This article originally appeared in the July-August 2009 issue of Networking Times Magazine. This is a great magazine for professional networkers of any type.
Thanks to the emergence of social media on the Internet, people are connecting on a more personal level online. This is also great news for professional networkers everywhere. By developing a presence online, you can meet people from around the world and enjoy the same networking benefits as the best mixer you can imagine.
Establishing your personal brand and exposing an authentic personality online is something anyone can do and you can use your brand to increase sales and retain your existing business.
It’s all too easy to be anonymous on the Internet. If you’re only interested in playing online poker or reading the news, anonymous is fine. If you want to create a following and build a successful business, anonymous is quickly becoming synonymous with invisible. More and more people have become “immune” to marketing messages delivered by faceless web sites which have no association to a real person.
On the other hand, the Internet makes it easier than ever to step up and build an audience of people who share your passions and follow you because of the value you create with your presence and through the content you share.
Here are just a few examples of niches where individual figures have built strong followings. Fan of these people sign up for every phone call, read every email, archive newsletters in 3-ring binders and purchase one product after another as they are released.
Direct Marketing: Dan Kennedy, Frank Kern, Rich Scheferen
Network Marketing: Doug Firebaugh, Dani Johnson, Jim Rohn
Health and Nutrition: David Wolfe, Dr Mercola
The above examples barely scratch the surface and no matter what business niche you’re in, the same is possible for you. With hundreds of millions of people online, developing an audience is a matter of exposing your personal brand to lead and influence others.
The most important asset you own
Your number one asset has nothing to do with the home you live in, the car you drive, how much money you make or the friends you have.
Your number one asset can also have a great influence on all this and more.
This asset is your personal brand and it’s involved with everything you do.
The essence of a personal brand is found in your relationships.
Think of a can of Coca Cola. For the most part, the formula for Coke is the same around the world. It never changes to suit an individual. It is what it is. Do you like Coke? Do you know people who dislike it? Do you know people with a take it or leave it view? If you interviewed 100 people, there’s little doubt you’d get 100 different descriptions of what Coke means to each person. Yet, Coke is always the same.
The brand of Coke is held in every one of those relationships.
Through consistency, Coke satisfies the needs of its followers. Those who prefer something else can find a better match with something else.
Establishing Your Personal Brand
Establishing a personal brand starts with an inventory. The inventory you’re taking is a survey of the foundation which will support your online activities and your personal brand. This inventory is not based on the stuff you have in your house, or hiding under the seat in your car. It’s based on what you carry around inside.
What are your values?
What you do is a reflection of your principals and values. What do you stand for? How do you want to behave towards, and in front of, others? Questions like these help establish a baseline against which your activities are measured. Do you know yourself to be a compassionate person at heart? It’s probably best to make sure you think on that if you ever end up in a heated discussion online or face-to-face.
Everything you do online leaves a trail back to you. Six months from now, someone reading a snippy comment you left on your blog won’t realize that you weren’t your best that day. If that’s their first exposure to you, they may make a judgment about your personal brand. Such a poor impression may prevent your next referral or sale without you even realizing it.
First impressions do matter acting in congruence with your values is crucial when it comes to your personal brand.
What have you got?
What do you like to do? How do you spend your free time? What are your skills?
Let’s face it, no one goes online looking to be marketed to. People who frequent social media sites are even less prone to respond to direct marketing efforts. Yet, these are also real people. They have problems that need solutions. They have wants and are looking for someone they trust to help them find what they’re looking for.
However, before anyone is going to buy your stuff, or tell a friend to buy your stuff, you need to be a part of their network of people they know, like and trust. In the “real world” how would you connect to these people? You would hang out with people with similar passions. Go to wine festivals, gardening and book clubs. Take a cooking glass. Volunteer with a local charity. Online you can do the same thing.There are social media venues supporting just about every hobby and interest you can imagine. As you meet people and develop a new relationship you also put yourself in a position where people are also curious about what else you do. Online you can do the same thing. Online this means more people clicking on the links listed in your profiles, commenting on your blogs, and forwarding your material around.
Sure it’s possible you’ll hit a home run and your next video will get a million views in 3 hours as totally random people send links to your pages to all their friends. What’s more likely is that your core group of friends and fans will forward your new content to their lists of friends and based on the power of that social proof your viral content will gain momentum.
Taking this inventory is an important step. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told “I don’t have any value to create online.” This simply isn’t true. I met one person who took his profession as a butcher into his Internet marketing ventures. He loved his day job and he created content and videos to show that, and to help others too. He connected that to his online presence to help new Internet marketers as the mentor who “cut the fat.”
Be the Brand
This section covers the three elements of your personal brand. They all function together and all require each other to support your presence and relationships effectively.
