The Danger of Creating Content Without Strategy

Every 60 seconds on the internet, 1,440 WordPress posts go live, 500 hours of video get uploaded onto YouTube, 65,972 Instagram photos are posted, 448,800 tweets are tweeted and a whopping 3.3Million posts generated on Facebook.

Sounds like a lot right? But here’s the problem- content is not consumed evenly. Rather it’s consumed in viral clusters as trends and algorithms push views of particular stories. So even while we find out that consumers view 1 Billion hours on YouTube each day (8.4 minutes per person!), there’s a good chance that much of those hours are focused on the same piece of content. And you can bet that it’s much more likely to be a video of a cat running from a cucumber, than it is to be your brand’s latest product launch. 

To the content marketer this cycle can feel like a giant hamster wheel. This is particularly clear when you know deep down that the content your creating just isn’t going to get consumed. No matter how much we chant: “right content, right time, right place” we still find ourselves in the content creation/consumption vicious cycle. Podcasts to create, live videos to shoot, blog posts to write, because the content monster never quits. In this scenario, content becomes something that is created because you need content. It’s content for content’s sake. 

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As always, Tom Fisburne nails it perfectly.

As long as we stay in the content-for-content’s-sake creating area we can churn out professional-looking videos, well-edited podcast series and blog posts demanding disruption. We can call ourselves successful thought-leaders and behold, we are. “Look at the content!” we say, “With so much of it clearly our business is successful”. This is the approach taken by many brands (both corporate and personal!) and it’s leading to a massive race to the bottom where we will all loose out.

Social media transformed the marketing industry by created mediums where brands could interact directly with consumers in a nearly-human way. Unfortunately over the past few years, the practice has become polluted in a race to the bottom click-bait, fake news, bot-filled, world. Consumers are bombarded with far too much content created with no reason other to create content. Just as poor quality ads led to the rise of ad-blockers, the over creation of badly done content marketing risks leading to a  mass desensitization of consumers and the introduction of algorithms and newsletters to act as third party mediators to weed out the signal from the noise. 

Your audience should want to visit your website, social media page, etc. to get the latest content from you. A healthy social media marketing mix should not have to rely purely on paid media for ROI. For these to be true, your content marketing efforts must align with the consumption habits of your target audience. 

Here’s my challenge to all of you: Take a look at the type of content you create, ask yourself why you’re doing it, and whether you’re really seeing ROI from it. If you are- great! But if you aren’t, then it’s time to press pause and reevaluate. Don’t keep pushing out noise with no signal. 

My 50th Blog Post: What a Journey It’s Been!

I can’t believe this is my 50th blog post! It certainly doesn’t feel like I’ve written that much. In fact I actually thought that wordpress had it wrong- that maybe it was including my draft posts. But sure enough when I went back and counted, there are 49 published and this makes 50. I thought about various posts I could do to commemorate this milestone- perhaps something about how to build your own blog, what I’ve learned, etc. But I kept coming back to the desire to share the story of how this blog came to be and why it’s so significant that the 50th post happens to coincide with this week of all weeks. I’ve had a fairly unique path and it’s my hope that by sharing my story it will: 1. Empower others to take a chance on changing their path and 2. Help hiring managers and HR to recognize that non-traditional experience can be incredibly valuable to an organization. So here it is (and it’s a long post so buckle up…):

The Prequel: Living in the Library

I have a BA in International Affairs from GWU and a MA in Politics from NYU. My passion was studying post-communist transition and democratization. I’ve always wanted to understand what underpins motivations and why people have certain sets of  beliefs and subsequently take certain actions. In transitional societies most of the rules that people grew up with get thrown out the window. They are entering an entirely new system and form new communities. I worked to understand how and why these communities formed and why certain people moved towards nationalism while others moved towards more inclusive attitudes. I decided that a career in academia would be the most suited to pursuing this course of study. After a few false starts I was accepted into the Politics PhD program at the University of Virginia and moved to Charlottesville, VA.

