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8 personal branding best practices I share with college students


Each semester I teach at the University of St. Thomas, we spend at least one class period on personal branding. This semester we’ll spend two class periods on the topic–next week! In advance of that class, I thought I’d share my 8 best practices I try to share with every student in my class each semester.

Look, I don’t consider myself a personal branding expert. However, I have had lots of practice the last 13+ years as I’ve essentially developed a business from my “personal brand.” So, I’ve tried lots of things. I’ve had success here and there–and like others, I’ve had my share of failures and f***-ups.

But, through that failure, I’ve learned a ton. And it’s those learnings I share with my students–and you today:

1 – Show up where your buyers show up

The big mistake I see a lot of people making is trying to be relevant and active on all the networks. That’s simply not necessary. Instead, do a little research and find out where your “buyers” show up most often. By buyer, I mean, hiring managers, clients or referral sources. In many cases, that will be LinkedIn. But, in some it’s Twitter. In others, it’s TikTok. But, you need to learn more about your audience before you start spending time on any social network. Marketing planning 101.

2 – When it comes to content, focus on what’s interesting to your buyers

This is the area I see most people making the biggest mistakes. Instead of sharing content about your current employer all the time, focus on content you believe is interesting to your buyers. Sure, you could sprinkle content from your employer once in a while, but it shouldn’t be your bread-and-butter–because most people simply don’t care. What they do care about is themselves and the pain points and issues that impact them. So, talk about that! At the very least, resist the urge to talk about you or your company too much. Instead, put that time and energy into creating and sharing content that your buyers care about.

3 – Provide (a few) opportunities for people to pat you on the back

OK, I just said you don’t want to talk about you. For the most part, that’s true. But, you do want to give your community the chance to pat you on the proverbial back every now and then. Like one out of every 7-10 posts. If you changes jobs, there’s an opportunity. Get a new client. Another one. Earn an award at work. There’s another one. Just make sure your feed doesn’t start to be all about you.

4 – Establish a strong POV

Another area most struggle with–and for good reason. Having a strong POV isn’t easy. You’re going to upset some people–especially in 2022! But, that’s OK. One of my favorite sayings (not sure where I heard it) is: “You’re not a blogger until you’ve pissed people off.” The point, of course, isn’t to make people angry. But, having a strong POV means everyone won’t always agree with you. And that’s OK. Because the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to having a strong POV. Yes, it will help you develop a strong personal brand. But, it’s also an essential skill–especially if you land on the agency side at any point in your career. Having a POV in agency-land is absolutely critical. So, why not start building that muscle now! As Jim Rome used to say “Have a take and do not suck!”

5 – Never miss a chance to highlight or showcase others

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want to be recognized for their work. And chances are, you’ve worked with some pretty talented and wonderful people over the years. Do your part to support them and lift them up through content on social media. It doesn’t have to be all that much either–it could be a simple thank you post like what my friend Tara Olson Medina did a few weeks ago.

This is another muscle worth building. Is one of your goals to be an effective leader? One of the key qualities of any good leader I’ve worked for or with over the years is the ability to put his or her team above him/herself. Not to sound like a broker record, but start building that muscle now.

6 – Balance your online persona with a lot of in-person networking

I think a lot of people think personal branding is all about social media. It’s not. You can definitely create connection online, but you can take that connection and relationship to the next level with in-person networking. This is a piece a lot of young people struggle with–but only because 1) they’re young and new to networking, and 2) no one ever showed them how to do it! Social media can be the great connector. But it’s those in-person interactions where you really cement the relationship. For me, this means: coffees (lots of coffees), breakfasts, happy hours, basketball games, golfing and skiing. Note those last few are not necessarily professional deals. Also note I didn’t even mention professional networking events–I don’t see as much value in those as others do. Make sure you’re budgeting time to meet people face-to-face each week. Without that personal connection, you could have the best social media persona in the world, but few are going to buy you based on that alone.

7 – Less is more when it comes to content–way more

Building a personal brand online doesn’t mean you have to post 3 times a day. In fact, if you do that (or anything close to it), people are going to be real sick of you. Fast. And that’s not a personal brand anyone wants (who hires the annoying guy who posts 15 times a day on Twitter?!). Instead, focus on quality over quantity and be very thoughtful about what you post, and how often. I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast rule of thumb re: frequency, but I would definitely say “less is more” when it comes to content on any channel. For me, that usually means posting to LinkedIn 2-4 times per week. I want to show up in the feed–but not TOO much. Other channels will be different. You want to make sure you’re showing up consistently–but you don’t want to be annoying.

8 – Make sure to include the “person” in “personal branding”

This goes for anyone actually–from students to CEOs. Personal branding is about having a POV and establishing an area of expertise, in many cases. But, it’s also just as much about being a human being. And human beings make mistakes–you should talk about those once in a while. Human beings have lives outside of work–you should definitely talk about this once in a while. And human beings are vulnerable–every last one of us. So, if you’re open to sharing that vulnerability online, I think that goes a long ways toward building that brand. After all, people want to work for and with people who: are fun, likeable, smart and easy to work with. The personal part is also important because it gives people something to latch on to. Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about the struggles of raising teens during a pandemic. That’s not an easy conversation to have online. But, I think it’s an important one, and I think it gives people an insight into who I am as a person–not just as a social media consultant. People can relate to that. Fellow parents can connect with me on that topic. And that’s important because a big piece of personal branding (in case you haven’t noticed so far) is relationships. And, you can’t build those relationships unless you open up a bit.



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