3 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Personal Brand on Social Media, and What to Do Instead

20 Feb

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Fact: Everybody has a personal brand, whether they want one or not.

Of course, “personal brand” is just a fancier, buzzword-ier way of saying “identity.” (Thank Fast Company magazine, which is largely credited with coining the term in the summer of 1997.) When people think about you, what do they think of you? What makes you you? That’s your personal brand.

It’s true. You don’t have to work in marketing or spend any time “working on your brand” to have one. (Though, as Jeanne Jennings recently wrote, these days, we’re all marketers.) That’s because your “brand” is not your job title or what you tell people it is. It’s largely based on how people see you and what their perception of you is. You can try to manage or define your “brand,” or try not to have one at all, but ultimately, it’s not completely in your control.

Your brand can incorporate anything from if you’re a Mac person or a PC person. If you’re a constant self-promoter. If you go to the movies all the time or eat too many cupcakes (guilty on both counts). If you’re all business or you keep things well balanced. If you’re all about your family. If you’re a downer or constant complainer. If you love to travel or go to concerts. If you’re all about your appearance. If you’re fond of certain buzzwords. If you’re religious. If you’re kind. If you like or don’t like GIFs. If you’re always producing content. If you’re hypocritical. And so on. Whatever characteristics or hobbies or interests people associate with you, for better and for worse.

(And yes, it’s worth noting that not all brands are “good” or positive ones. Our current President* is a perfect example of that. Strong brand; bad guy.)

We all want to work with and buy from (and vote for) people we know, like, and trust. Which is one reason why smart companies are encouraging their employees to have their own personal brands. And hiring managers often make decisions based on a person’s personal brand. So your “brand” matters, regardless of how much attention you give it.

Here are three personal branding mistakes you may be making, and what you should be doing instead.

1. Focusing too much on having a personal brand

I’ve long been a fan of this quote by Frank Eliason, who is best known for transforming the customer service culture at Comcast: “I personally never wanted a personal brand. I just simply did what I was passionate about.” His point is simple: The more preoccupied you are with having a personal brand, the more superficial it feels and the less authentic it is. Just do your thing.

What you should be doing instead: Be conscious of your brand

There’s a difference between focusing on your brand and being conscious of it. With the former, you spend lots of time promoting an image of yourself. You keep asking, “Is doing this in line with my brand?” And as a result, your image can come off as artificial and fake, or hypocritical. That said, it is important to be aware of the image you’re putting out to the world, on social media and otherwise.

For example, look at your last 10–15 Facebook posts, tweets (and replies), or photos on Instagram. What do they tell people? Are your posts always about you? Do you complain, criticize, or mock others too often? Are you posting in a way that gets people to engage, and are you replying to people (whether they mention you first or not)? Are you only posting about your employer (despite a disclaimer in your bio that says views are your own). Are you posting too often? Are you too focused on one topic that doesn’t really reflect your other interests? Are you sharing the same blog post or video over and over with little variation? Are you too political? Are there a lot of typos? What words and hashtags are you using most often? Ask yourself: Is this the message you want to be sending? It’s a good idea to take stock of your social presence every now and then, because all of this reflects on your brand and others’ perception of you.

2. Confusing your value with other people’s value

If you’ve spent much time on social media, you’ve likely seen people say you build a brand by curating and sharing lots of content to “add value.” But here’s the thing: If you’re curating content from multiple sources, and sharing it constantly, it’s not your value you’re sharing; it’s other people’s. Especially if you’re just re-sharing or retweeting other people’s posts without adding any of your own context. If everybody is sharing content — the same content — how does that make you unique?

What you should be doing instead: Share yourself more often

The best way to differentiate yourself from other people is to be yourself. For example, rather than just sharing an article or blog post, share why it interests you or why others should care about it. Instead of repeating the headline, share your own perspective, or point of view. Make the content your own. Find a context, timely or otherwise, that makes it more relevant. Or, better yet, instead of treating social media like an RSS feed and constantly broadcasting content for the sake of having a presence, why not focus on conversation and seek out opportunities to proactively inject your personality and unique insights? The more you think of social media as a place to engage with other people and build relationships, the more memorable you’ll be. And after all, if you care about your personal brand, isn’t being unique and memorable the whole point?

3. Not “walking the walk”

One reason not to focus so much on defining and promoting your brand is because there’s often a disconnect between what you want the brand to be and what it actually is. When your actions don’t match with the words you share, that has a negative effect on your brand. For example, if you keep telling people to be more social, but you yourself hardly ever interact with anyone. Or if you tell people you’re an expert, but you never share any actual expertise.

What you should be doing instead: Focus on your actions, not your words

As with nearly anything, when it comes to personal branding, actions speak much louder than words. Don’t be writing checks that your social posts can’t cash. Remember: With all we share on social media, it’s easy to look “under the hood” and see if someone is really walking the walk. So leave a trail with your actions.

Focus on “how” you share

Of course, it must be said that everybody uses each social media platform differently, and everybody has a different purpose for being there. And yes, your brand is more than just what you post on social media. But regardless, what it comes down to is that regardless of what you’re sharing and where, what’s most important is how you’re sharing.

The more you can share yourself — on social media and elsewhere — the stronger your personal brand will be, and the more easily you’ll be able to build more personal connections. When people know you and like you, they pay attention to you, they remember you, and they care more about the things you share. If you focus more on being a person, and less on your “brand,” that will translate more authentically and organically. And as a result, your brand will be more credible and endearing.

Or, said a different way, I’ll re-share that Frank Eliason quote from earlier: “I personally never wanted a personal brand. I just simply did what I was passionate about.”

2 Responses to “3 Mistakes You’re Making with Your Personal Brand on Social Media, and What to Do Instead”

  1. Dr Andrew Albert March 3, 2018 at 9:16 am #

    As Martin would say…. “Just do your thing” It’s totally true. The more authentic you are, (dying your beard blue….riding with a sign on your back….) the more people identify with the truest version of you. Isn’t that what you want in the first place? The total antithesis of being a “Kardashian”.


  1. Here’s to My Future. But First, Here’s to My Yesterday! | Martin's Musings - December 31, 2018

    […] year, I was invited to speak at an event in San Antonio, Texas, about personal branding. While I was in town, I was invited to try Whattaburger, but that ended up being less exciting than […]

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