Episode I: A Startling Discovering

I started my PhD in 2011 at UVA and couldn’t have been happier. Finally I was doing what I loved and my path seemed very clear. I would do 2 years of course work and then spend 3-4 years focused on my dissertation. Then came that fateful course: Spring 2011 I took a class on public opinion and participation. I became interested in several theories that looked at how the media and various “opinion-leaders” (as they’re called in political science) impact political beliefs. I began to see how social media, in particular Facebook, could have a very transformative impact on these studies. Specifically, the way that it could help us move from a broad brush-stroke depersonalized quantitative focus and towards a qualitative understanding of opinion formation that could be backed by analytics. Unfortunately at the department at UVA is quite invested in quantitative methods and I hit wall after wall when I tried to explain my theory. I might have gone so far as to drop it but then…

Episode II: 17 Days in June-What just happened?? 

On June 10, 2012 I received an email announcing the resignation of UVA’s President Theresa Sullivan with no real explanation. Sullivan was the first female president of a University that has had a strong history of intentional and unintentional sexism (some of which I was experiencing in the politics department) and had only served for 2 years at a University where Presidents averaged decades. She was quite popular and well respected by all. Subsequent emails directed faculty and students to just go with the decision and not ask any questions. I’m not one to take that lightly.

On June 13th I saw a petition going around demanding an explanation by the Board of Visitors for the resignation. I immediately signed and shared it. Then I began to read the passionate comments left by fellow signatories talking about how frustrated and betrayed they felt. I noticed a similar group under the single story the Washington Post had written about the sudden resignation. I realized that perhaps if these people had a forum to talk to each other we might be able to get the attention of other journalists to keep their attention on the story and get a real explanation. So I formed a Facebook Group- “Students, Friends and Family United for the Reinstated of President Sullivan”.

The full saga of what we accomplished can be found here. It was nuts. My group swelled to 17,000 members and served as a base of operations from which we held a rally at the University bringing out 2,000 attendees from all over the country. On July 26, 2012 President Sullivan was reinstated as President, a position which she still holds.

This landed me my first job as a social strategist- working for UVA. Apparently it was better to keep me inside than outside! But from a bigger standpoint, it made me see that those theories I had batted around in my political participation class had merit. Social media had the power to bring people together to created meaningful and lasting societal change. As such it was a challenge to much of what I was being taught.

Episode III: This isn’t going to work

During Fall 2012 I wrote several papers working to tie my theories to existing scholarship and demonstrating their validity. The last straw was when the professor who taught political behavior, who I knew I would need on my dissertation committee, looked over a paper I had written and said “just remove all mentions of the internet”. Winter 2012 I began to make my preparations to leave my program. I had put my heart and soul into getting into a politics PhD program and I was quitting. It’s the hardest yet best decision I ever made.

I started my blog in February 2013 to begin to work through some of my theories and also as an opportunity to begin to develop my voice. After lots of research I decided that the right position for me was that of “social strategist”. A position that would allow me to continue my research and analytics while also working to execute strategy. My blog was my outlet during that last semester. I sat in classes feeling everyone staring at me- the quitter. It didn’t help that my activities during the summer had made professors in my department wary and uncertain how to treat me. It was with a sign of relief that I got a position at Social Media Today and could officially leave after the Spring 2013 semester.

Episode IV: Do I really belong? 

My new position started June 2013 and it was a rough transition. I felt that I had to succeed to demonstrate to myself and others that I had made the right decision. This all came crashing down when, after 5 months, I was laid off. I turns out that the expansion of the company had occurred too soon and I was expendable. I was so humiliated. I put all of my former PhD cohort on a limited Facebook visibility. I didn’t know how I could face them.

But I kept blogging on my site. It was my outlet to explain to the world my strategies. I wrote a post called “Why a social strategist should be your next hire” that was basically a description of everything I could do for an organization. But I also felt lost. I didn’t have a degree in marketing and I felt that it showed all to often. I could understand and speak fluently in high level concepts but was befuddled by certain terms such as the “C-Suite” and “Integrated Marketing.” I felt totally out of place and while I still knew that leaving my PhD was the right choice it felt incredibly selfish particularly when I had to move back in with my in-laws and get financial help from my parents. What had I done?!

