Women in Voice
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Women in Voice

Personal Branding: Finding Your Voice as a Conversation Designer

This Blog Post is Co-Written with Elaine Anzaldo

At the end of last year I co-hosted a Twitter Space with conversation designer and creator Elaine Anzaldo aka @elaineinthebay where we went DEEP on the topic of personal branding as a conversation designer. As two people who have put ourselves out there online, create content and are very active in the CxD community, we had a lot of thoughts to share! Unfortunately, Twitter Spaces were yet to be recorded at the time, so we thought it would be a good idea to share a round-up of thoughts and tips for conversation designers looking to discover their own place online. Let’s get to it!

A tweet from Elaine to Hillary suggesting the topic of a Twitter Space, followed by a tweet from Hillary showing her drafts that has the same suggestion, with the caption “literally my drafts”
How it happened ☺️ Great minds think alike!

What is a personal brand anyway?

Before we dive into how to create your own brand, let’s define what a personal brand is — and what it is not! Personal branding often gets a bad rap. People associate it most strongly with content creation, influencers, being an extrovert and talking endlessly about a topic online, even if you aren’t an expert.

It’s not that. Being a content creator is not the same thing as having a personal brand. It’s not about making videos, hosting webinars, and posting a lot on Linkedin. It’s not about having followers.

A personal brand is the way you represent yourself online. Your voice, your experience, and the text and visuals associated with your name.

Your personal brand can exist in other places than just social media, too. Your website, your portfolio, your resume — these are all aspects to your online personal brand. You could be present in all of these places, a couple, or even just one. In fact, not having a digital presence is still a version of a personal brand, the only difference is: you’d have to work a lot harder to get in front of people because you’re not visible online. “No Brand” is still “A Brand.”

What is the value of having a personal brand as a conversation designer?

Speaking of visibility, one of the main values of having a personal brand as an aspiring or professional conversation designer is being visible to more career opportunities. Showing up online and having a consistent, identifiable brand for yourself creates name recognition in the industry. Hiring managers, recruiters, other designers and those within the community will remember your name and face, and the conversations you’ve had. When they’re looking for new members of their team or referring people for a role, they may think of you!

This is something I (Hillary) personally do on a daily basis. I receive dozens of messages every week on LinkedIn about open roles, and I’m always quick to refer conversations designers that I think would be a good fit — even some I don’t know personally or have never met! Whether it’s resources they’ve shared, comments they’ve left on posts, or one-on-one conversations we’ve had in DMs or networking groups, this person left an impression, and made themselves memorable to me enough for me to vouch for them.

A personal brand speaks for you even when you aren’t in the room. What will yours say?

Do you really need a personal brand?

Elaine: The short answer is: no, but it really, really helps to have one. As someone who has been on both the interviewing and hiring side of conversation design roles, it’s super helpful when the candidate can clearly show their own unique approach to design. Anyone can draft up a bot welcome message, but what I, as the hiring manager, want to know is: what kind of skills do you bring with your previous work experience? Is there an aspect to design you prefer to work on (things like research, content strategy, testing, documentation, etc.)? How do you approach an ambiguous problem? What’s your design philosophy?

Ultimately, when you’re consistent in the way you present yourself, either through your resume or your online portfolio, those questions become a lot easier to answer and I can start imagining what it would be like to work with you! It also reveals some of the extra information I would need to advocate for you, if, for whatever reason, there’s pushback on the hiring decision. Again, a brand is more than a name or a logo: it’s who you are when you’re not in the room.

Hillary: I have to agree with Elaine. Of course you don’t need a personal brand, but there is also no better way to create connections with people you only know virtually than by having one. Surely, 99% of the people reading this blog post have never met me in real life, but they may feel like they know me (and my skills) because of the investment I’ve made in my personal brand. A job interview is only so long, so creating easy ways for hiring managers and others in the community to find you and recognize you is a huge, huge plus to having a personal brand.

What if I don’t want to put myself out there? What if I’m shy or anxious about it?

Elaine: Find what works for you! At the end of the day, the information you provide about yourself online should help you reach your goals. You’re not required to get up close and personal if you don’t feel comfortable doing that. You don’t need a Medium blog to prove your worth as a designer. You don’t need to live on every social media! If your love language is purely writing occasional reviews about bad chatbot experiences you’ve had, then by all means, write that review. A good measuring stick to keep in mind is: would you have a conversation about this with a friend? If the answer is no, then it’s not the right medium for you (badum-tss).

Hillary: I get it, putting yourself out there is scary. It can feel awkward. This really comes back to the difference between being a content creator and having a personal brand. It does not necessarily mean the same thing. Like Elaine said, find what works for you, but also, recognize that you do not need to create content to have a personal brand. You do not need to be all up in people’s faces to have a personal brand as a conversation designer. Personal branding is about representing yourself, however you want to show up. If that’s having a Notion Page or website that shares more about your background and your contact information with your photo, and you use that same photo on social media, that works. If it’s leaving comments on LinkedIn and Twitter, or sharing other people’s work, that’s fine too. (A tip I always love to share is that comments = content.)

And a note on being shy. I, myself, am incredibly shy IRL! A year ago, I couldn’t imagine sitting down to record a video. I was SO nervous. Now, it feels easy. If you’re interested in creating content, whether that’s a blog, a video, or a Twitter account, but are a bit afraid to put yourself out there, just start trying it. It doesn’t need to be perfect. You can feel uncomfortable. You can stumble over your words. Keep in mind, we’re often our toughest audience. No one will notice mistakes, awkward moments or sense the shyness more than you will. No one will re-watch or re-read your content more than you (almost no one will re-watch or re-read it, period). Trying and doing is really the only way to improve!

What if my employer won’t allow me to have a personal brand?

