Once the purview of marketing execs tasked with creating a consistent, recognizable company identity, the idea of a capital B “Brand” has become increasingly important for other leaders, too, as they look to grow their career in an era where influence is often measured by the click. Social media has only amplified the trend, compelling even the most digitally-averse to curate how they show up online to potentially millions of strangers.
But as social media has become more fragmented (see: Twitter turned X) and executive career tenures have become shorter and shorter, creating a sustainable, lasting personal brand has become both more important and more challenging. “A personal brand has gone from being a nice-to-have to a need-to-have,” says Danielle Hughes, founder of branding consultancy More Than Words Marketing. “Gone are the days where our bios were just a laundry list of accomplishments. Now they are future-focused, representing who we are and where we want to go and what we want people to know in order to move ourselves forward.”
Hughes typically sees clients with a lot of executive experience fall into the trap of conflating their brand with a long list of achievements or roles held, which ends up feeling more like a timeline than a consistent narrative. She had one client who came to her after being promoted to SVP with a bio and profile that read like a resume and included typical jargon like “30-year experienced executive.”
“Updating her brand required a shift from ‘Here are all the things that I’ve done’ to ‘Here’s how I’ve taken charge, had a seat at the table, and shepherded projects,'" explains Hughes. “With every level you go up, you own more, but you’re also owning the things you want people to know about you.” She finds that for clients like these, having a story to tell brings them the confidence to start building a more public presence, like posting more on LinkedIn or booking more speaking engagements.
Hughes encourages her clients to find the thread that connects all of their positions or accomplishments. “Most of us can tie back what we do as a career to something in our childhoods, how we used to play, or how we responded to our circumstances,” she says. “How you think versus what you do is so much more interesting and memorable.”
Hughes prefers the term “personality brand” over personal brand to emphasize the pieces of ourselves that we use to forge connections and build trust. To that end, she always has her clients include something that is completely unrelated to their work on their bio and social media profiles.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s the thing people want to talk about,” she says. “If you tell me you’ve climbed Mount Everest, that’s all I want to hear about.” And it doesn’t have to be that literally momentous — she’s had clients include things like collecting vintage vinyl and finding rare records. Those are the real conversation starters, which often pave the way to opportunities or relationships down the line.
Once you have your story honed, Hughes recommends making sure it’s consistent across all the places where you might have a public presence; that includes your company (or personal) website, social media platforms, and any other organizations’ websites where you might appear.
Too often, executives make the mistake of equating a personal brand with their social media presence. But a brand goes much deeper than the platform it appears on. “Pretend it’s the 1970s, and there is no social media. Why do you want to build a personal brand? What emotions do you want to make people feel? How do you want to contribute to people’s lives?” asks Crowd Surf Co-Founder Cassie Petrey, who has crafted the social media presence for clients like the Backstreet Boys, Camila Cabello, Paramore, Nickelback, and more.
Once you have your answers, then you can think about how social media can help accomplish those goals. For executives, this often means the first stop is LinkedIn, still the go-to network for career advice and growth opportunities. Its usage as an influential social network continues to grow. Data from the company shows that users posted 41% more content in 2023 than compared to 2022.
For leaders looking to build their brand on the platform, it’s important to have a point of view — and patience. Once you identify the topics in your industry that are important to you, craft your unique perspective, and engage in the comment section of your posts and others’. Don’t worry about followers either — influence is less about numbers than the depth of impact you have on the people who listen to you.
Traction may take time, but consistency will pay off. Worry less about being annoying or repetitive than creating a cadence that you can stick to for at least 10 months. “I like to tell my clients you've not broken through until you're sick of yourself,” Hughes jokes. While you can hire someone to manage your social media, handling it yourself gives you the opportunity to find your voice and engage more organically with others.
A personal brand can and should evolve as your career does. But by honing a voice and point of view that’s separate from any current title or role, leaders can craft their own career narrative and position themselves to take advantage of future opportunities.
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