lion The amazing thing about the time we live in is that anybody with the time and willpower can build a personal brand. You’re no longer shackled by things like where you went to college (or even IF you went to college), what you look like or how much money you make.

Every person can find their voice, find their niche on the Internet. Even if you are comfortably working in a company somewhere, I advise people to build a personal brand. It is a highly transferable asset if you should need to look for a job someday. The reputation and network you build online can help open new doors in both a current or future position. To build an effective online personal brand, there are three critical components to consider.

1) Rich + niche 

By now you know that content is the catalyst that makes things happen on the web but not all content is equal, not all content will do. Unless you are already a celebrity, most business professionals can’t build a brand just by tweeting or posting on Facebook.

To really build a connection with people, develop a voice of authority, and have an opportunity for massive reach, you need to have a source of “rich” content. Generally, this means you develop a blog, podcast or video series. Secondarily, Slideshare, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even a photo site like Flickr might provide legitimate platforms for rich content, depending on the nature of your business. But generally a blog, video, or podcast will provide the fuel for your social media rocket.

As you are thinking about “rich” you also need to think about “niche.” It is easier to build a brand in a targeted, un-crowded market than to breakthrough in an overwhelmed area like “life coaches” or “social media consultants.” Here are a couple of examples:

  • Jon Loomer does social media consulting but focuses specifically on the subject niche of advanced Facebook marketing. He literally surrounds you with rich content like blog posts, podcasts and webinars!
  • Ryan Hanley also focuses on marketing but is carving a niche in a vertical — insurance. He has a blog and podcast to help serve this industry that is ripe for marketing innovation. Ryan is also developing his presence on Google Plus, which is probably an under-developed space.
  • It has been fun to watch Srinivas Rao develop his niche from the lessons he learned about entrepreneurship by interviewing people on his highly-rated podcast. He is creating a strong personal brand centered on “instigators” who have inspired him. His content includes events, podcasts, blogging and books.
  • Another opportunity is to find a niche in a geographic region like PR professionals Anne Deeter-Gallaher (Central PA), Amy Howell (Memphis) or Kimmo Linkama (Estonia/Finland).

2. Ignite the brand

Content alone doesn’t accomplish anything. It has to move, ignite, and engage a relevant audience. And to do that, there are no shortcuts. You have to go out and find those people … systematically and continuously.

This is the critical aspect of personal and business brand-building that most people miss. They create content but then nothing happens because it doesn’t move. And believe me, it is very, very hard to move content! The key is to find and nurture relevant contacts who can create business benefits some day.

There are many ways to do this but here are three ideas to get you started:

  • Twitter Lists — if you are trying to build a targeted audience for your content, there is no faster way that mining the vast resources of Twitter. One of the richest sources is the powerful public lists people have curated on every subject and occupation imaginable. You can find a full Twitter List tutorial here. Also, Chapter 5 of The Tao of Twitter has an extensive list of audience-building techniques.
  • There are 2.1 million LinkedIn Groups and there are bound to be a few out there chock-full with your potential customers and contacts. Use your content to help people in these groups and solve problems.
  • Your potential audience — where are they hanging out now? Industry blogs? Professional forums? Pinterest pages? Related blogs? Go there and connect with them.

3. Convert weak links to strong links

Here is the biggest mistake people make when trying to build a brand on the web: They assume their new online audience can be motivated to actually DO something. Normally, they can’t.

I have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. If I send out a tweet to ask for help in supporting a cause, how many will respond? Almost nobody. That’s because the weak links of social media connections might share content or click a “Like” button but are unlikely to actually take any real action. Who are the people who really will help you? The ones you know. The ones you have actually met. These are the people who will support you and read and share your content over time.

This may sound like common sense but trust me, most people vastly overestimate the power of an impressive number of friends and followers. You have to go the extra step. Social media opens the doors to new relationships but you have to walk through that door and ENGAGE. Here are three ideas to help:

  • Take speaking engagements and attend conferences that will allow you to convert these weak links to string links. Here are three excellent networking case studies to demonstrate this.
  • Once people begin interacting with your content, find new ways to interact with them. Visit their blog, give them a call, have a Skype session.
  • If you are building a national or regional brand, set aside time on business trips to meet new people in person. Rarely do I visit a city that I don’t try to get together with some new friends and convert a weak link to a strong one.

So there you have it. Rich and niche. Ignition. Convert to strong links. An easy formula but one that certainly requires persistence and commitment to execute. Please add to this conversation in the comment section!

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Jamison Young.

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