Episode V: It starts to come together… 

I was finally hired by a small agency called Purematter to work primarily on their new contracts with IBM. This was when I finally had the chance to build out real social strategy and implement new ideas. I worked on multiple influencer programs, constantly working to build better types of measurements and identification strategies. I built out tweet chats, and communities and all the while I kept blogging. My blog became my outlet. It’s where I wrote out strategies that couldn’t be fully implemented or, in a few cases, where I could be far more blunt than I could be in client conversations in terms of what would and wouldn’t work. But I still struggled. I felt that I had gotten lucky to find an agency willing to use my skills and I was uncertain whether that would happen again. There were still gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge.

Episode VI: The Next Adventure

At the end of May 2016 the agency decided to switch to a contractor model and I was out of a full-time job. I accepted their offer to finish up my programs with IBM and Cisco as a contractor while I looked for other positions. I put together my resume and crossed my fingers that it would make sense to someone. After all I only have 3 years actual full-time”experience” and I’ve now been laid off from both companies I’ve worked for. But I have extensive training in research methodologies and their applications which allows me to create new types of strategies.

My blog was all I had to demonstrate this and so that became a major outlet for me. My number of posts increased and I made sure that when I tweeted them out they all linked to the Pulse versions so that those reading them would also see that I was on the market. And low and behold the calls and emails came in.

But it was Oracle that caught my attention. The opportunity to work with them as Head of Social Strategy, North America under Tami Cannizzaro whose work in influencer programs had inspired me in some of my early strategy work. This was the opportunity I had been looking for since leaving my program. A chance to innovate and stick with it in a way that you just can’t at agencies. I said yes.

Epilogue: 

I start my new position at Oracle next week. See why I said that the timing of the 50th post was eerie?! One thing I left out was that I also started teaching Social Media and the Brand as an Adjunct Instructor at NYU this past summer. I’ve always loved teaching and it’s what I missed the most about my program. The opportunity to do so once again is so gratifying and rewarding.

I always knew that I made the right decision by leaving my program but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t full of self-doubt. It’s been a very rocky road but I’ve met amazing people along the way who have inspired and assisted me to get where I am today. I’m embarking on a new adventure at Oracle and it’s going to be a big change. There will be new challenges and potential pitfalls but that’s how life goes.

There’s a lot of talk about taking a chance and changing paths. But the one thing that many posts don’t include is just how hard a road it will be and how much you need to commit to moving it forward to make it work. I’m so glad I took that chance but it’s taken me 3 and a half years before I’ve felt comfortable writing a post like this. Follow your dreams but be prepared for many sleepless nights where they feel completely out of reach.

So that’s my story and those are my words of wisdom for whatever they’re worth. Many thanks to everyone who has been there for me along the way. Your support has helped empower me to keep going and believing in myself and my dreams. Here’s to 50 more posts!

Creating an insightful analytics report and some free tools to help you do it

One of the first things I teach my students is that a social strategy is only as good as their ability to demonstrate meaningful results. We are no longer in the wild west of social media marketing where CMOs were willing to spend big on experiments. Teams are required to demonstrate results to justify their spend.

I’d like to say that this is a great news for social strategists but unfortunately it tends not to be. Many CMOs still see the world in terms of old-school marketing tactics where reach and impressions are what matter. They want quantitative results and have no time for the essential qualitative component that social strategists provide. Consequently the complexities of Influencer marketing, for example, often ends up being measured by the blunt instruments of clicks, retweets, follower count and Klout scores. A social strategist knows that approached in this way the promised results of influencer marketing will be severely diluted. Influencer marketing must be coupled with social network analysis.

However, given the power of the purse at play, many directors choose to run with this and consequently turn to analytics dashboards for their insights. This is why analytics companies are over-saturating the market and making a killing. Analytics companies tend not to work with social strategists, instead they work with software engineers and sales. The more fancy they can make their dashboards and complicated they can make their numbers seem the more they can say that they deliver real results. But all too often they are just smoke and mirrors. Numbers can be made to mean anything you want and analytics are no different. That’s why an accompanying qualitative analysis and overarching narrative are so essential to any real social strategy.

A useful analytics report cross references multiple tools based their their strengths and weaknesses and draws insights based on those findings. No analytics dashboard can be a one-stop-shop. There’s just too much data and ways to slice data. Rather each one offers a particular view of the greater picture of what’s at play. A social strategist puts all of the pieces together in a unique way to fit the specific ROI goals of the brand. The insights drawn are then applied to the next strategy iteration. This is how analytics reports should work.