Hillary: This is a tricky one. It’s becoming a lot more common for employers to put guidelines on what content you can/cannot share as it relates to your job. They might say in your employment contract that it’s not allowed.

First, an important thing to keep in mind that we’ve said a few times in this post already: creating content and having a personal brand aren’t necessarily the same thing. You can maintain a website, portfolio and social profiles that represent yourself as conversation designer, even if you aren’t regularly creating content about conversation design.

Second, reach out to your employer for clarification about what you can and cannot share. Ask questions, and don’t hesitate to ask for permission or even push back when you feel that a certain opportunity is outside of the bounds of your role at your company. If you’re negotiating a job offer, consider if you want certain permissions in your contract ahead of time.

Will they allow you to share if you do not mention the company you work at? Or put “opinions are my own” in your bio? How about if you leave comments and have conversations, but don’t create content? And certainly, you can attend events and network with others, as long as you are doing so on your own, not as a representative of your company. Ask to be considered for internal opportunities, like giving presentations or participating in initiatives outside of your department that can help you meet others.

In many ways, your personal brand can actually help your company gain visibility and recognition in the industry, so it’s important to try understand what their reasons and motivations are for saying no, and to have an open discussion about all of the options, if possible.

Here’s how our own personal brands have helped us.

Elaine: Believe it or not, elaineinthebay was purely accidental. It all started mid-2020 on Twitter as I attempted to join in on #100DaysofCode. My Twitter account was my learning diary for coding and conversation design. I’d post about the smallest things: a quote I had read in a book about human communication, a screenshot of someone’s slide at a CxD webinar, or even, snippets of some of the bots I was building on my own. Gradually, I started getting on people’s radar (shoutout to Allys Parsons for being the first person from the Voice community to start following my account!), and it all kind of exploded when I announced I had accepted my first full-time role as a conversation designer.

One of the main benefits of being recognizable online is exposure. Like Hillary, I also get a lot of recruiter DMs for CxD jobs, even though I haven’t once changed my status on LinkedIn to “Open for Roles” in the past year*. My favorite benefit though is it’s a wonderful ice breaker! Meeting new people is less of an uphill battle because a lot of times people know who I am and what I like to talk about even before I formally meet with them. It’s a huge bonus for an introvert like me. No more awkward intros!

*Update March 2022: I now find myself in the incredibly fortunate position to be in the middle of a very exciting career transition! March will be my last month as a Conversational UX Designer with NLX. It’s bittersweet. I’ve genuinely enjoyed being a part of the company’s growth and will continue to be a fan for the years to come. The reason I share this is because I was actually approached for new opportunities based purely on my online presence (LinkedIn, primarily) and my reputation among my network. Not only did I not have to apply through conventional means, my personal brand also came into play during the interview process. I stood out because of the work I had put into showcasing my thought process and passion for Conversational AI in my blogs! Someone in my interviews actually quoted me back to me — it was amazing!

Hillary: You, the reader of this Medium blog, likely know me as is a conversation designer (and maybe a few other things). My career actually began as a blogger and a social media manager, so I’ve spent a LOT of time creating brands and personal brands for others, and developing my own personal brand. My presence on social media has helped me land countless jobs. Before I started working for myself in 2017, my last three jobs I landed through social media, not by applying.

By having a strategic Linkedin profile, a consistent visual brand (you know, PINK 💖), actively having conversations about the things I knew about, AND having those stories follow me across all of my online presence, I have been approached for job opportunities in every channel — Twitter, Linkedin, Email, Instagram DM, “Real Life” — and I’ve never said I was looking for a job. Someone who followed me on Twitter recommended me for my job at Grey. A blog post on Medium helped me land my job at Beats by Dre. My Twitter account helped me land my job at Vine, three years after I had been rejected by them after an interview. The communities I’ve built in conversation design on Facebook (and now Twitter!) and the connections I’ve made through my personal brand have brought me so many incredible opportunities over the years, like hosting a workshop with Miro, creating content for Amazon, meeting and working with the team at Voiceflow and speaking at conferences and universities.

These might not be your goals, but no matter what your goals are, maintaining a consistent personal brand can help you get closer to them.

Ready to create your personal brand? Here’s a few simple tips to get started.

Check out this thread on Twitter for my top tips for building your personal brand that have nothing to do with creating content.
  1. Change your Linkedin URL to a custom one. If you can, change your social media handles to be the same handle (or at least the ones you want to use professionally)..
  2. Make your bios and profile photos more or less the same across your social media.
  3. Add/follow people in your industry and when you do, send personalized invites and start conversations with them.
  4. Buy a domain name that’s your name or social handle. Use this for your portfolio, or redirect it to a Notion portfolio, your most-used social channel or another example of your work (or dare I say, a bot??).
  5. Leave comments on posts, reply to others, start to create a recognition between your perspectives and your face. Not sure where to start? Join the new Conversation Designers Twitter Community!

Elaine Anzaldo is a conversation designer & content creator based in the SF Bay Area. She first entered the voice scene as a speech consultant for SRI International and most recently worked as the lead conversation designer at NLX. She often writes and shares about the realities of being a conversation designer and publishes resources to help junior conversation designers get started in the field. When she’s not thinking about bots, you can find her watching Tollywood movies and taking pictures of her cat, Caesar.
LinkedIn |Twitter | Medium |Instagram

Hillary Black is a conversation designer, marketer, content creator, career coach, etc. based in Palm Springs, CA. After 10+ years in social media she brought her passion for creating brand personas to bots and never looked back. Today, she’s the head of marketing and conversation design at Mav, founder of Conversation Designer Jobs and host of the Conversation Designers Internet Club community on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a contributor to Discover.bot and regularly shares her insights on CxD at events with partners like Miro, UX Professionals Association and Voiceflow.
Linkedin | Twitter | YouTube

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