By Amy Spelman

Remember when social media was new?

It seems like ages ago, but I do.

For brands used to print media and TV ads, "social media" felt like the Wild West of communications.

Around that time I was working for a large PR agency. Some of our corporate clients were opposed to the idea of having a social media presence for their brands. It seemed risky (what if people had bad things to say about them?), and it was hard to get a precise read on the benefits.

They thought: if we don’t put our brand on Facebook, Twitter, etc., it won’t be vulnerable to any potential negative communications happening in those channels.

Looking back, it seems quite obvious that they were missing an opportunity; just because companies didn’t put their brands on social media themselves, it didn’t prevent consumers from talking about them there.

Essentially, if a brand wants to control its perception - whether that’s on social media or in other communication channels - it can’t just relinquish that control.

The same is true for people; if you want to influence the narrative of your personal brand, it takes some effort.

For many of us, the idea of having a personal brand seems lofty - only for the likes of Oprah or Barack Obama.

But here’s the thing: you already have a personal brand, even if it doesn’t yet feel like a brand.

Your personal brand informs the feedback you receive in 360 evaluations; it’s behind the reason clients choose to work with you or the competition; it’s why the investor did or didn’t choose to give you funding; it’s how you come across in a job interview.

Your personal brand is all of these things and more, which is why it’s worthy of your attention and effort.

And this is why we created an offering dedicated to personal branding: to help our clients make the strongest impact with theirs.

I spent the first several years of my career in the business of branding companies - working with names like W Hotels, American  Express, Leading Hotels of The World, Pfizer, Merck, Penn Mutual, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection - helping to position them in the best possible ways.

I realized pretty early on, though, that what I’m most passionate about is helping individuals position themselves for success.

Turns out, many parallels can be drawn between the worlds of corporate branding and personal brands.

Let’s take an example: W Hotels.

Chances are, you’ve either stayed at one yourself, or you’re at least familiar with the brand.

If I asked you to, you could probably describe a W Hotel pretty easily - words like “design,” “luxury,” “vibrant,” may come to mind - and that’s largely because it has a strong brand.

That didn’t happen overnight, of course; the brand has spent a considerable amount of time, effort and resources to help shape your perception of it.

To start, it needed to determine its target audience - what types of people would want to stay at a W Hotel? What would these guests care about? Importantly: what could a W Hotel offer that the many other luxury hotels - Four Seasons, The Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental - could not?  

Answering these questions allowed the brand to carve a niche for itself. For W Hotels, this meant placing more of an emphasis on music, fashion, and design than other luxury hospitality brands.

And the brand had to live up to its niche, both online - on its website and social media channels - and “offline” - i.e., how guests would actually experience the hotels when staying there, from the interior design to well curated playlists, and everything in between.

So, what can this teach us about personal branding? Of course, the process isn’t identical, but some of the same principles apply.

  • Always consider your target audience, and what they care about. For a personal brand this could be current and prospective clients, future employers, investors, the media, etc.

  • Understand the value you could bring to your audience. What are your strengths and unique offerings? How are you different from peers or competitors? And, as this article notes, it’s essential to be authentic and credible here; your personal brand should always feel true to yourself.

  • Carve your niche and create the content - a personal bio, an elevator pitch, etc. - to communicate what you stand for to your audience.

  • Finally, own your brand, both online - on your website, LinkedIn, blog, newsletters - and “offline” - how you present yourself, engage with clients, speak on a panel, etc.

Back to my former PR clients…

They eventually put their brands on social media. They realized that if they wanted to influence the perception of their brands, they needed to take ownership of it on those channels.

Similarly, it’s up to you to own your personal brand. But it’s more than that; taking the steps to make your brand stronger will deliver lasting benefits. You’ll stand out from the competition, create deeper connections with your audience, feel more confident, and more.

And, as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

(Ready to get started? Learn more about our Personal Brand offering here.)

Amy Spelman has a wealth of communications and branding experience to her name. What she’s most passionate about, though, is helping individuals position themselves for success. She specializes in personal branding and career coaching. You can reach her here.