You should never draw from just one tool. Think of it as a journalist relying on a single source for an investigative report. Or a medical study basing significant findings off of a single instance of an experiment. Data must be sliced in various ways in order to draw real insights. This is then what can be synthesized and presented to the CMO with accompanying insights and you can do so knowing that should she or he challenge the numbers you can stand behind them.

Figuring out your analytics spend:

Unfortunately the way that the current social media economy works is via the Firehose. The big 4 charge lots of money for access to their historic data. Consequently spending money with a company that has access to that data is important. But make sure that they give you access to the data as well in downloadable formats so that it can be verified and analyzed by hand to draw additional insights. To figure out which tool to use take time to think through the types of questions you will want to ask your data and which platforms you need access to. Analytics companies will try to sell you the most expensive dashboard but there’s a very good chance that you only need access to their firehose because you can use other tools to add texture.

This is because I’ve found that the big dashboard-centric platforms often offer less analysis than some of the free ones. I’m not entirely sure why this is. My hunch is that it’s because the free tools tend to be put together by people who are looking for specific data points and are based on the desire for answers rather than turning a profit. But that’s a fairly cynical view. There are certainly some excellent tools out there that can provide unique analysis such as LittleBird. Although once again do not view this as a one-stop shop for influencer identification.

To this end, I’ve compiled a list of 23 free tools (trials don’t count) that I recommend for data analysis and research. All of them offer different view points and can be very useful particularly for those of us who have limited (or no) budget. I advise using these in conjunction with any paid tool. You may not end up actually using their visualizations in your final report BUT they will provide a different and useful perspective as you crunch the numbers.

Tagboard Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Google+, Flickr
Research: Monitor hashtags across many platforms, engagement, and visualize
Free (Limited Functionality)

Cyfe Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest
Analytics: Lets you create a custom dashboard filled with stats from dozens of marketing tools.
Free

Hashtagify Twitter, Instagram
Research: hashtag use on Twitter and Instagram.
Free

UnionMetrics Free Checkup Twitter, Instagram
Analytics: Instagram and Twitter account check-up
Free (Report only)

Social Rank Twitter, Instagram
Analytics: An analysis of followers for Instagram and Twitter as well as an overview of posts
Free (Limited Functionality)

Stats-for Twitter & Instagram Twitter, Instagram
Analytics: Overview of basic Twitter and Instagram Stats. App (iPhone)
Free

Discover.ly Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Research: Cross-reference social sites as you browse. Chrome Extension
Free (Daily Limits)

Followerwonk  Twitter
Analytics: Analyze twitter account relationships-followers and bios
Free (Daily Limits)

Riffle Twitter
Research: Get social analytics for other sites through Twitter. Chrome Extension
Free

Filta Twitter
Research: Search Twitter bios for keywords
Free

DoesFollow Twitter
Research: Simple tool to check twitter user relationships
Free

Mentionmapp Twitter
Research: hashtags and the top 5 associated users with them
Free

Tweet Topic Explorer  Twitter
Research: hashtags used by a specific user
Free

Social Bearing Twitter
Research: Twitter analytics tools including individual profile analysis
Free

Twitonomy Twitter
Research: Twitter profile analysis including recent tweets
Free

TwitterCounter Twitter
Analytics: Detailed analysis for a specific twitter handle including a graph measuring Tweets to following
Free (Limited Functionality)

Twitter Analytics Twitter
Analytics: Native platform providing unique insights including the actual number of impressions and link clicks
Free

Klear  Twitter
Research: One stop analysis of a Twitter profile to understand community influence and content
Free (Limited Functionality)

Viral Woot Pinterest
Analytics: Monitor Pinterest account, analyze, schedule pins
Free (Limited Functionality)

Pinterest Analytics Pinterest
Analytics: Native Pinterest analytics available for business accounts- no payment is required to do so.
Free

Command  Instagram
Analytics: An advanced Instagram analytics and tracking tool that empowers you to see very insightful stats on unlimited accounts. App (iPhone)
Free

Social Bakers Free Instagram Tool Instagram
Analytics: Limited tool provided by Social Bakers to analyze a personal Instagram account
Free

Facebook Insights Facebook
Analytics: Native Facebook Page Analytics available for page administrators
Free

Let me know what you think and also if there are any I’ve missed! 

