Personal branding: how to market yourself online

Marketing measures and brand development are terms classically used in reference to products and services. But the same measures can also be applied for marketing people too: you can build yourself up as a brand by planning your public presentation carefully.

This technique of self-marketing is known as personal branding and is particularly successful in the online world. Social media, networks, and other online platforms including personal websites can help turn a person into a brand in the public eye. The intention behind this? To become established as an expert in a particular field and to command a large reach within a target market. From a business perspective, an effective self-marketing strategy can open many doors.

What is personal branding?

Personal branding can be defined as systematic self-marketing, or in other words, building up a brand centered on an individual. This means depicting personal competence and positive character traits as well as creating a level of buzz that draws attention to a person.

Because of the speed and simplicity of networking online, the internet is the best playground for personal branding. There are many channels on the World Wide Web that allow a person to establish their own brand and create a particular image. But this isn’t an exercise in pretending to be something you’re not: personal branding should mean highlighting particular strengths you have. Self-marketing online is designed to help build a positive image of you that stands out from the crowd and gives you an advantage in both personal and business networks. Celebrities, the self-employed, freelancers, and job-seekers can profit more than most from good personal branding – particularly individuals who want to make money blogging can use a slick self-marketing strategy to acquire advertising partners more easily.

How does personal branding work?

Self-marketing is more widespread than ever before. In today’s online world, it’s not just celebrities who build their own brand with personal branding strategies: anyone can carry out self-marketing – whether they’re an employee or a freelancer, an applicant or a service provider.

If, for example, you’re on the hunt for business contacts or a new employer, your main focus is likely to be on business networks like XING or LinkedIn, or another specific network for your industry. Here, it’s important to look at your CV and list of skills and qualifications. But many self-employed people use other channels too – like private websites, blogs, or classic social media platforms.

The methods involved in personal branding are very dependent on the industry and personal goals. There’s no uniform answer for how to optimize self-marketing strategies – each case is different and should be tailored to the individual. Below, we’ll explore some basic guidelines for planning and implementing the strategy that suits your needs.

Planning

Before you go any further, you have to know exactly what you want your name to stand for, the field you want to gain a foothold in, and who your target market is. Here are some tips for planning your self-marketing campaign:

  • Define the goal of your personal brand: what do you actually want to achieve through self-marketing? Is the primary aim to grow your network, or do you want to give yourself a better chance of landing a top job? The motivations for self-marketing can be very different, so before you get started, you have to know exactly what your personal motives are.
  • Be aware of your strengths: your skills are what will eventually make you a specialist in the field. Emphasize these strengths and work out how to apply them to your personal branding. But be careful not to exaggerate – this can come back to haunt you later!
  • Determine your desired image: decide which skills and positive character traits you want to focus on. This step is all about figuring out what will make you stand out from the crowd. Don’t try to please everyone.
  • Refine your topic: you can’t be an expert on everything – even specific topics have different subtopics and tangents, some which you will want to ignore. Focus on the topics and ideas that you really understand. But remember to continually develop your general knowledge of the subject as well.
  • Refine your target group: the success of your self-marketing depends largely on other people – so you have to know who you’re trying to reach so that you can tailor content and information. Until you know exactly who your target audience is, you can’t hope to reach them properly.
  • Organize your communications channels: you’ll find that not every channel and every format is best suited to your personal branding campaign. This is normal: the channels that you use will depend mainly on your content and your target group. For video content, you should be running your own YouTube and/or Vimeo account, for photos, platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, for short messages and statements, Twitter. While you may wish to create accounts on all the major social media networks and share content on each one, you’ll probably find that a small number of suitable channels that you update regularly is better than trying to be active across as many as possible.

Pick a design theme across all your channels: the best way to make sure your target group thing of you as professional and reliable is to make sure your content is themed consistently across all your channels. For example, you could have one profile picture or background color scheme for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Implementation

Once you’re set on which communications channels to use, you need to create profiles across them all and apply your thematic consistency. To cultivate interest and new fans, you have to remain active regularly: share interesting content (this doesn’t necessarily have to be your own if you’re on a social media platform), take part in conversations and debates, and stay in constant contact – appropriately and authentically – with industry colleagues and/or your target audience.

Deciding which way to best market yourself will depend on your personality. You can express your personality best in communication with your target audience – your style and approach will determine which personality traits show through most. Do you want to be seen as funny, empathetic, critical, pragmatic, or laid back? Of course, regardless of how you portray yourself, it’s crucial to stay professional and toe the line, even if your opinions are designed to be controversial and critical.

