The Art of Being You: Building A Better Personal Brand (without the BS)

Fu*k the rules, do what’s right for you?
Seriously. Fu*k em. 

Do you remember life without screens? 

I mean the glowing, talking, ever-present & omniscient ones we wistfully while away our lives behind (be they big, medium, small, or pocket-sized?

Do you remember going out with your friends at the dew-drop-dawn of each new day & riding bikes from sun-up to sun-down. Making up rules to games that didn’t exist yet & relishing in the art of unfettered play?

Did you dance on tables for the joy of & not because we needed fodder to feed an algorithm or three? 

Let me tell you… I did. Thank GAWD we didn’t have smartphones & cameras documenting every waking moment of our lives when I was young. Instead we embraced boredom as a challenge. We invented adventures & undertook them fastidiously.

We found joy in recounting our harrowing tales of escaping scorpions, rattlesnakes, & Bob cats (ahem, we never had to escape really – we never saw all the critters we imagined we’d escaped from, it was their trails in the shallow dust that reminded us they were there though). Oh I loved the days before digital applause became inherently tied to our own self-worth.

When was the last time you spent an entire summer afternoon lying in the grass looking up at the sky & watching the clouds pass overhead?
I can’t remember the last time I did it. 
Has my 13year-old daughter ever done this?
Ever? 
I’m not actually sure. 

My own memories moments where I was truly present haunt me like gentle ghosts. Nudging me. Nurturing me. All of them are specters of a past that whisper in my ears “Do you remember…” hey haunt me in rare moments of silence & stillness, prodding at a dusty corner of my consciousness reminding me of the innate joy in doing nothing. Now though, nothingness is frowned upon. 

In a world where we pay to go places without wifi & are easily seduced by the idea of going offline, we struggle when we encounter boredom. We’re now hard-wired for connection 24/7/365. But the connection our brains desire (damn you, dopamine) isn’t real connection. 

We are living in a time where our personal value is oftentimes measured by how busy we are, how many titles we’ve put next to our names on LinkedIn profiles, & how many followers see the photos/videos/words we upload. The measure is simple: if lots of people see the reckons we post & the breakfasts we tweet about (accompanied by inane/clever/snooze-worthy hashtags), then we must be very important & interesting. Right? 

Yeah, nah. 

In the past 20 years the fabric of our connected culture has become shinier, sure. And don’t we just covet the shiny things? We attempt to grab more & more of the twinkly stuff. We show only our highlight reels to the world. The ups. The celebrations. The rising from a fall. The highest of peaks. Sometimes we show glimpses of the hard stuff. But, that’s only sometimes. 

Mostly though, we keep our fears & our anxieties locked away. 
We wallow in our own defeats when defeat looks like us. 
When the person we see in the mirror isn’t perfect we hide them & from them. 

We disconnect to connect.

For most of us, social interactions are a smoke-screen. A proof-point of interacting with a modernity that has over-run us. It’s social media that defines us. All of us. We post dreamy smiles in golden sunlight in the hopes of living up to the expectations of people we’ve never met. Expectations that have yet to be defined. 

We follow. 
We follow.
We follow. 
We follow…

And, in turn, we hope others will follow us.
Why? Because being followable is the new wealth. 

Whether it’s 100 people or 100million, being followed is a new currency by which we buy & sell our self-confidence off of the back of likes, shares, comments & the ever-elusive idea of virality. Our sweet-fix digital culture is killing us though. Quite literally. We’re drunk on algorithms. 

Here at home in New Zealand our depression & suicide rates are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. We measure our value, our lovability, & our cleverness by double-taps on a screen somewhere else in the world. People we will never know hold our lives in the palms of their hands. 

Which brings me to the topic of Personal Brand. 

Google the term or take a wee squizz on any LinkedIn timeline & you’ll find a treasure trove of people talking about cutting through the din of digital content & becoming a thought leader by building a better personal brand than the next person. Millions of articles purport the best tips-&-tricks for hacking human algorithms (not to mention the social media driven ones) & becoming instantly likable. Instantly famous. Instantly worthy. 