Facebook & Friendship: It’s Complicated

I talk a lot about the positive aspects that social media brings to our relationships. It allows us to explore facets of our social network in ways that were hitherto unlikely. My generation feels less need for traditional high school reunions in part because there’s no need to re-union. We’re already in touch with our old friends-the question “so what have you been up to” has little bearing. Yes Boomers, here’s where you can lament the old ways but I know for a fact that you were the reason classmates.com is still around and that many of you are now on Facebook chatting with old classmates!  As I’ve written elsewhere, Facebook more than any of the big 4 platforms mimics our offline social network the most and as such is where we maintain and are able to grow our offline relationships.

But there’s another side to all of this. Just as much as Facebook amplifies the positive of our offline relationships and can facilitate growth, it has also brought a way to completely end a relationship once and for all in a very clear and public way through unfriending. I’ve been racking my mind for a pre-Facebook offline equivalent. The closest I can come up with for adult relationships is removing someone from your address book or more recently deleting someone from your phone. But even that’s not really analogous because the other person doesn’t know that you did that and other people have no way of finding out unless you tell them. What it really reminds me of is a playground pronouncement of “You’re not my friend anymore”. But once again given the fluidity of relationships at that age even that’s not really a great example. A shared fruit roll-up tended to repair all wrongs.

The bottomline is that all of these actions were private. For the other person to know you’d have to have a very uncomfortable conversation making it clear that they were no longer a part of your life. There’s a reason that this tends to only occur within families (estrangement) and of course significant others (the breakup). The discomfort and awkwardness of that conversation with a friend is a high price to pay. It would take a massive occurrence for an adult to have that conversation. Consequently we tend to get colder in our relationships- perhaps a bit more formal. But the key is that that has always left an opportunity to renew friendship because ultimately no “you’re not my friend, get out of my life” had actually been said.

Facebook has changed this. Now with the simple click of a button we can signal that we no longer want someone in our lives. There’s no cost to us. Facebook doesn’t even send a notification so the only way someone might notice is if they come across your profile (or of course if they use an app to check which, let’s be honest, is a bit excessive). In fact the actual cost occurs if you did it in the heat of a moment because then you have to request to be added a friend once more which triggers the “why did you unfriend me?” awkward conversation.

I guess my message through this post is to think twice and even thrice (yes it’s fun to use that word!) before unfriending someone. Right now Facebook is full of heated and opinionated posts. It’s scary time around the world and everyone reacts in different ways. But there are several steps you can take to distance yourself from someone before taking that final act.

  1. Unfollow them. This means that their posts won’t appear on your feed. They have no way of knowing this- no harm no foul.
  2. Break your friends up into various lists that you use to filter post visibility. Are you tired of having a few of them get super opinionated and confrontational on your wall? Then limit their ability to see certain posts on your wall. It’s the same as the decision we all make not to discuss politics or religion with many of our friends and family.
  3. Add them to your restricted list. This is a bit of a bigger step but still not at the unfriending level. It makes your feed appear as if you don’t post very often. But, once again, they don’t get notified and you can always remove them. It’s similar to acting colder to someone offline. Yes it can be passive aggressive BUT the opportunity is still there to keep the friendship alive.

Check out Facebook’s tutorial on how to create and manage lists here.

Above all I urge you to stop and take a deep breath before deciding to unfriend anyone. Recognize that by doing that you are sending a very powerful signal that will require a major conversation to undo. Friendships matter. They are so very valuable and most of the time Facebook can bring out the best in them. So don’t let it bring out the worst.

What I learned when I created an Instagram profile for my cats

Yes I’m now one of THOSE people. I have an Instagram for my three cats where I post their latest exploits and, yes, pretend at times to speak in their voice. Many think I’m crazy- and I’m really fine with that because this account has helped me remember how fun social media can be. My cat account is my outlet. It’s where my feed is full of other cute cats doing silly things like riding roombas, sticking their heads in bags and looking aloof. It’s also a place of interacting with a passionate community.

For example:

All three of my kitties are rescues and two of them were rescued off of the “kill list” from an NYC shelter by an amazing foster mom in Brooklyn. Both are black cats which decreased their chance of adoption and one was misidentified as vicious- most likely because she had survived the streets for 3 months and the shelter had no time to work with her to calm down. August 17th was National Black Cat Appreciation Day and it was awesome to see my feed fill up with Black Cat love. We shared stories and photos as well as raised awareness of the low black cat adoption rates. It was awesome to see the community come together in support of each other and our cats.