Authenticity in your personal brand creates rapport, transparency and establishes a connection between you and your audience. This also helps you develop authority with your audience which keeps them coming back for more. An authentic marketer admits they are marketing, talks in a “real” and conversational way and usually has a sense of humor. The flip side to an authentic marketer is shown by someone who hides their attempts at marketing and tries to sneak it up on you. Their communication is very flat and formal, sounding more like a White House Press Secretary on the hot seat than the trusted advisor. Some corporate brands take this approach too and with little result. The desire to be “in control” of the brand comes off with all the poise and charm of the emperor from Star Wars.
Your back story helps build an authentic brand by showing your audience that you’re a real person. Who are you? What led you to having an interest in your topic? Where do you come from and how does that affect the way you see things? When did all this start for you and was the process of your own development fast (a lighting strike) or was it a slow and arduous process? Finally, why are you even sharing these things with other people? Sure you want to make money with what you do. Who doesn’t? Why else? What’s the motive behind the money? As your build this information into your marketing and communication efforts, your position of authority with your audience will also increase.
Imagine a marketer who teaches others how to improve their credit rating. The primary audience for such information is made up of people who have had financial problems and have problems with their credit. This is creating stress. It’s messing with their lives. If the marketer was once in dire circumstances which required the learning of these techniques, that’s more likely to create a connection and rapport if that experience is shared. Compare this to someone with a cool and flawless veneer of perfection. Even if you haven’t had the same level of problems as those in your primary audience, it’s important to show how you relate to them. That connection is essential to your personal brand.
Take a stand to make it easier for your audience to align with you. If you’re promoting organic gardening products, eating fast food is not congruent with your personal brand. Even if your audience isn’t seeing you do this, chances are your content is going to have a certain “wishy washy” nature to it.
Being relevant means you show your audience, viewer, listener or reader that you’re interested in them. You understand where they are coming from and because of that you have a significant qualification to help them.
Can you imagine a basketball coach that knows nothing about the game? The coach doesn’t need to be a better athlete than the players, but does need to understand what the players experience and go through in order to relate to them. The ability to relate makes it possible to provide advice and coaching in a manner relevant to the players. This goes for you too. Think of yourself as a coach and put yourself in the players’ shoes in order to deliver messages that make sense.
Be Interested in the needs of your audience. Take some time to think of what they’re going through. If you’re aware that people are losing their jobs right and left and you write a blog post about the purchase of your latest expensive gadget, there’s a good chance you’re going to be squelched. As people become more immune to traditional forms of marketing, they’re also developing resistance to the bravado of pithy comments. Instead, enter their world and establish a connection. Relate that to what you’re doing. The end result of your message may be the same but by making that connection first (known as pacing in some circles), the rest of your message is better able to make an impact and receive attention.
Matching the feelings of your audience is a great way to establish relevance. If they’re angry, be angry. If they’re celebrating, celebrate too. After you’ve jumped into their circle, lead them to the topic you want to talk about.
Being relevant is about meeting the needs of your audience. How effective would the basketball coach be dishing out advice using football terms? If you’re not sure what your audience does need, find ways to ask. Pick up the phone and call. Solicit specific comments from a blog post. Invite people to email you. Create a topic in a discussion forum. With the Internet there are too many ways to get feedback from others not to do it. Seeking such feedback is also a great way to establish your authority as it shows you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world instead of sitting on high in an ivory tower.
Consistency in a personal brand is where many people get into trouble. If you’re supposed to be this laid-back, wise mentor how would you expect people to view you when you start name-calling in Twitter or on the phone? Poor self-awareness can lead to a reactive nature and those reactions can get you in hot water by showing inconsistency in your personal brand.
Being aware of your values and considering the wants and dreams of your target audience is like the needle on a compass. When you post online, write a blog, create a sales letter, speak in public and do all the things you do, check which way your compass is pointing. Are your actions about to reflect your nature and your brand or lead you off the path? Take the time to notice and readjust as needed.
When you mess up, be the first to admit it, and then move on.
If someone else notices first, don’t be like the many celebrities and political figures of late and try to hide what happened. Step up, fix what needs to be fixed, and move on.
Developing Authority and Building Your brand
Now that you have the foundation built for your personal brand, apply it to what you love. Online, you can do so many things from answering questions on Answers.yahoo.com or linkedin.com, write blog posts to share information and insight about your field, create videos for YouTube with an easy-to-use Flip Video camera, or interview other people in your field to create your own podcast or live show on blogtalkradio.com.
Every little step builds your presence and strengthens your personal brand. What to wear, how to do your hair, and pithy catch phrases are nothing more than window dressing. Your personal brand should be the same whether you’re wearing a tux or a burlap sack.
The world is waiting for you. Take a step…NOW!