On Personal Branding
Recently Paul Irish asked me how I established and grew my personal brand. Apparently when I first met Paul, I introduced myself with my first and last name, then quickly pointed out how I was really interested in mobile web stuff.
Thinking back on that, it sounds a bit douchey, sort of like Ned Ryerson sneaking up on Phil with a firm handshake then jumping right into his life insurance pitch. But this unconscious action apparently stuck with Paul (and possibly others), and created an association between my name and what I care about. That to me sounds more genuine than an impromptu sales pitch.
Perhaps I’ve spent too much time hovering around the agency world, but I do believe establishing a personal brand is important for a lot of reasons. Jobs, technologies and trends come and go, but you as an individual remain. I’m not saying you shouldn’t contribute to your employer’s brand, or avoid posting on 3rd party sites and social networks. But I do think it’s important to simultaneously grow your own brand while contributing value to your employer, your favorite open source project, design community or whatever. Don’t forget to put some eggs in your own basket.
Here’s some thoughts on how I feel you should go about growing a strong personal brand:
1. Be Sincere
Sincerity is of utmost importance with regards to your personal brand (and everything else for that matter). Define yourself by the things you are passionate about, not by what you think will score you brownie points. Too often I see people define themselves by a spray of acronyms and buzzwords, and that makes me sad. I’m sure these people truly care about the things they do, but they feel the need to impress by flexing their buzzword vocabulary.
I promise you that your value as a human being trumps your supposed interest in “branding, identity design, UX, SEO, SEM, CSR, entrepreneurship & PR.”
Establish what things you truly care about, and use those as the way you introduce yourself to the world. You’ll be amazed how quickly you find yourself engaged in conversation with people who care about similar things.
2. Establish a style/tone
Your style and tone of voice should reflect who you are as a person. Again, I see a lot of people bending over backwards to appease their environments while sacrificing the very things that make them interesting as individuals. Don’t do that. Especially on the internet, you don’t need a permission slip to be yourself.
I like to swear. I like to joke around. I’ve always loved the color orange. I’m attracted to certain aesthetic styles. I’ve learned that I’m most effective when I’m able to be myself, so I do all that I can to put myself in those environments.
Finding your tone of voice, visual and personal style takes a lot of time as your tastes are always changing. But that’s alright, because hopefully you’re changing right along with your tastes.
3. Be Consistent
Consistency is key, especially considering all the different online channels you can find yourself in: Twitter, Facebook, Dribbble, Github, Instagram, Path, Google+, Pinterest, Forrst, StackOverflow, Hacker News, etc, etc, etc. You get the point.
Your true personality along with your style and tone should shine through in whatever environment you’re in. I find a consistent avatar, color scheme, bio and other details help tie things together nicely, but make sure you adapt things a bit so to fit the environment. Ultimately make sure your personality is consistently reflected in whatever online channels you’re involved with. It gives people an opportunity to learn what you’re really about.
4. Have a Hub
My personal website is my home base for a lot of reasons. I own all of my content. I have complete control over what I put on my site. I don’t have to worry if a certain network gets sold or shut down. I can style things to my heart’s desire (If only I had time).
But more than anything, my personal website is the glue that ties everything together. I can point anyone to my website to learn more about me, see my work or read my thoughts. I don’t have to worry if they aren’t on Facebook or don’t know how the hell to use Twitter.
It becomes the canonical link for you as a person. It’s great to be able to easily link to Paul’s website here and at the top of this post, so the one person who doesn’t know who Paul is can go check out all the great stuff he’s up to.
More than superficiality
I hate marketing and superficial culture. I suppose that means I should hate all this branding stuff too, since it revolves around ME ME ME and how other people perceive you. But I don’t hate it at all. Establishing a strong personal brand provides amazing opportunities to connect with others in a very sincere way. Share your true personality and passions with the world and you’ll be surprised where it takes you.