Building a personal brandThe world of YouTubers is something of a generational chasm, with teens watching in their millions, while older internet users look on confused as to what the fuss is all about.

This much we do know: while personal branding has only really picked up traction as a marketing buzzword in the last 12 months or so, some YouTubers were developing their personal brand as early as 2009.

In fact, developing a brand via the medium of YouTube probably stretches back further than 2009, but that was the first time a creator surpassed one million subscribers on the social network (Lukas Cruikshank, a.k.a. Fred, if you were wondering).

Things have gone on from there, with many of the UK’s most influential YouTube creators finding fame outside their own channel. Take Zoella, for instance, who has recently released her second novel, which followed an appearance on the 2015 comic relief edition of The Great British Bake Off. If you look at it from a purely marketing perspective, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

The influence and social reach of these YouTube stars is remarkable. Case in point: Zoella’s debut novel, Girl Online, broke the record for highest first-week sales of a first-time novelist.

In this post we will examine what we can learn from YouTubers with regards to personal branding; before moving on to look at the power of building a personal brand – from helping you do more business to the inevitable employability perks that come with boosting your online presence.

What is ‘personal branding’?

First things first, however, let’s get it clear in our minds what comprises a personal brand. We like this definition from PwC as a place to start:

“It’s your reputation. It’s about bringing who you are to what you do and how you do it. It’s about making your mark by being yourself – your best self. Think of your personal brand as your calling card – your unique promise of value. It’s what you’re known for and how people experience you.”

Perhaps the easiest way to get your head around personal branding is to look at people such as the Beckhams and Jamie Oliver. Both appear to have built personal brands for life, despite the fact that David and Victoria have ceased doing what made them famous – football and singing respectively – while Oliver has no Michelin star to his name.

Brand Beckham is estimated to be worth more than £500 million; Oliver £240 million. Now, we could talk about what makes them money-making machines till the cows come home, but if you were to boil it down you’d probably say their success is built on the fact that their brands are greater than the sum of their parts.

In other words, when you add up all the things that make up their respective brands, it is greater than it seems like it should be. That’s no criticism – it just illustrates the potential to make something great by doing the little things right. It teaches us that paying meticulous attention to the “parts” can make for a very powerful personal brand indeed. It also teaches us that these things take time, but the end result will be worth the effort. Who’d have thought we would have heard David Beckham speak out about child poverty 20 years ago?

How YouTubers garner all the online love

VloggersAs the introduction to this piece suggests, YouTubers have inadvertently shown themselves to be leading lights for marketers on personal branding. Perhaps the greatest thing they have shown us in this respect is that recognition doesn’t come without sheer persistence – and it only takes a single piece of content to make the transition from relative nobody to YouTube star.

What else can we learn from YouTubers?

1. Regularity is key

If YouTubers promise their viewers content, they sure as hell won’t disappoint them. Often they will specify an exact time when their next video is available, thus creating a sense of anticipation. Now, it takes a while to build up a personal relationship of this intensity, but only with regular, engaging content will it ever become a reality. In the online world, with its myriad distractions, it’s impossible to build a rapport without constant contact with your audience.

2. Cross-promotion spawns followers

What’s the only thing better than a YouTube star? Two YouTube stars, of course. YouTubers have recognised the power of collaboration as a means to both keep their content fresh and boost their followers. Us business folk would be wise to do similar from time to time and partner up with like-minded people with similar ambitions – then watch those followers grow.

3. A superiority complex will get you nowhere

Just as in real life, people will find it difficult to respect you if you exude an air of superiority. YouTubers pride themselves on their accessibility and try to maintain their authenticity even as their follower numbers head for the skies. In the business world, that can be as simple as talking as “we” and “us”. However, individuals should also make themselves approachable before and after speech appearances, for example, in order to develop personal relationships. Just be sure not to give too much of yourself away – speaking about ‘extra-curricular’ activities is probably not too wise.

4. Crowd-sourced ideas are the best

Generating new ideas can be a slog. Why not have your audience take some of the weight off? Not only will it make your life easier, it will ensure your content is well-aligned with your audience’s tastes, while also allowing them to contribute. YouTubers make a habit of asking their followers “what type of stuff do you like seeing on my channel”, prompting hundreds of immediate replies. You shouldn’t expect quite as many suggestions, but with only a few you could do wonders.

So, what can nurturing personal brands do for a business?

Nurture your personal brandAs YouTubers have shown us, developing an audience has benefits outside of just building an impressive number of followers. It might seem strange to have these teens and twentysomethings act as inspiration, but don’t forget that many are millionaires who have won book deals out of their online personas.

For business folk, it might be a little unwise to say that “this time next year we’ll be millionaires, Rodney”, but the benefits to the company can be pretty extraordinary nonetheless.

Indeed, there are many benefits to building an effective and relevant personal brand, due to the influence that comes with showing yourself to be more than just a face.

