking, the hunt for likes is meant to translate into an increase in followers. More followers might mean more conversions — which you hope means more website visits, email sign-ups, leads to purchase and an expanded network and professional connections. It is no wonder that many entrepreneurs and career professionals are eager to develop their own personal brand, build their business and advance their careers by using social media. Getting noticed online and developing a “tribe” of loyal fans is seen to be an easy pathway to achieve business and career goals, and to become — in the words of one personal branding guru — “a celebrity in your industry.” 

Related: 22 Statistics That Prove the Value of Personal Branding

Yet, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to equate personal branding with posting on social media in a relentless desire to be visible, known and popular. Rather than a tool to convey and communicate their personal brand, social media is fast becoming a substitute for it. Many career professionals and entrepreneurs have been led to believe that all they need to do to build a strong personal brand is to establish a digital reputation, not realizing that they have to actually discover and define their personal brand first — before they can leverage and market it to access the growth opportunities they seek in their industry or niche.

To reduce your personal brand to social media metrics is to miss its value as a consequential career management strategy. So, what does it take to build a compelling personal brand and become recognized for your skills, experiences and unique value versus your social following? I offer these recommendations:

1. Treat personal branding as a serious career management strategy

Personal branding is, in reality, about your reputation. Your personal brand is a total of your personality, skills, expertise, experience and core values. It’s what you are known for and associated with. It’s the beliefs and impressions that others hold about you. Your personal brand should convey four things:

  • Who you are as a person (your human skills)
  • What you specialize in doing (your occupational skills)
  • What you believe in and the standards that you live by (your personal values
  • What your prospects can expect when they come into contact with you (public perception)

In other words, your personal brand can be seen as the positive expectation people feel when they deal with you or enter into a professional relationship with you. 

This makes your personal brand an asset. It is this personal capital that gives others — employers, colleagues, customers, suppliers, clients — the confidence to want to work with you; to trust that you can deliver quality service because of your expertise, professionalism, character and value. Your personal brand precedes you. It sets you apart and provides both the starting point and cornerstone for building any successful career or business. 

2. Build a strong personal brand offline, then convey it online 

Any brand building must, of necessity, involve self-discovery and self-definition. You must truly know who you are and the unique value you bring to the table. Fundamentally, this self-(re)invention begins offline. There are several ways you can create a compelling brand offline:

Take on leadership roles. A sure way of building a solid and respected personal brand is to take on leadership roles in your organization, industry or niche. Stepping up your game and taking on leadership responsibilities gives you a chance to elevate your image and increase your brand equity by showing what you can deliver. People will gain insights into your vision and ideas. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you possess strong leadership skills such as communication, problem-solving and team-building as well as provide a big boost to your self-confidence.

Display thought leadership. Thought leaders are opinion leaders and experts in their field. They are often trusted authorities who inspire people with their innovative ideas and make meaningful contributions to knowledge in their field. Engaging in thought leadership establishes your authority and credibility, raises your visibility in your industry and increases the value of your personal brand in the eyes of others. To become a thought leader, you must be willing to share your expertise, become an outside-the-box thinker and be willing to go against the grain of how things have always been done. Begin by sharing your ideas with those around you — in meetings and presentations, at conferences in your field, and local organizations. 

Related: 10 Tips to Develop Your Personal Brand Through Thought Leadership

Deliver speeches and presentations. Public speaking is an incredibly powerful way to establish and position your personal brand. Speaking engagements are opportunities to showcase your expertise, enhance your credibility, as well as raise your voice in your niche. If you are just starting and don’t yet have a strong public profile, volunteer to speak at schools and colleges, clubs, charities. Your local chamber of commerce or church is a good starting point. You aim to get your message out and increase your recognition of your subject. Speaking also gives you a chance to tell your story and develop your communication skills. Impress at your speaking gig and you may even leave with prospects lining up to do business with you.

Teach. Teaching others what you know is a powerful and clever way to cultivate and strengthen your own personal brand. Whether it’s online or face-to-face, teaching is a neat way to establish your brand offline. Teaching provides an opportunity to expand your own knowledge, keep abreast of new developments in your field and learn new skills. It also helps you to build your authority and credibility in a specific area. It immediately tells people that you are an expert in your field.

Volunteer for a cause: Volunteering for a philanthropic cause you believe in is a positive way to articulate your values and communicate your personal brand through action. Is there a cause out there that aligns with your values? When you have a personal brand that communicates who you are and what you stand for, you will attract like-minded folks ready to support and to help you reflect your passion. Besides, individuals who have a strong sense of community and participate in active citizenship tend to access greater opportunities for success from having a respected and admirable personal brand. You can share what you are up to with your tribe on social media.

Related: How To Grow Your Personal Brand For Long-Term Success

3. Remember before social media, strong personal brands existed

It is important to bear in mind that no amount of likes and followers can create a strong, credible and respected personal brand. Long before the explosion of digital media, the rise of social media influencers and Instagram celebrities, powerful personal brands existed and flourished. Professionals of all persuasions were establishing their reputation offline through their expertise, experience, hard work and contribution to the community and important causes. “Influencers” were people known for their work, character and values, as well as their ability to affect change within a community, not for their following. Today, influencing is synonymous with the pursuit of fame; attention-seeking behaviors and performance; an obsession with like and follower count, largely designed to attract potential collaborations with big corporate brands, free products and services — plus, of course, cash. 

4. Know what personal branding is not 

Personal branding is suffering its own crisis of identity, seen largely as a tool for the pursuit of attention and celebrity versus the go-to instrument to build a reputation and a strong, respected identity. Driven by today’s influencer culture, consumerism and big tech, there is fierce competition for mass attention, popularity and social validation. Many entrepreneurs and professionals are repackaging themselves for sale. To become “fake famous” is the currency of our social media age. Yet to establish a strong, respected and enduring personal brand, your approach to personal branding must go beyond a strong digital reputation to one which understands and embraces your substantive value as a person — who you are and the unique value you bring to the table. To benefit your career, being able to strategically communicate this brand both offline and online is key.

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