I hate the term personal branding. It’s one of those catchphrases that by now has been written about ad infinitum. Much of what’s out there tends to carry the same message- to the point that there’s even a wikipedia article on it. Personal branding is equated with the term “self-packaging” with the goal of marketing yourself along the lines of a company with the goal of furthering your career.

This definition is a major turn-off for many people- myself included. It’s rather ironic. Most of these articles begin with some form of argument about how you ignore your personal brand at your peril and yet the definition of a personal brand is incredibly narrow and appealing to only a certain subset of personality types.

But they do get one thing right: You do ignore personal branding at your own peril. The information is already out there and anyone who googles you will make a set of assumptions based on the information available. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t care about this- you absolutely do. Think about your personal brand as an extension of your offline personality. We all spend considerable time and money presenting ourselves in the most favorable light from fashion choice to speech pattern to what we reveal about ourselves in different situations. Personal branding doesn’t have to be about sales or trying to get ahead in your career. It can be as simple as making sure that your online footprint is consistent with your offline.

That being said, the quest to discover your personal brand can also be an opportunity to think through who you are as a person. In our fast-paced and career-centric world this often gets overlooked.

Here’s the exercise I use for my Social Media and the Brand Course:

During this course, I have my students work on a semester-long personal branding project. The goal is to hep them put together and implement an online extension of their offline personality and then experiment with how to engage with others around this personality. They choose a single platform that they can easily monitor through analytics- Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.

I give them the following guidelines:

  • Be authentic: People can always spot someone trying to be something they’re not
  • Don’t overshare: Set boundaries just like you do with your offline circles.
  • Be mindful of your audience: Prospective employers & VCs will see this. Humanizing yourself is great. Being off-putting is not.
  • Have fun: It shouldn’t be a chore to post content

I then have them go through two group activities. To encourage conversation I switch up the groups between each exercise. We also come together as a class between each exercise to hear what each person came up with and offer feedback.

First activity: Talk about ideas for your personal brand. Who are you? What do you want others to know about you. Put this into 140 characters.

Second activity: What platform are you going to use for your project and why? What type of content can you share to introduce yourself to others and communicate your personal brand?

They then have a set of 4 milestones during the project:

  • Introductory paragraph: Taking what they discussed in class and coming up with an overview- the platform they’re going to use and why, the type of content they want to share, any additional ideas they have.
  • 1 Page Strategy Document: A more formalized document going over what success looks like for this project. This includes their goals and how they anticipate accomplishing them. (note: they are not graded on achieving these goals- rather the insights the draw from working towards them)
  • Weekly Check-in document: They turn-in 3 screenshots of content created the past week and 2 insights they can draw from how the content performed. This encourages further self-reflection.
  • Final Report: This is where they look at their initial strategy and draw insights from the overall project. I also ask them to think about the next steps for their brand. This can be anything from starting a blog, working on another platform, applying what they’ve learned to their start-up accounts, etc.

My goal for this project is to help my students establish connections between their offline and online personalities. I also want to empower them to get used to posting content on their accounts according to a set strategy to get that personality to come through. This is an opportunity for them to find online communities that they can tap into and engage with.

Personal Branding is important. As I’ve written elsewhere– it’s an insurance policy and one that’s come to my aid more than once. BUT it’s about far more than self-marketing or humble bragging. It’s figuring out who you are and translating that online to engage with others. After all, that’s how genuine relationships are actually built and those are the ones that will come to your aid as you work to advance in the future.

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