Personal branding is growing up.
Over the past decade or so, the thrust of personal branding has been about whom you know, how many followers you can attract, and how much engagement you can garner on social media.
Influencer marketing has taken off as a result, as people with solid social followings forge careers peddling brands and products. Everyone from CEOs to interns have been cultivating their personal brands, too — not necessarily to sell anything or to get better jobs, but to grow their own online presences as influencers and connectors.
Of late, though, personal branding is going through an evolution of sorts. It’s taking the next logical stage in its development, and being used to launch careers that are based more on authentic knowledge than on social currency.
In its next iteration, your personal brand may be more about what you know than whom you know. While a solid network will always been important, a growing number of young professionals are leveraging — and monetizing — their personal brands in a new way. Welcome to the age of knowledge commerce.
The changing face of the personal brand
We all have personal brands, whether we intentionally work on developing them or not. In fact, it could be argued that in a hyper-competitive and information-saturated world, it’s more important than ever to build a solid personal brand.
In a less mature form, personal branding might translate into amassing as many followers and connections as possible — you know, vanity metrics. Thinking more strategically, your brand begins with clarifying what you’re good at, finding the people who need what you have to offer, and connecting with them on the platforms and channels where they are most likely to engage.
For professionals of the millennial and later generations, there’s a natural affinity for creating this kind of brand presence. “Digital natives” have been doing this in some way for most of their lives. They engage naturally online and they are well-versed in the language of hashtags, emoticons and the short-hand of social platforms.
Most importantly, there is a growing awareness that they can build their own passion-based careers, and they use their personal brands as powerful marketing tools to that end.
We can’t all be Kardashians, the undisputed queens of the social influencer sphere. But there is an entire industry rising up based on what people know. They are packaging their knowledge and expertise, and selling through webinars, online courses, membership sites and other digital assets. These are the new knowledge entrepreneurs.
What’s your personal brand worth?
So you’ve been building a personal brand and have a decent community of people who know and respect you. Now what? Is it really possible to leverage that into a career that doesn’t involve pushing other people’s products? Can you really make money by selling what you know?
“Knowledge is now the most valuable asset of a business,” explains Catherine Heath in the Knowledge Owl blog. Heath writes extensively about online knowledge resources and best practices for creating and maintaining them. She sees a growing realization of the value of “intellectual capital,” as our rapidly changing society creates a huge demand for knowledge workers.
Indeed, today’s businesses focus less on hiring people with particular skills and instead hire people who have the ability and aptitude to learn new information. This, in turn, is creating more demand for courses, webinars and other learning opportunities. For professionals with a strong personal brand in a particular niche, this opens up the opportunity to become the trusted source to provide the kind of knowledge that this new type of worker needs.
Packaging the value of what you know
Selling what you know is not an entirely new idea, by any means. We’ve been learning online for years, watching videos, reading how-to articles and the rest.
Yet it’s only recently that the idea of knowledge commerce as a viable career is gaining such momentum. As we look beyond the circle of our influencers and start sharing what we truly “know,” Rueter believes we can start to build personal brands around our knowledge and the value it brings. He sees evidence that consumers place a higher value on information they’ve paid for than information that they might be able to get for free.
This sets the expectation that knowledge is not freely given away in the age of knowledge commerce, but treated as the true commodity that it is.
Branding yourself as a knowledge entrepreneur
In the new paradigm of personal branding, what you know is incredibly valuable. As you begin to view this knowledge as a commodity, you’ll begin to understand who might need it, where they can be found, and how to reach them in a way that resonates. It begins with a clear understanding of who you are, what you offer, and how that can be packaged to meet your audience’s needs.
As leadership coach Kristi Hedges suggests, “Your personal brand is a reflection of the kind of person you are and want to be — your values, your motivations, your career goals. These then translate into how you act around the office, interview for jobs, and promote yourself on social media.”
As you position yourself based on your values and expertise, you create a digital presence that you can use to sell your knowhow. Digitally native self-branding professionals already have what many from the older generations have struggled with: the digital knowhow for building a knowledge-based career. The key is to focus your brand building in a way that turns your base of knowledge into a true commodity.