Branding is not just for brands anymore.
If you take your professional life seriously and want to compete for the top spot in your industry, you need to develop your own personal brand.
Whether you're looking to begin your career, cement your reputation in your industry or extend your credentials into a new field; building a strong following of like-minded people on social media is paramount.
Social Media Is No Longer Optional
In social media's early days, the tone was informal, personal and casual.
Looking back at Myspace and Friendster, these were places for unfiltered self-expression and experimenting with identity. Pseudonyms were the norm, and reputation wasn't jealously guarded or painstakingly maintained.
Flash forward nearly a decade, and things could not be more different.
Now instead of being an optional enterprise, building and grooming your social media presence has become a much more important vehicle for presenting your professional experience to the world, among other facets of your life.
The meaning of the word "social" used to default to socializing "in real life." Ten years later, the reverse is true.
Social media has now become a barometer for real-world influence.
Brands have long pretended to be people on social media in order to capitalize on this reputation-affirming effect, but an interesting flip has occurred.
While brands are trying to resemble individuals, people are now beginning to behave like brands through sharing a consistent narrative about themselves focused on specific themes.
Just look at this Google Trend report for "personal branding."
In an age where everyone has a public profile, employers are inevitably using this additional information to improve their hiring choices - and who can blame them?
It used to be they had very little detail to go on prior to a phone call or interview, other than what you gave them with your resume and cover letter.
Now things are different. Whether you like it or not, there's a lot of information out there that can give an employer a pretty good sense of who you are.
Even worse, if there's not a lot about you online they either assume you don't matter or have something to hide.
A strong resume, a polished skillset, a flourishing network of relationships in your field and hardwork used to be enough to solidify your career.
In today's marketplace, it's essential to reflect those same elements online to be considered a top candidate.
Resumes Are Less Relevant
Applying for jobs used to be much more difficult. It's still a long, arduous process today, but for different reasons.
Not that long ago, you'd have to get your resume professionally typed and printed; scour job listings in the paper - sharpie in hand - and then literally seal and mail envelopes to prospective employers.
You had to lick an envelope every time you applied for a job - how crazy is that?
Because of the friction at every step of the way, people just applied to fewer jobs, therefore, there were far fewer applicants to sort through and much more time for employers to evaluate each one carefully.
Applying to jobs online is obviously much easier, as the process is far more automated and its simpler to find postings for jobs of all kinds.
This now results in any promising opening seeing a deluge of applications like never before.
Amongst an inbox full of resumes, it's really easy to get lost in the mountain of other people applying to the same role.
A resume used to be a job candidate's most prized possession, but now it's merely one part of a greater, more complicated hiring process.
That's not to say you shouldn't have one, as you'll need it to prove your experience to most recruiters and hiring managers, but the idea that your resume will actually get you noticed on its own: well that's completely untrue.
You can't just keep telling people you know what you're talking about, you have to actually prove it, and the best way to do that is to create and share insightful, industry-specific content on social media.
Writing: The Universal Skill
Writing on social media is a fantastic way of letting potential employers and connections in your industry understand who you are, what you stand for, where your expertise lies and how you think.
The writing you invest in could be anything from creating long-form blog posts, LinkedIn articles, tweets, Facebook posts etc.
No matter what field you work in, writing more clearly and effectively can help you stand out and succeed.
Developing a point of view, and then communicating it clearly in writing, will not only build authority for yourself in an industry, but it also signals strong communication skills and a clear train of thought.
Unlike putting your resume together in a few hours or over the weekend, results from branding with social media don't come overnight.
"Personal branding success is something that takes time and effort, and where social media is concerned, patience is not a virtue - it's a necessity," says Jeremy Goldman, founder of Firebrand Group and author of Getting to Like.
In addition, writing about your field of interest will force you to read up on the industry and give you plenty of incredible topics to discuss.
Once you begin to read and write, you'll naturally cross paths with others in your field that are practicing the same approach. Leverage the accessibility and flatness of social media to reach out and seek connections in your vertical.
If you're coming from a place of genuine interest and admiration, even seemingly inaccessible luminaries in the field might not be as out of reach as you think.
Find Your Niche, Then Embrace It
The next reasonable question one might ask before embarking on this journey is what should you write and post about on social media?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but I can provide some general advice.
First of all, make sure it aligns exactly with what you want to do.
