The Google Guru and the Art of Storytelling
9 ways to develop your brand as an expert.
When I was in grad school, I remember my professor saying “do not use the word ‘guru’ to describe yourself on LinkedIn.” The more time I spent in the professional world, the more I realized how many people needed to hear this advice but clearly never received it.
When did the word ‘guru’ become associated with cheap branding and self-promotion? As an Indian-American, it personally hurts me to see this word, historically used in my country of birth to refer to someone highly esteemed by the community, taken by Americans and turned into cheap marketing. But my personal feelings aside, let’s look at what being a “guru” really means.
I know many people who don’t necessarily refer to themselves as “gurus” but still present themselves as experts on how others should live their lives. They use social media platforms to tell you how they can make you rich, successful, and “spiritual as hell” — to quote my favorite fake guru — J.P. Sears.
The irony is that most of these “gurus” are under 50 years old and aren’t actually rich, successful, or “spiritual as hell” themselves in real life. Many of them gain their “expertise” from the 3rd page of Google or YouTube University. These “gurus” only pretend to be experts on the internet. I get it, they are relying on the overused “fake it ’til you make it” strategy and I’m all for it. However, if you’re going to fake it, fake it well. If you half-ass your faking, you’re never gonna make it. That’s where the storytelling skills come in.
I’m not a guru. I’m too busy figuring out my own messy life to tell others how to live theirs. However, I do have an M.F.A. in writing and a couple of personal brands that I have been developing over the last five years. I can tell you that the best way to sell yourself and gain followers on the internet is to have a good, relatable story. If you want to be a “guru” on the internet, you need good storytelling skills. If you don’t have a relatable and interesting story to back up your brand, you have no substance.
You can tell people all day that chasing their dreams and following their hearts will make them rich and successful, but if you don’t have concrete examples from your own life about how you became successful and the strategies you used to get there, your words are meaningless fluff. If you want to teach people how to be more self-aware, how to make more money, or how to have better relationships, show them your story. That is your brand. If you don’t have your own story about the topic on which you are advising people, you have no authority to be a guru. No one will care what you have to say.
Here’s a little checklist to help you strengthen your brand’s story:
- Know what you’re selling. What exactly is your brand about? Wealth, family, lifestyle, spirituality? You can’t possibly be an expert on all of those so pick one.
- Begin your story by giving your audience specific examples from your life. Talk about where you struggled with money, relationships, spirituality, etc. Then show them how you learned to get out of that struggle. Don’t leave it up to their imagination or make it seem like magic.
- Don’t be fake. Live the life you preach. If you’re helping people get rich, make sure you’re rich yourself. If you’re teaching people how to have a great marriage, make sure you are secure and have years of experience in your marriage. If you’re giving people career advice, make sure you practice it yourself. We can tell when you’re faking.
- Ask your trusted friends or family what they honestly think about your brand. It is often easier for other people to tell you what your story is than for you to see it for yourself.
- Stop with the humble brags. Just stop.
- Stop writing about yourself in third person. If you want people to interview you for a blog or publication, reach out to them and let them write about you in third person.
- Stop quoting yourself. You are not Buddha or Jesus or Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. They don’t even quote themselves.
- Lose the man bun. Or don’t. It’ll just give us something to laugh about. Which leads me to number 9…
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. There is nothing funnier in this world than people who take themselves too seriously. If you don’t want to be a joke, let your brand be human and fallible.
It isn’t easy to build a strong, authentic brand which is why there are professionals (like me!) who help people with storytelling and brand development (yes, that was a plug). But seriously, get help. You can be a successful “guru” on the internet by having a good story and a strong brand. For example, I know many people who love the lifestyle “guru” Gary V. He motivates a lot of people even though I’m yet to meet someone who became successful because of him. But, it doesn’t matter because he has a strong brand that is working for him. He has a whole team of people employed under him just to keep the brand going. You may not have all the skills to develop a strong brand on your own so be honest with yourself and get help.
Once again, I don’t claim to be a guru, but I do have a bit of knowledge and experience with storytelling and I’m just tired of seeing people in my network selling themselves short. Now, excuse me while I go back to my messy life.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Originally published at www.ananyavahal.com on May 30, 2018.