Personal branding: where do I start?

An interesting question raised during a discussion on the social web and personal branding this morning got me thinking about how best to leverage the social networks to improve participation and our use of them.

If we’re going to be reasonably methodical about improving our use of the social networks, supposing that we wish to use them to boost our personal branding, what are the steps we should take?

The first thing is to develop a strategy, and that requires having a goal. Where do I want to be, within a reasonable time frame, if I’m successful? What terms and semantic fields do I want associated with my name, in which language, and what tools am I prepared to use for that purpose?

Second: what’s out there already: a wide range of experts, prestigious figures? Or is it a barren plain void of human life? The idea is to compare this environment with W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’ famous blue and red oceans, and to then work out the effort required to develop the content needed to become part of that environment within a reasonable period of time. And if we’re going to develop content, we have to think about where to do that: a good start is Twitter, a simple enough app to use, simpler than most, in fact, and offering a reasonable time-results ratio, and that can be managed via a smartphone, bringing fairly quick results.

Thirdly: if there are already well-known figures active in your field; start following them. They must be doing something right. There’s not need to be slavish, but look at what they do, identify their sources, their degree of presence, and how many conversations they generate. We’ll be starting with Twitter not just to find out what our pals are up to, or for the quote of the day, but as a tool for managing content.

So what happens when we’ve done our research, included these people in our timeline, and are reading what they say? And if we combine this with other sources that allow us to cover this field ever-more efficiently? Fairly quickly we’ll start seeing a lot of content flow, depending on our subject, obviously, and it will soon feel “natural” to begin retweeting, highlighting favorites, or even replying.

Any of these three activities will mean not only that the analysis tools will see them, but also that our followers begin to self-select on the basis of the subject. We don’t need to be impersonal about things or to lose our identity, but it might not be a bad idea to convert our Twitter, or whichever tool we’re using, into something related to the fields we have defined as being of interest.

In this way, we will be converting our tool into something interesting in two senses: we now follow interesting references, and if we do this well enough, people with in an interest in our topic will begin to follow us.

This alone will begin to generate associated value, even if only through our ability to store content, to filter what we have seen by applying our own criteria. If we also contribute original content or our opinions, better still, this is always worth the effort. At the same time, we can also use our timeline as a way to recover content we find interesting, simply by looking in our archive, and thus avoiding the “I know I read something interesting about this, but where the hell was it?” syndrome.

The next step is a little more complicated, and consists of understanding that our indexing, our ego search, and the strength of our personal positioning strategy should not depend on the time information remains on a social network, which is usually measured in hours. As Alfonso Alcántara notes: “we mustn’t become some kind of digital homeless wandering around the social networks all day,” and instead begin to build ourselves a home, even if to start with it is little more than a studio apartment out in the suburbs.

Making the move to an uptown penthouse or a beachfront condo requires addressing issues that I have written extensively about… to being with, we need to think about how to create value out of these simple tools we use every day, or that we don’t use because we don’t really know what they do, but that could possibly add value to our strategy.

Again, the question here is just how far we want to go. There is no “good” or “bad” way to use these tools, and we should use them as we see fit. But if you really want them to play a role in creating a personal brand, in associating you with the topics that interest you, then I’d say that this is not a bad way to start.

(En español, aquí)