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The importance of online personal branding

With the ever-growing influence of technology, our social and business landscapes are changing. And with changing landscapes come new rules – not least among these is a new approach to personal branding. Though this may seem like a daunting prospect for those used to conducting business in ‘the old way’, digital strategist Natasha Courtenay-Smith outlines in simple and approachable terms the importance of online personal branding and the positive effect it will have on your career. Her book #StandOutOnline is sure to be the first step in your professional makeover.


In the United States, a new phenomenon is sweeping the most determined and driven of start-up founders, visionaries, change-makers, CEOs, celebrities and ambitious employees. It involves digital self-promotion to a new extreme – and the employment of a full-time video-content crew. In the same way that reality TV stars have used their daily lives to capture the attention of millions of television viewers, these individuals are using their own regular working routines and their voices to entertain, educate, inspire and build their own audiences via the Internet.


The goal? To build themselves the most visible of personal brands online and to turn themselves into the stars and leaders of their own micro-niche. And it’s working, with these digital pioneers becoming household names in their own right.


There’s nothing new about the concept of personal branding, of course. Irrespective of your background, you know that the personal brand of Cleopatra is synonymous with Ancient Egypt and for Julius Caesar it is Rome. For millennia, personal brands have supported organisational brands, and individuals have become known for their talents, passions, knowledge and for what they do – and then they have used that positioning to attract more opportunity and to exert more influence. More recent examples include Richard Branson and Virgin, Bill Gates and Microsoft, Steve Jobs and Apple, and J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.


Against this backdrop, however, there have always been plenty of other people who are just as talented and just as ambitious, and yet they still never become well known, they never acquire memorable personal-brand status and they are left thinking what could have been if only they’d been given their time in the spotlight. And that’s because a powerful personal brand requires two things: ability and visibility.


You need to be good at what you do – but you also need other people to see you doing it. And in the past, yes, that was often a matter of chance, luck or even connections. The issue was that for most us, achieving the same degree of fame as these big names in terms of our personal profile just wasn’t an option, unless some sort of miracle occurred. Until now …


We are right at the start of a wave of opportunity that will soon become our new reality. Everyone now has the power to publish and create micro-fame and recognition through putting out content and to do it word-by-word, post-by-post, video-by-video. Smartphones have changed the world forever: the average person spends 3 hours a day on their phone and checks it 80 times a day, according to research from Facebook, and hundreds of millions of everyday people, just like you and me, have been schooled by Instagram, Facebook and YouTube – and they understand, not only the power of creating beautiful magazine-style, billboard-size content, but also how to do it. And if we don’t know the ‘how’ yet, the chances are you have the inclination to learn.


This pace of change is not slowing down, but speeding up. This means that a consciously created and shaped personal brand is an asset and no longer a choice, but a necessity.


I’d go as far as saying that regardless of how tight your privacy settings (in fact – really you should forget the notion of absolute privacy right now), you already have a personal brand, whether you like it not. If you’ve ever commented on a blog, or set up a profile on a social network, or sent a tweet, or you have been featured on your employer’s website, your personal brand is already out there.


The CV will soon be relegated to history: why bother reading a CV when you can usually find out everything you need to know from Google and social networks? And if you’re reading this thinking: Things just aren’t how they were, no they are not – and thank goodness! You should be happy about this, because in today’s world, people trust and listen to other people, not corporate brands or faceless organisations – and this offers tremendous opportunity for you.


[But] if you haven’t got your online profiles set up, you are actually doing yourself more harm than good. If someone can’t find you online, they’re actually going to think there’s something very strange about that and not trust you. In the digital sense, not having great profiles online is the same as not turning up to a meeting.


In fact, I’d go further. Without working on your personal brand, you risk finding yourself in the slow lane for ever more, left behind and overlooked. Whatever industry you are in, there will be others coming up, or even in existence already, who have embraced the power of the Internet, and they will overtake you if they build their personal brands and you don’t.


Likewise, neglected online profiles are also damaging. If people look at your Twitter and see no posts since 2014, they will probably presume that you must have died. You have a personal brand online in the same way that you make an impression in the real world.


You wouldn’t go to your next meeting with food on your jacket, messy hair and having not washed for five days (I hope). But if people visit your LinkedIn profile and see no photo, very out-of-date information and no recommendations, you’ll have the same impact on them as would a scruffy tramp turning up for a job interview. Although this might sound bad, not actually having a profile at all on some of the key social media platforms is considered to be even worse. That’s the real-world equivalent of turning up to a meeting to find that not only has the other person not turned up, but they have sent you no communication before or afterwards. Imagine that? This is what many millennials refer to as a social media ghost. If you cannot be found online, you simply cannot be trusted.


There is only one thing to do and that is to start. Until you do, until you launch your Stand Out Online project, all of this will remain theoretical. The best way to learn is on the job, through doing it and through the process. Don’t wait, don’t over-analyse, don’t get analysis paralysis, and definitely don’t wait for permission from anyone else. Don’t be scared, don’t be shy, don’t worry about the whats, hows and the whens. Commit to content creation, commit to content distribution, and commit to making your dream a reality. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme – it’s a journey.


Get out there and get started. And let me know how you go.



This article is extracted from Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s #StandOutOnline: How to Build a Profitable and Influential Personal Brand in the Digital Age.