Over the weekend I heard a great quote that summed up the current perception problem when it comes to personal branding. “Friendship and sharing seem to take a backseat to the heightened and superficial presentation of self.” (K. Schultz, CBC Radio).
The Science and Art of Personal Branding – 4 Easy Tips
There is some truth to that if you extend your personal brand strategy to face to face interactions – which would be weird and very off putting. I also appreciate that there are plenty of social media skeptics still out there that think an online presence isn’t “real”. Ideally, all relationships would have the benefit of starting in person but that is not a current reality. Personal branding did not arise out of a need to determine how best to present yourself at a dinner party but rather how to best present yourself online.
Before you meet most of your future clients, associates and partners their first impression of you will be entirely digital. They will Google your name, read through various pieces of information and come to a preliminary decision about what kind of person you are without ever exchanging a word with you. You need to take charge of your personal brand so they come to an accurate assessment.
I decided to take a scientific approach and conducted a poll of 60 professionals in the health and client services industries to collect their thoughts on personal branding. Data revealed that every one of them pre-screened people online and put the most weight on the personal LinkedIn profile. Why? The expectation was that:
- Experienced professionals know they need to manage their online personal brand as an extension of their reputation and, by association, that of their business;
- A professional has complete freedom to set up their LinkedIn profile to best reflect their personal brand – who they are, their areas of expertise and what their interests are; and
- Inconsistencies in personal branding across social media platforms and the business website matter and create a negative first impression
What does this mean for you? It means take the time to get your LinkedIn profile polished and reflecting the first impression you want to make. Make sure all of your social media platforms are working together to build “your story”. Find that balance between the science and art of creating and maintaining your personal brand.
Your LinkedIn Profile
Tip #1 Add a Professional Picture & Backdrop
Science: People instinctively trust more when they can clearly see a face, particularly the eyes, and they feel more relaxed and happy when that face is smiling.
How can you go wrong inspiring feelings of trust and happiness in potential clients, associates and partners?
Art: Why not take the time to customize your backdrop to best capture what you do or how you do it. It helps you stand out from the crowd and shows you have attention to detail. It sounds trite but it is true, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Tip #2 Summary Section
Science: Identify your personal brand keywords and phrases – the words that capture what is unique to you as a person and the expertise you bring to your industry. Further highlight these keywords by using all uppercase font and/or bullet points to immediately draw the eye. You want the Summary to speak directly to your target clients, associates and partners.
These words and phrases will form not only a critical part of your LinkedIn profile but should also be reflected in the bios of your other social media platforms and your website.
Art: I consider being an easy conversationalist an art. Being able to draw people into your stories and share a bit about yourself. PLEASE, if you do nothing else on your profile, remove all text written in the third person. Your LinkedIn profile should be written as though you were talking to a potential client about your background and expertise. If someone approached you at a cocktail party and started talking about themselves in the third person you would run away.
Tip #3 Skills & Endorsements
Science: Take the time to keep your skills in numerical order such that skills with the most endorsements appear at the top of the list. When the skills are all jumbled it looks unorganized and reflects a lack of attention to detail – not a great first impression. Brains like to see order and if they don’t see it then they will try to create it. I know from personal experience that instead of taking in the person’s skill set my mind is occupied trying to rank the skills into the proper numerical order.
Art: Think about the overall first impression you want to generate and the expertise you bring to your industry. Select defined skills that work towards building your personal brand and highlighting your core areas of expertise. Selecting vague skills like “strategy” or “management” doesn’t tell your story.
Be careful to not overextend in the number of skills you select otherwise you run the risk of appearing like a generalist with a lack of depth in any one area.
Tip #4 Sharing Content
Science: The content you share, whether it is created or curated, is a direct reflection on you. It reflects your expertise, your personal interest, your philosophy to work or life. Create a content strategy that supports your personal brand initiatives. It doesn’t need to be complex and it will guide you in making consistent choices with respect to topics and quality. Keep track of the metrics provided by LinkedIn to help you further fine tune your personal brand strategy.
Never share content you have not fully read. I have heard many stories about people sharing articles on LinkedIn based solely on the title only to discover that the author of the article had differing views from their own.
Art: If you have taken the time and effort to create original content to share why not add some extra time to add visuals. Content with a visual aspect such as pictures, infographics or videos is perceived to provide greater value to the reader in comparison to content without a visual component. Adding visuals does take time but it is better to have fewer high quality posts then dozens of daily low quality posts. There are many great resources available to get started.
BONUS TIP #5 Consistency Across All Social Media Platforms
If you are using multiple social media platforms as part of your personal brand make sure they look like they belong together. Consistency is the key to building an effective personal brand. Use pictures and backdrops that are similarly branded with respect to colour, design, keywords and phrases so that potential clients, associate and partners know right away it is you.
You are trying to build “your story” so people can get to know you in the absence of having a direct meeting. Disconnected pieces of you online doesn’t build a personal brand. It comes across as lacking focus and strategy. Take the time to make sure the online first impression you are creating is a positive one.
There are some things that will never go out of style. Being polite, professional and respectful in person and online is the best foundation for your personal brand. Just because you are mindfully creating and maintaining your personal brand does not make you less genuine. In fact, it shows you care about your potential clients, associates and partners enough to share the real you with them as best as you can.
Jennifer Arnold, Founder, Ph.D. in neuroscience
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