In the past, when you worked for a company you represented that company in anything you did. Now, though? You still represent your company, but in order to stay competetive, you also have to represent yourself.
That’s where personal branding comes in.
Earlier this week I was a panelist at Media Branding 2.0, an event hosted by personal branding guru Dan Schawbel, where we discussed personal branding, social media, and how to make yourself stand out in the crowded media landscape. The audience was made up of entrepreneurs, marketing and PR professionals, and members of the media who wanted to learn more about how to use social networking to their advantage, but the lessons on personal branding can be applied to anyone, in pretty much any field. All you have to want to do is stand out in a crowd — you define what that “crowd” is and how you navigate within it.
No matter your situation, building your brand boils down to a few key points:
1. Identify your niche. What skills, expertise, or abilities to you have to offer? What unique insight to you have, or what is it that you do particularly well?
2. Scope out your competition. There is always competition — what is yours doing? Who else has the same skills that you have to offer? How are they marketing themselves?
3. Figure out where they’ve dropped the ball. What do they offer, and what are they missing? If they’re not missing anything in particular, look at how they’re presenting themselves, how they’re reaching out to prospective clients (or endearing themselves to their bosses or coworkers). Can you do it differently and get a better result?
4. Pick that ball up and run with it. Put yourself out there and let people know what you can do. This is where social media comes into play.
There are huge differences between social media sites. Twitter has a short shelf life — the information zooms past, and the more followers you have the less information you see from each — but you can still use it to your advantage. Facebook may seem too personal — you don’t necessarily want your clients to see pictures of your babies, and do you really want your boss to know what you did last night? — but you can create a “fan page” for your business or even yourself, allowing your clients and followers to interact with you while keeping some parts of your personal life private. LinkedIn is the most formal of them all — it’s basically your resume, references, and links posted in a public place — but recruiters lurk there and you need to know how to use it effectively. (MySpace? Unless you’re in a band and want to share audio clips, stay away — it’s not a great site for professionals.)
I think that the trap many people fall into is that of thinking of social media sites as safe, personal, and private places that belong to them when really, they’re not — anything you put up there could potentially be read by anyone else, even if you change all of your settings to “private” (you know how to copy and paste, right? Well, so does everyone else) and even if you’ve deleted an entry or post (feed readers pick up everything, but you can’t access other people’s in order to delete items from your feed). But if you think of those social media sites as tools with specific uses, then it’s possible to be active on them without jeopardizing yourself or your career.
How are you staying ahead of the competition in your field?