Dan Schawbel, career expert and bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0, puts it rather succinctly.
"I think professionals need to reflect on the experience they've had and the direction they are headed in. If you don't know how you want to position yourself in the marketplace, then social media won't help you. Have a set goal and decide on your unique niche and value proposition, then have your social profiles reflect that."
Dan has a really excellent point here - if you don't know what you actually want out of your career, it'll be very hard to achieve it.
I've written extensively about using content marketing to build a brand with purpose, and this advice is no different for when it comes to building a compelling personal brand.
As Dan suggests, look back at your previous experience, or interests and ambitions, and then come up with a purpose underlying and driving your career goals.
Once you have a clearly defined purpose, it should be easier to start building a strong idea of what topics you should write about and/or share on social media.
An important piece of advice on this point is to get very specific when it comes to choosing what you're sharing on social media.
For example, if you define yourself as simply an accountant, then you'll probably find it hard to stand out and find something interesting to say.
However, if you define yourself as "a small business accountant who believes that empowering entrepreneurs to better understand and manage their finances helps make great ideas succeed" then the perspective you share on social media will be more likely to resonate.
In addition, the broader the topic you choose, the more competition there is in the space. You'll rarely start off with new, insightful things to say about an entire sector, but you can certainly develop interesting perspectives on a small piece of your industry that interests you.
Tactics For Branding On Social Media
Here are some specific tactics for building a strong personal presence on social media.
1. Only Focus On 2-3 Social Channels
As I've argued in the past, it's much better to be really active in a meaningful way on just two or three social channels than to be semi-active on all of them in a lackluster fashion.
Nobody will notice if you're not there, but they will notice if you have a presence and you manage it poorly.
Think about people you admire and would like to emulate in your industry - do they all seem to congregate on certain channels?
Chances are they do, and that's where you should focus your efforts.
Also, think seriously about choosing a platform that allows you to publish directly. A personal blog/site is no longer an absolute necessity to self-publish.
LinkedIn (a very natural choice for most professionals) has an incredible publishing tool that's easy to use and allows for distribution of your content once published.
In addition, Twitter plays very nicely with Medium (Ev Williams founded both), which is another way to focus on creating interesting content related to your career and ensure it's easy to promote.
Take your time with this choice in the beginning, but you can always change your mind and approach again in the future to abandon a channel that isn't working or experiment on a new one.
2. Identify, Engage And Befriend Other Professionals
Any industry, no matter how niche, will likely have a few established voices that garner respect.
After deciding on your industry, platforms and topics, find the people with clout in your vertical and actively interact with them.
Connecting with like-minded professionals in your field will provide you with opportunities to learn more about your craft, build rapport with luminaries in the industry, showcase your skills and passion for the sector by helping others and increase the visibility of your personal brand overtime.
To start, browse Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and elsewhere to find people that consistently share interesting content related to your career interests and aspirations.
Reach out to some of the professionals you've found on social media to spur meaningful conversation with them about the field by commenting on your shared interests, as well as expressing your genuine willingness to help them succeed in advancing their own career.
Simply saying you appreciate their work isn't going to get you far as it's unoriginal, while asking them for something is too selfish.
Instead, review their book, quote one of these experts in your article, interview them for your video series and more to network with them more deeply through content and leave a memorable impression.
3. Strategically Repurpose
Although an active social presence is very important for building and honing your personal brand, if you don't approach the project intelligently it can begin to become an outsized investment of time and energy.
Ideally, throughout this process, you also want to be making contacts and find promising leads for new jobs or business opportunities.
Ted Rubin, social media expert and author of Return on Relationship, has some highly practical advice for balancing quality and efficiency on social media.
"Get mileage out of good content by creating multiple pieces of related content off of one piece. Turn a longer blog post into three, and create tweets from what you have already written. Repurposing content helps you create usable content at scale."
Repurposing is absolutely necessary if you hope to make the most of your content efforts.
This way you're not reinventing the wheel every time you're ready to share content on social media.
Again, it's important to stress that this entire process is time consuming as a brand isn't built quickly.
"This takes time, so stay on track by developing a strategy and processes for sharing good content over and over, remember to engage and build relationships, and you'll establish better thought leadership and keep your brand top-of-mind," added Ted Rubin.
Now it's your turn to start more wisely using social media to elevate your personal brand.
This post originally appeared on the Honigman Media blog.