Whether you’re searching for new clients, applying for a job or optimising your public image with a view to long-term career growth, the strength of your personal brand will profoundly affect your level of success. A vast array of factors play into your brand, from the digital footprint you leave across various social media to your reputation as an authority in your field. This guide offers advice on how to optimise these and other facets of your personal brand – we guarantee you’ll be able to take away an actionable tip or two to improve your appeal as a prospective employee or service provider.

Start with a clear goal in mind

The first step towards creating a strong personal brand is deciding what you’d like that brand to look like. Are you a creative maverick, a trust-worthy partner, a leading authority, or a digital transformer capable of sparking change within traditional organisations?

Of course you may be any combination of these things, or something else entirely – the important point is that you must distil your key brand offering into a few highly communicable points. Nothing you are seen to do or say should contradict this message, and a great deal of what you do should explicitly reinforce it.

A few things to consider when developing your core brand message:

  • Be true to yourself – A good personal brand message will sell your genuine personal strengths.
  • Keep your customers in mind – Your message needs to be honest, but it also needs to be tailored to your target audience. For example, a person with creative skills may find more success by selling themselves as a creative problem-solver for brands, rather than simply as a creative person.
  • Make your message communicable – Whatever the industry, the profession or the situation, hirers and commissioners are invariably seeking a solution to a certain problem. With this in mind, it’s generally wise to clearly communicate the specific solutions you provide in your personal brand message.

Beautify your digital footprint

We’re almost ready to start communicating your personal brand message through a choice selection of channels and methods – but first we need to clean up your existing digital footprint.

From transgressive party photos on your Facebook profile (don’t take that as a personal accusation) to off-brand messaging on your website or Twitter, the vast majority of people are linked to public material that could compromise their brand.

This matters, because clients and recruiters are watching. According to one recent survey from ExecuNet, an extraordinary 90% of executive recruiters say they routinely research candidates online before they hire – a trend which is mirrored by professional recruiters and hirers at every level.

The simplest way to gain an insight into your digital footprint as it appears to prospective clients is to Google yourself. As a rule, you’re going to find broadly the same results as the prospective business partners or employers who are likely to be Googling you too, though you should be conscious that your location and search history may affect your results.

Google your name in isolation, and then with various combinations of keywords related to your work or location, e.g. “John Brown Marketing”, “John Brown Digital Marketer”, “John Brown Marketer Bristol”. Investigate and log every search result that refers to you, and make a note of any instances of compromising content. Obviously you should disregard material relating to namesakes.

Once you’ve audited the parts of your digital footprint which are most visible via Google search, you can take steps to remedy any problems. For example, you might:

  • Ask a friend to remove an inappropriate social media post
  • Tighten the privacy settings on a personal social media profile
  • Delete an off-brand comment or post you made years ago on social media or a forum
  • Post a measured response to a negative comment made about your work

Use social media to forge a powerful brand

Social media is one of the most effective and affordable channels you can use to build your personal brand. The average internet user spends 118 minutes per day on social media. Assuming your prospective associates follow the trend or thereabouts, and assuming you can secure a decent share of voice within your professional area, that’s plenty of opportunity to get your message across.

Social media can be used for various professional purposes, from promoting a product to establishing authority. We’re going to talk briefly about how to nail the basics of a social platform, before moving on to some more adventurous ways to further your brand through social media.

The basics

The characteristics of a professional’s social media account are bound to colour how its owner is perceived by other people. To a stranger who you’re in touch with primarily or entirely through online communications, your social accounts are one of the best clues as to who you are, much as your personality or appearance would be in a face-to-face context. With this in mind, making your social profiles sparkle is a clear priority. Here are a few foundational points you need to have in place:

  • Separate personal and work accounts – Refer to the previous section on your digital footprint.
  • Completeness – Most social media platforms help their users to create strong profiles by signposting the next steps to take towards completing the profile. Sticking to your chosen brand message and any related guidelines at all times, make your social profiles as complete as possible. Where prompted, add portfolio examples, business contact details, profile pictures and links to other social profiles or your website. Every item of content you upload to your social accounts should be properly vetted for quality – no blurry or stretched images, no spelling errors, no incorrect links, etc.
  • Audience size – Whilst many in the digital marketing industry would rightly argue that the quality of your social audience is generally more important than its size, we must nonetheless recommend that you put some time into populating your follower/subscriber/fan/friend lists as well as you possibly can. To some people, low audience figures may signal amateurism or a lack of digital knowhow, whilst a high count may be seen as an asset and a commendation. Make sure you’ve used whichever tools you have at your disposal to connect with your real-world professional and social networks on your social platforms. Also consider taking further steps to grow your network, such as sponsored Facebook posts or reaching out to new contacts on Twitter.
  • Create a post schedule – It’s tricky to build a great brand image on social media if you rarely post content. Even if the majority of your posts are brief and you can’t spare the time to write something every day, make sure they’re published at regular intervals, as this will show the world that you’re organised and strategic in your approach. To simplify the task, use a social media management tool like Hootsuite, which allows you to upload post drafts in bulk and schedule them to publish whenever you like.

Social media brand development strategies

With the basics now thoroughly catered for, we can move on to some advanced tactics for promoting and developing your brand on social media. You can absolutely count on these approaches improving your personal brand – and they may even help you to establish yourself as a social influencer.

  • Reach out – Use a softly-softly approach to build connections with potential leads or people you admire within your sector. Start by reaching out with a friend request or follow, engage with some smart or supportive comments on their posts, then follow up with a proposition when you judge the time to be right. Think of this as targeted personal brand development – you’re presenting the very best of yourself to the perfect audience.
  • Make valuable contributions to high profile conversations – Find hot discussions on topics within your area of expertise (e.g. a comment thread on a high profile figure’s tweet), formulate a valuable response and add your voice to the debate. It’s likely that a high proportion of these comments won’t gain much traction – but the few which spark follows, shares, retweets and so on will make this worth your while.
  • Become a recognised authority – Establish your expertise by regularly posting original content that demonstrates your expertise and usefulness. This could include vlogs, analysis of relevant current affairs, written guides, or media coverage of your work. Social media activity of this sort can be particularly effective when paired with media appearances as an expert commentator or as a guest columnist (for example, if you’re a digital marketer, you could try pitching a guest blog post to a site like Moz). Always seek to gain maximum publicity for your authority-building posts, whether by sponsoring them or by tagging the people and businesses you feature in your content – some will be kind enough to share it.

For more social inspiration, see our feature on the social media success stories of 2016.

Build trust

Nobody hires a service they don’t trust. Think of the first time you used your dentist, your bank or your hairdresser – in each case you’re taking on an element of risk, but that doubt is mitigated by a prevailing trust in the service provider. You knew there was an outside chance that you may have the wrong tooth operated on, you may lose your savings and you may even get a bad haircut – but in each case there was enough to recommend the service to you to seal the deal. This teaches us that the more we can do to mitigate doubt in our services – and in our personal brands – the better our chances of our success.

At the very outset of a business relationship, it cannot truly be said that the trust of either party has been earned by the other at that point in time – they have no history. However, trust can be conferred by a third party onto the service provider, in the form of a recommendation, a testimonial, a trust badge or a reference to a previous or ongoing work relationship.

Digital professionals can leverage trust borrowed from high authority figures and bodies by referring to impressive clients in their online profiles, marketing materials and pitches; adding logos from trusted industry authorities like Google or the Chartered Institute of Marketing to their sites; and featuring praise from respected figures in their social media output. Don’t fall into the trap of viewing this approach as boastful – it’s a vital tactic for building trust.

Monitor your online mentions

Maintaining a strong personal brand doesn’t have to be a full-time job, but it does need to be a long-term commitment.

A major part of this commitment is keeping tabs on what others are saying about you online – a task which can be simplified greatly through the use of a media monitoring tool like Mention.

Mention, and a few others like it, can track mentions of your name or brand name across social media and other parts of the web, such as news websites. This can be a big help in managing your personal brand – on the one hand flagging up negative comments which require a careful response and on the other, directing you to positive mentions which can be fed into your future marketing activities.