Trying to build a personal brand? Stop talking about yourself.

In a world where social media platforms are the ultimate amplifiers, it is absolutely imperative to build a “personal brand.” And to be quite honest, with the opportunity that these platforms offer, it’s not that hard.

Everyone reading this knows what a personal brand is, so I will spare you the background. The importance of branding yourself is key, and most everyone knows what a strong personal brand looks like.

And yet, the amount of people doing a poor job in branding themselves is shocking. This is particularly true amongst my peers: college students or recent grads entering the workforce for the first time.

Here’s the issue: too many people identify “personal brand” with talking about themselves. They start a personal website or blog, and talk about their history, their passions, and their opinions.

All good, right? Sounds great.

Wrong. Nobody actually cares about your history, passions and opinions.

That sounds harsh, but this is the exact process I’ve seen play out hundreds of times in my own social media circles:

  1. Student is told they should start a blog to build their “personal brand” and make themselves stand out from their peers.
  2. Student starts a blog, writes a really thoughtful piece about themselves for the first entry.
  3. Student shares the post on their Facebook page and their LinkedIn profile. They get a lot of positive comments and feedback. Everybody says congrats. Student feels great — they’re onto something!
  4. Student keeps writing about themselves and their experiences. On the second post, less people comment on it. By the third, nobody does. Enthusiasm is lost.
  5. Student continues to post a few more times, stops receiving feedback, gives up on blog and chalks it up as a loss and a futile effort.
  6. Student returns to binge watching Netflix, filling out job applications, and putting random job titles and “experiences” on their resume.

Point #6 may sound a bit harsh, yes. But it really happens. And while most complain about not having an audience, they miss out on the true reason why their “personal brand” hasn’t taken off:

The content they were producing has little to no value to anyone around them.

Here’s the secret to personal brand building: The people with the strongest ones are bringing incredible value to their audience — whether that is 10 million people, or 12 friends.

They do it through humor, expert advice, well-researched theories, and more. They don’t talk about their spontaneous trips to the ice cream shop; instead, they talk about the things their audience cares about. They inform, educate, and entertain.

Think of the people whose content you consume. Even simpler, think about the people that you admire and respect as friends or colleagues. You don’t admire those people because they talk about themselves and what makes them stand out. You admire them because they bring some level of value into your life.

Before you can talk about yourself, you need to win approval and permission through your content. Even the world’s biggest mega-personal brands — think Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Lebron James, and the like — don’t talk about themselves in their marketing messages. They provide some sort of value, whether that’s new music, or a new joke, or a motivational quote.

Instead of continuing to bash on people and their personal websites, here’s my quick cheat sheet on how to build a “personal brand” without talking about yourself:

1) Be different.

Basic fact: It’s really tough to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Trying to play the same angles as everyone else often means getting lost in the shuffle. In creating content to build your own brand, find a way to make YOUR content different. That could be as radical as discussing a totally different subject matter, or it could be a difference in the way you present it.

2) Leverage your expertise/passion.

Everyone has an expertise. That sounds corny and cliche, but it’s true. Your expertise may not be something really broad and universal, but you still have one. And you can produce content from it.

Here’s an off-hand example: Maybe you’re really, really good at finding coupons and sales at your local stores. That sounds like a great how-to blog post or video series to me. Your friends check it out and share it, and then it starts to catch some eyes. You follow that up with a daily “Deals Alert” content fixture on Twitter, and add major value to people in your community. Three months later, when you apply for a job in the area, the office manager says “Oh, you’re the girl who finds all the coupons! I love that.” You’ve built a brand as a person who helps others and really hones her craft.

3) Embrace the platform that fits you.

This should be obvious. If you’re a great writer, embrace Medium. If you’re great at delivering hilarious one-liners, embrace Twitter. If you have charisma and high energy, embrace YouTube and Snapchat. If you have a great eye for stunning photographs, try to blow up your Instagram.

Whichever platform best fits your storytelling ability is the one you should spend most of your time and creativity on. Utilize one or two others as a means to grow the audience on your primary channel.

Pro tip: If you’re going to commit to blogging, don’t make a “MyName.wordpress.com” blog. Use Medium, create a custom domain, or volunteer to guest blog for established sites. Those are the three ways to go.

(Remember: It’s about quality, not quantity. While it may be much tougher to build a massive audience on a certain platform, that doesn’t mean you should pass on it if it really fits you. Building a strong brand from the ground up is all about how people think of you, not how many people know your name.)

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You’ve stayed until the end, so it’s time to admit the dirty little secret behind this piece: I’m trying to build MY own personal brand by creating and sharing content that adds value and breaks through the daily noise.

I truly appreciate your time and consideration in reading this post.

P.S. — I would love to hear any other personal brand building tips that you have seen or utilize yourself. Hit me on Twitter @Edgar_Walker or shoot me an email at edgar@surge4.com!

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