How to create an authentic personal brand in the digital world

Written by
Sarah Clark

22 Nov 2016

22 Nov 2016 • by Sarah Clark

Our ‘forever-switched-on’ digital world provides a window into your organisation through which every element is permanently on show, so having a strong online presence is a critical game-changer.

Despite this, research by Domo and shows that more than half (61%) of Fortune 500 CEOs have no online presence at all. Of those who are social, LinkedIn is the go-to channel for 70%, followed by Twitter: the micro-blogging site saw a modest 1.7% increase in the number of CEOs joining over the past two years.

If you feel shy or uncomfortable about promoting yourself on social media, view it as an opportunity to build trust and connection with your network, employees and the wider business.

To fail to embrace it is to risk falling behind and potentially missing out on talent. Social media represents a cultural shift and it’s not just about technology, it’s part of our everyday lives.

The average person spends five hours a day on their smartphone, and checks it 85 times a day, according to a 2015 study by Nottingham Trent University.

So how can you become a top influencer on social media – and be authentic? We ask five experts to share their views and tips to get you started.

Dorie Clark, CEO, Clark Strategic Communications

There is an infinite number of social channels, but you’re an individual, not a corporation. The key is to go deep rather than wide. Coca-Cola needs to be on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Periscope and Tumblr. You, thankfully, do not.

Instead, pick two channels to focus on: LinkedIn is a necessity for professionals, and another platform of your choice. If you’re a visual thinker or work in a design-based profession, Instagram is a good choice; if you’re in the world of media or politics, go on Twitter; while stagnant in its overall growth, Twitter’s still a powerful force in those industries.

Spend at least a month using these channels by yourself – without help from assistants – so you can familiarise yourself with how they operate and begin to develop your individual ‘voice’ and your sense of what topics you’d like to write about or share. One of the best ways to do this is to start following the accounts of influencers you admire, and consciously analyse their style to see which sort of pieces you’d like to emulate.

Kevin Hough, head of talent acquisition UK & Ireland, PepsiCo, Inc.

Creating an authentic personal brand starts with being authentic in real life – the digital world is a window into the ‘real you’. PepsiCo supports its people to be brand ambassadors; it’s great to have the freedom to be your true self.

Choose your tone and mindset, and match it to your audience. It’s important to be upbeat and to share your successes, but honesty is key as people see through overly glossy stories. I’m comfortable talking about my mistakes in the hope that others can learn from them.

‘Making a plan’ can be derailing; have the confidence to be ‘you’ and it will come naturally. If you set out to be an influencer, you won’t be one. It’s all about having something great to say and learning what works.

Consider what you’re saying and how often, as people don’t want to read things you’ve posted for the sake of it – they want to be engaged with something relevant. My core channel is LinkedIn as I find it the most engaging network for my audience, but I occasionally share thoughts on Twitter.

Connect with people who genuinely want to learn. Everyone is different; they won’t always have the same views as you, but that creates richer conversations.

Matthew Sinclair, writer and consultant, Play At Work

The minute your name and face appear on social media is the minute you become a brand (like it or not).

In the digital world, the safest thing is to tow the corporate line. Keep it ‘professional’, impersonal; buy your following; caveat everything with ‘RTs ≠ endorsements’ and share nothing about yourself. Trouble is, you run the risk that people will think you’re not a real person at all.

Ask yourself: “why am I really putting myself out there?” Is it to promote, inform, comment or question? Maybe all these things, but you have to engage and share too. It’s social. Be social. Be people. People buy people.

Getting it right is a question of balance. Thinking before we speak is always advisable; we may over-share, say things in the heat of a moment – but sometimes, it’s good to take risks. How else can you start a conversation?

If you do slip up, you can always reflect, correct, apologise. Acknowledge the error of your ways. To err is human. If you’ve dared to present yourself to the world, you might just be forgiven.

Tor Goldfield, head of content, Southerly

Show up as your true self and share information that creates an accurate picture of who you are.

The old adage that people buy people is as true online as offline. You need to do more than showcase your experience and capabilities; effective social media influencers ensure their personality shines through. Rather than just posting an article on your social channels, give insight into how you feel about the subject. Start a debate, pick a side or share stories to bring the topic to life.

There is nothing more tedious than someone whose favourite subject is themselves. Show your interest in others, whether through ‘likes’, comments or distributing relevant third-party content. Get involved in conversations, but remember there is a fine balance between having an opinion and being argumentative. Demonstrating a sense of humour and the ability to see alternative views will serve you better than doggedly attempting to prove a point.

Tanya Garland, MD, Cool Blue Brand Communications

Your personal brand is the image, words and deeds that define what you’re ‘famous for’ at work – and this has a major influence over the opportunities that come your way. The idea isn’t new but can feel alien to self-effacing Brits.

You need to accommodate your authentic values or your plans will fall apart. For example, it’s unlikely you’ll thrive at a hedge fund if your values are a good work-life balance, being risk-averse and liking self-expression through your clothes choices. If you want a job like this, you have to be in the game: dress sharply, network, write insight papers, publicise the good stuff and show commitment.

Consistency is important. Sometimes professionals project themselves differently to how they would personally on social media – but this may be the first impression someone has of you. You can be personal and strategic too.

Take an online personality test to identify your core characteristics. They often focus on the Jungian ‘12 brand archetypes’; we know Richard Branson is a ‘rebel’, but you might be a ‘hero’, a ‘ruler’ or a ‘lover’. It’s surprisingly helpful to know where you fit. If this seems too daunting to tackle alone, attend a personal branding workshop.

Top 6 business leaders on social media by number of followers:

  1. Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
    ​LinkedIn: 6.5m | Twitter 31.5m
  2. Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin
    LinkedIn: 9.7m | Twitter 8.8m
  3. Arianna Huffington, founder, Huffington Post
    LinkedIn: 4.8m | Twitter 2.6m
  4. Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn
    LinkedIn: 4.6m | Twitter 400k
  5. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO, Ellevest
    LinkedIn: 1.5m | Twitter 50k
  6. Ryan Holmes, CEO, Hootsuite
    LinkedIn: 1.4m | Twitter 66.5k