Why Personal Branding is Critical in the Digital Age

By Michele Richardson

CTU Career Advice - Personal BrandingResearch shows that it takes a fraction of a second for someone to form a first impression of you, and often that impression is accurate. When you settle on that bit of knowledge, it’s unnerving. What if the impression you’re leaving behind isn’t the one you intended?

That first impression, and every impression that follows, is your personal brand and the hard truth is this: If you don’t brand yourself, someone else will. With digital and social media, it’s easier than ever for others to define your brand. A friend who innocently posts a picture of you on Twitter can instantly change how others perceive you.

If you want to enjoy a thriving, successful career, then it’s up to you to be proactive about defining and cultivating your personal brand – online and offline. Here are some steps to get started:

1. Dig deep to unearth the real you

Without getting too deeply spiritual, does the soul of your brand align with what people see? Realize that you are uniquely defined by your beliefs, your experiences and your upbringing. While others may share similarities, you are unmatched. Spend time in quiet reflection to identify what uniquely defines you: your values, your passions, your talents and your other unique attributes. The culmination of this is the “soul” of your brand.

2. Dream and act

Certainly, you’ve been advised to set goals and action plans since at least junior high. It’s solid advice, so you’re getting it here too. In the context of personal branding, it’s important to identify the benefits you want from your personal brand. Maybe you want to leverage your brand to land your dream job; be sure to define the specifics of your dream job. Or maybe you want to be noticed as an expert in a particular area of study; be sure to establish when you’ll know you’re an “expert.” Define your dream, and then set it in motion.

3. Figure out who cares

Corporate marketers have long-held the importance of target marketing, and for good reason. Having a thorough understanding of your audience is critical to achieving your brand goals. Every goal you set in the previous step has an audience associated with it. It’s your job to shape that audience’s perception of you and your value. You’ll use your personal brand to attract their attention and set yourself apart from others who may appear to be just like you (i.e. your competition).

4. Package yourself for success

It would be nice to think otherwise, but your appearance matters and this doesn’t just relate to your physical appearance. With every interaction, whether it’s in person, by telephone or online, people form a mental image of you and decide how they will respond based on what they see. For example, if your first impression with a potential employer is a telephone interview, does the tone and volume of your voice command respect and authority? Or in the digital space, does the profile picture on your LinkedIn profile reflect your best? Your personal brand combines every touch point available to your audience. Be sure it’s consistent and reflective of the image you want to convey.

5. Gather a tribe

No one reaches the top of his or her career alone. It takes people, and more specifically, relationships. But realize that when it comes to relationships, quality trumps quantity – every time. Once you’ve defined your personal brand and you’ve started on the path toward achieving your goals, look to others who might help ease your path to success. These are the people who cheer you on, offer much-needed wisdom and otherwise have your back. And remember, the company you keep says a lot about your personal brand, so align yourself with people who support your brand position.

These steps provide the foundation you need to build a brand that accurately reflects who you are. As your personal brand develops and you begin to consistently communicate your brand value, you’ll notice an increase in your self-confidence, which affects your behavior and ultimately, your results.

CTU Career Advice - Michele RichardsonA seasoned HR/organization development professional turned copywriter in 2005, Michele Richardson specializes in content strategy and writing for the digital world. When she’s not working or writing, you can find her curled up with a book and cup of Americano or training for her next half-marathon. Catch up with her on Google+ or Twitter.

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Image credit: Flickr/Photoforía