Your line of work and previous employment can also offer conclusions for your personal branding: references, project descriptions, and places of work offer others good orientation regarding what you’ve achieved so far. You can also include links to any online publications written by or referencing you. If these aren’t easily accessible, just describe your work, making note of any particular highlights and positive aspects.

Last but not least, it makes sense to kit out your personal website or blog with specialized keywords. This can be particularly useful for the self-employed: good search engine optimization can help reach potential fans over Google, expanding your reach.

Good self-marketing – an example

The best way to demonstrate how personal branding can have a positive impact on your career is through an example. Picture a self-employed music journalist.

Status quo

Our music journalist freelancer is already active on various online platforms. Alongside running a blog, on which she reviews new albums, describes concerts, and discusses general updates in the world of music, she also operates her own website, featuring her CV, skills, references, and links to published articles on various popular websites. Her website serves as a sort of online business card, while the blog is more of an online music magazine. She also runs various social media channels, which she uses to draw attention to new blog articles. She uses her Facebook page and her Twitter account to post comments about latest updates in the music industry. Lastly, she has a professional profile on XING.

As you can already see, she’s active across a respectable number of channels. But this doesn’t add much to the reach of her work and her image. Even if the articles are well written and contain high quality content, this won’t increase the reach if nobody is reading the blog. Once she’s established herself as a positive brand in her target audience, her page will see its inflow increase. But in order to achieve this, she’ll need positive, public feedback – for example through an increased number of followers, likes, shares, and (positive) comments on social media and on her blog itself, or through one of her articles being published by a trusted source in music. 

Personal branding measures

To increase attention and further her profile, our music journalist decides to take the following measures:

  • She tries to ensure that her blog posts are more and more distinguished by her individual style. She achieves this by firstly selecting topics that are more unique and not covered by most other music journalists, but are targeted specifically at certain groups of people within her target audience, and secondly by characterizing her writing style with a personal touch. By doing these two things, she creates a clear separation between her blog and others offering similar content online.

  • She searches on Facebook for specialist groups that are interested in the sort of music that she writes about. She takes part in discussions on these groups, posting advice and tips about concerts and musicians. Once she has established herself as part of the community, she can then start to mention her blog.

  • By preparing an e-mail newsletter about her blog, she informs her subscribers about new updates from the music world and upcoming concerts.

  • Since she also photographs concerts, she creates an Instagram profile, where she publishes her snaps and links the pictures to blog entries about the shows.

  • She links the design of her blog to her various social media channels thematically, so that all of her web presence is instantly recognizable and unique. Additionally, she makes sure to check her channels regularly for new messages and comments, to make sure she responds to these as quickly as possible. She uses interaction with individual readers to profile herself and build trust with readers.

  • On XING, she lists all her new channels, describes them, and links them.

  • She optimizes the keywords on her blog and her website. On her blog, she includes plenty of keywords that speak to music enthusiasts, while the keywords on her website are designed to highlight her skills as a freelance music journalist.

The best case scenario will see our music journalist not only increase her influence through these measures, but also will see her come to be known as an expert. Her network will grow steadily, which won’t go unnoticed by her previous clients and other music magazines. This should lead to her getting more work, particularly work focused on her more specific topics, where she could develop into being the go-to expert. All of this demonstrates what can be achieved by good self-marketing.

Pros and cons of personal branding

Whether or not your self-marketing campaign will run as successfully as the one in our example depends on a number of factors. Your personality plays a big role in this, but so does professional implementation of the steps involved in personal branding, a degree of natural flair and talent for self-promotion, as well as the current market situation in your industry.

If you do succeed in establishing your own personal brand, you can reap many benefits. You’ll gain a positive reputation and develop unique selling points that clearly separate you from the competition. Your increased network will ensure that you make more contacts from different areas within the field, while you’ll be able to draw on inspiration from others and inspire them too. Increased reach is also a huge plus: If you have more contacts and a larger radius of fans, others stumbling across you will see you as an influential person - which can only be of benefit.

But if you decide to change industry, this positive self-marketing can bring about some disadvantages. If you’ve done things right up until now, then a new job in a different field will mean you have to disregard all your previous personal branding and start from scratch again. It can take a considerable amount of time until you’ve established your new brand in search engines and networks.

Lastly, be aware that personal branding requires constant attention and a focused, rational, and measured approach. Any mistakes you may make (negative outbursts on Twitter, poorly thought-out Facebook statuses, poor quality content) can have serious negative repercussions, and the more successful your personal brand is, the larger the scale of the damage. Remember that everything you post – be it a comment, a picture, a blog update, or a shared link – will have an impact on your image and the way your audience perceives you. But as long as you’re careful, focused, and always refer back to your personal branding plan, your self-marketing campaign has every chance of making you into a big success.


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