Thursday, October 13, 2011

Personal Branding 3.0: Be Yourself

I have been thinking long and hard about a comment I got from a friend on my tweets.

"Who are you?" was the gist of it. "You don't talk like that in real life."

Defensively I tried to explain that people read my blog and tweets because of the useful information they get from it. Not to hear my self-indulgent ranting and raving. 

Plus it's a personal branding thing, I said. I'm trying to shape an image, I said. As a brand expert.

"Why?" was the reply. "You're not a brand consultant. Nobody is going to call you to pay you a million dollars to be one."

No, no, no, I protested. You are killing my dreams.

But I couldn't ignore the message.

"Get it? Just be who you are. Nobody cares."

In the beginning I just used it to dump my blogs on Facebook. Posterous does it automatically. 

My friends, who know me from way back when, were talking to each other like real people. But I wasn't comfortable chatting online like I do in real life. So I never connected with them. Except when I wrote a blog that was more contemplative. And I would read comments like, "Finally a blog I understand."

Why couldn't I just be myself? What was the big blockage?

I think like a lot of people I couldn't really talk about the things that mattered to me. So the fact that you could write about professional-related matters was a good outlet for my writing bug. And the belief that it would advance my career was a bonus.

Let me say that I do think blogging can serve a purpose when it comes to promoting your professional brand. If you want to establish yourself as an expert in a certain area, it is almost required that you do so.

At the same time, that expertise is rapidly becoming a commodity. As was also pointed out to me, how many "Top 10" lists can you write that are really novel? It's sort of superficial and annoying.

Which leaves us with the question. If you are blogging and tweeting (etc.), and you want your blog to promote your personal brand, how can you do so in a way that will set you apart from other people in the same field?

Maybe we can think of it this way:

* Personal Branding 1.0 was to blog your life.

* Personal Branding 2.0 was to blog your profession.

* Personal Branding 3.0 is to blog your passion.

Please do not misinterpret this: It's not about oversharing or taking away your right to privacy.

Rather, in today's world, to be an effective personal brand - meaning to be viewed as trustworthy, competent, relevant and unique - you have to blog about things that really matter to you. You have to be real. If your profession is something you are passionate about, it will by default get woven into your brand.

Like I am very interested in culture, because I am somewhat alienated from the religious Jewish community that I was raised in. So I became a sociologist. Which translates to understanding group behavior. Which is also consumer behavior. Which led me to the field of trend research and then branding.

There are many examples of people who do Personal Branding 3.0 effectively. Each has their own spin.

* Penelope Trunk provides career advice.

Shmarya Rosenberg takes on corruption in the Jewish community.

* Mike Vanderboegh is a citizen activist focusing on gun rights and corruption.

* The Bloggess ("Jenny"?) is a feminist mommy.

You may look at these blogs and think the writers are crazy. Or so real they're awesome and worthy of copycatting. But whatever you think, when you read the blogs I think you start to see the difference between writing that has the ring of authenticity, and writing that sounds self-promotional.

Do you remember "Archie Bunker"? When he used to rant about stuff that to him was "crapola"?

The feedback that I got cautioned me against putting stuff out there that seemed like a pile of pretentious crapola. I found a lot of meaning in that comment and am getting back to what matters to me. I have the sense that it will be a good thing. Blog about what I care about and stop looking for affirmation or recognition.

Looking ahead a few years, as more social-media-savvy people get into senior leadership roles, and they routinely Google their prospective hires before bringing them onboard, the blogs of those recruits will be examined too. And people will likely be filtered out NOT based on their technical skills. No - companies will be looking for recruits whose personality matches up with the corporate culture. 

(This is already being done today, to an extent, and it often screws people up, especially students, because they don't know what they're doing or how social media activity affects their brand - and they wind up establishing an image online that's viewed as unprofessional.)

In that sense, when you blog as yourself, about things that matter to you, you will probably find that it benefits your career by shuttling you toward organizations that are a good fit for your unique personality and aspirations.

In the beginning there was the paper resume. Then it became the LinkedIn profile. It is trending toward the infographic-style one-pager plus the sum total of your social media activity. 

If you want to brand yourself effectively for the job market of the future, it might be worthwhile to actually blog, tweet, etc. as yourself rather than the person you are trying to be. Doesn't mean you have to open up your private Facebook account to the world (although you should know that it is probably findable); does mean that people will judge you based on whether you're a likable, credible, interesting person who is relevant to the goals they are trying to achieve.

Thanks to the friend who gave me a little nudge in the right direction. I hope this advice is useful to you too.