Here’s what Buffer says you can expect to enjoy:

  • A steady stream of ideal clients
  • Rewarding partnerships
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Greater mindshare
  • Association with a market niche
  • Greater credibility
  • Recognition and prestige
  • Higher perceived value

As a side note, a powerful online presence will also set you apart from other candidates when it comes applying for a new job – that’s what having 500+ LinkedIn connections and thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers tends to do these days: it turns heads. People instantly give you credibility for having acquired so many followers, assuming they must have been well earned.

How can you make it happen?

The good news is that there isn’t any great trick to building up an effective personal brand. It’s those two underrated qualities that really count: time and endeavour. Sure, you need to know what you’re doing, but unless you’re doing it often and with enterprise, you might as well not bother at all.

Once you have committed to building a personal brand, here’s where to start:

1. Determine your niche

Which area of expertise do you feel you like you know better than anybody else? We can’t be experts in everything, so it’s vital to identify where your efforts are best placed and operate within this niche. If you’re seen as a bit of a generalist, people will pin you down as a “jack of all trades, master of none”.

From there it’s all about carving out your own unique voice. Embrace what makes you ‘you’; don’t be tempted to build a brand around your “fake” self, as it’s just not sustainable. Take teen Instagram star Essena O’Neil as an example: exhausted by trying to project a “contrived” image of herself on social media, she took the drastic action of removing herself from the online world.

As O’Neil’s story illustrates, as much as anything else, trying to be somebody you’re not is exhausting, even online. Also, in the end, people will start to see cracks in the façade which could lead to all sorts of problems.

2. Write regularly for your blog

Regular bloggingThe benefits of content marketing have been well documented. However, what isn’t emphasised so often is what it can do for the reputation of the individual writing the content. If you can show yourself to be a trusted source of information through your content, you will start to cement the reputation as an expert in your field.

In order to achieve this status, however, you will need to write thought leadership articles. Thought leadership articles are time-consuming (if done well, that is), as they ask the writer to be visionary; backing up their points with concrete examples and facts. While thought leadership articles don’t necessarily have to be long, drawn-out affairs, they have to have a whiff of the unique.

3. Flesh out your social media profiles

It goes without saying that in this day and age, the only realistic way you can ensure your content is being read is by sharing it across social media. The good news is, if you’re in business and are serious about networking, likelihood is you’ll already have social media profiles set up in your name.

However, are they well-aligned and consistent? i.e. could someone tell that your profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook belonged to the same person if you removed your profile pictures? If not, you will need to spend some time bringing them all in line with the personal brand you intend to create for yourself.

This will also be a perfect time to flesh out your social media profiles a little, ensuring that all your information is present and correct. Scrutinise the pictures that are available for public consumption. Are they high quality and more importantly, are they suitable for business?

4. Become a regular keynote speaker

I know what you’re thinking: “My schedule is busy enough already without having to set a whole day aside to give a speech.” You’ve simply got to find the time. Whether that means delegating or outsourcing some of your more time-consuming tasks, just do it.

You’ve got to show that you match up to the online persona that you’ve created. In doing so, you will hopefully build a following, leading to invites to speak at bigger, more notable events and conferences. Networking opportunities will be a welcome by-product of regular public appearances – so get working on those communication skills.

Things to remember on social media

Social networkingWe can’t stress enough how important social media is in helping cement your personal brand. Sure, it’s important that you’re working across all fronts, but social media is THE platform from which everything else revolves.

As such, we felt like a social media checklist is in order. It’s not just a case of spewing your unedited thoughts online, you know…

  1. Be authentic: real anecdotes delivered in YOUR unique style.
  2. Re-read and edit: ensure posts are ‘on-brand’ and without typos.
  3. Post regularly: visibility is half the battle.
  4. Keep it consistent: same name, profile, pic, imagery etc.
  5. Choose pictures carefully: no alcohol-infused images.
  6. Join groups: LinkedIn is abound with industry-specific discussion.
  7. Monitor mentions: when possible, respond within the hour.
  8. Be personal: customise responses to your recipient.
  9. Get educated: stay ahead of the game by reading around your subject.
  10. Share other’s content: generosity can yield leads.

Conclusion

Although you will have to adjust your approach depending on the platform – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or face-to-face – certain principles must be evident across all mediums if you’re going to successfully build a personal brand.

Firstly, you have to be your true self. We opened the piece by looking at YouTubers, who are nothing if not authentic. That’s not to say they don’t play-up certain aspects of their personality, but, crucially, they are driven by their passions, and passion is infectious.

Secondly, you have to really know your stuff. By showing that you can comment intelligently and informatively on the hot topics in your industry, you will receive instant credibility, forcing up the number of connections and followers.

You might see it as a sad fact of modern life, but numbers count for so much these days. It makes sense in many ways. For example, if you’re a sales person on LinkedIn and a potential employer sees lots of connections, content being published and lots of interaction, they will see potential to hit the ground running instead of starting cold.

It can take time to reach the sort of follower numbers that incite attention, but with social media the opportunity is there. If you’re prepared to put the time in both behind the computer and away from it, industry expert status beckons.

If time is a bit of an issue for you, please get in touch. Here at M2 Bespoke, we are primed with writers to create your branded content, social media marketers to boost your followers and LinkedIn specialists to generate leads and establish connections.

Ben Hollom

November 10, 2015