And guess what? On my cat Instagram there’s no mention of politics. You’d have no idea that this is a vicious election year. I have no idea how many Drumpf or Hillary supporters I may be interacting with because it doesn’t matter. My cat Instagram account is a sanctuary- a place where I can go to remind myself that there are still shared interests around which I can interact with others.

This isn’t escapism. It’s part of being human. We all have many identifying markers and it’s never been more important to embrace those. In terms of career many in my field preach that it’s futile to try to have a personal life and preach the glories of “hustling”. You are your work, all other is secondary. Most “thought leader” social media accounts reflect this.

But here’s the thing-we choose to make our accounts work and career-focused. We choose to blur that line through personal branding. We choose to submerge certain aspects of our personal identity. As I’ve written about in prior posts (here and here) this can be absolutely fitting. But we need to keep in mind that by choosing to build communities with a very specific work-centric identity, we risk loosing other aspects of ourselves.

I’m not talking about the whole “I’m totally transparent” thing because are you, really? Humans are weird. All of us have hobbies or pasts that are secret. So as much as you say “I’m transparent” on your feed, you’re not. You have an internal censor that thinks carefully through what you post and curates a balanced feed. Your offline self knows all about treading carefully through appropriate conversation topics (Thanksgiving anyone?)so don’t try to pretend that your online self is suddenly free to discuss anything you want.

That’s why it’s been so freeing for me to create an entirely niche account on Instagram where I’m only focused on one aspect of my identity- my love of cats. Many people take a break from social media to get back to their identity, if, like me, that’s not for you then I’d strongly suggest making a completely niche social media account. I’d also suggest that you check out Instagram to do so because it reach lends itself to the niche community- for examples-check out Urban GardeningFoodies or Fitness.

Bottomline: Social Media can be freeing and let you explore different aspects of yourself. So do it! Make your social media experience fun again. 

And  of course if you want to see the antics of three kitties named after Harry Potter characters come on over to @3kittiesinthecity 

Screenshot 2016-08-23 12.47.21.png

Featured blog image via xkcd.

What We Can Learn From the Failure of Blab

The social media community is reeling and in an uproar from the sudden closure of Blab. There’s considerable shock that the platform would be shut down within it’s die-hard community. My Facebook newsfeed has been full of the outrage. Yet take a step outside of our little world and it’s easy to see why Blab failed. Only the niche tech publications felt it worth covering.

Screenshot 2016-08-16 11.14.07

This is  REALLY IMPORTANT LESSON!

As I’ve said many times, it’s essential to keep the audience of a platform in mind before putting together a social strategy around it. Blab ended up being an echo-chamber for the same faces (only 10% of people who signed up returned according to the founder) and as such was unable to monetize. This is the same issue with many live-streaming options because many people simply don’t have the time during the workday to stop and tune-in.

Moreover, as Blab also noted, most live streaming content just isn’t that interesting to draw people in. This absolutely makes sense if you think about how people tend to consume live-media. It’s no surprise that the main success stories for livestream revolve around sports and entertainment events. It’s important to understand that these are not indicative of the success of livestreaming but rather of the specific times when livestreaming is a viable social strategy. 

In addition to content another issue with platforms like Blab is that they require an additional step in one’s routine. You can’t stumble upon a Blab on a platform that you’re used to accessing. You had to establish a different account and use a different app. There has to be a massively high incentive to do this for the average consumer which once again is why the content has to be very compelling. This is why out of all of the livestreaming options I’m betting on FacebookLive as the breakout option.

As social strategists it is essential to think about the way in which our target audience consumes content. As I’ve written elsewhere, experimentation is great but it’s not a social strategy and livestreaming is a great example. Where it succeeds is where there’s a diehard base eager to consume realtime additional content. But just because it works there doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to other areas.

Of course this is true for all platforms and why some have succeeded while others have failed.

The saga of Blab is a great learning experience for the social media marketing world. Let’s make sure to take it to heart.

Personal Branding Is Much More Than Self-Marketing

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.