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s an old one. It’s only the platforms on which we’re meant to sparkle that are different. Le sigh. Hands up if you’re already bored of all of the beaty-chesty congratulatory swill that people post in an attempt to feel any bit of anything at all. We chase this kind of interaction because we’ve forgotten how to say “Thank you,” and “Well done,” and any other nice thing to each other in real life – so we look for kindness online. 

Let me be the first to tell you though, the beaty-chesty stuff isn’t authentic or likable. We’re smart. All of us. We can sense bullshit at a thousand paces. When it comes to professional platforms like LinkedIn I can spot a boot-licker from just as far a distance as a bullshit artist. 1,000 paces. 

The most frequent question I get asked is: How can you tell if someone is authentic or not? 

Firstly, let’s not beat around the bush. If you are wondering if someone might not be who they purport to be – then investigate further. Our guts are great at spotting/feeling when things don’t feel quite right. If you’re looking for something that’s based on a person’s online activity, a good rule of thumb to figure out if someone’s yanking your proverbial chain is simple. 

On LinkedIn, head to their “activity” tab & see how they interact & with whom. A person who never interacts with their own colleagues but who hammers ye olde LIKE button when it comes to the chiefs is an easy pick as a butt-kisser. When I see folks of this ilk, I unfollow/dis-engage immediately. There’s only so much brown-nosing a girl can handle up in a timeline, ya know? But that’s just one way to spot someone who is out for themselves instead of sharing themselves with others.

I believe that personal brand isn’t what you may think it is.

I’m here to bring you a different view on it. Instead of playing by other people’s rules, we get to write our own. We do! No one has to be one thing or another to have amazing thoughts & share them. You don’t have to be extroverted, shouty, or move at pace. You need only be who you are to be seen & heard. 

In fact, every single build a better personal brand article that I’ve read that doesn’t start with: “Fuck the rules, do what’s right for you!” is an article I automatically am cynical about. Cynical because if you’re going to tell other people how to live their lives, you’re not doing anyone a favour. 

So, in attempt to not write something that actually helps, & to answer questions that I get asked a whole heckuva lot, here’s my take on the best rules for building your personal brand online & offline:

  • FOLLOW THE WELL TRODDEN PATH
    Hahaha! LOL. Not. Don’t follow a path. 
    Follow a beat. Be it the beat of your heart, a beat of your own drum, or the beat of your favourite power song – follow by leading with that which feeds you. When you know your values & lean hard into them, then you’ll know the path you need to forge. I’ve always found inspiration in others. People who move through the world completely comfortable in their own skin are people I look to when my own comfort in who I am wavers. 

    The happier I am in who I am, the more I’m able to exist in a state of insatiable curiosity. I ask questions. And, I’m open to a magical melding together of electricity and stardust. To stand out, stand up. It’s not always easy to share. But it gets easier the more you do it. Don’t get stuck in the mud of the well-trodden path. Go on, Tiger. Tip-toe through the tulips instead. 
  • DRESS FOR SUCCESS
    Gross, no. 
    Dress for how you feel. 
    Dress how you want.
    Dress up, down, all around. 

    Just make sure that you are, in fact, dressed. 

    All of us should be able to show up in the world the way we want to show up. We must learn to take up space. To be visible in ways that work for us as individuals. Also, we must allow others to do the same. Celebrating diversity means being inclusive of any kind of vibe we bring sartorially. Obviously some professional engagements call for different attire and formalities. If you need to wear a suit, wear one. By all means. 

    But if you’re keen to wear that blue-flower print that makes you feel powerful, do it. Or, that bright orange number that makes you feel like a million bucks – it’s calling your name & does you no good hanging in your closet. If you’re more comfortable with a traditional corporate attire, that’s a-okay as well. You do you, Boo. You write the rules by which you play. If my penchant for double-denim is anything to go by, you’ll soon find out that when you’re at your most comfortable on the outside, you’re also your most productive & effective. Go on, give dressing for your idea of success a whirl. 
  • FOLLOW/NETWORK WITH EXECUTIVES & C-SUITE
    LOL, soz. No thanks. When I see people only managing “up” on LinkedIn & in other professional settings I instantaneously dry-retch. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t reach out to or follow people in positions you aspire to – just don’t let the idea of a corporate ladder be that which defines your personal branding strategy online (or off). Instead of seeking out the top-dogs only, follow people who inspire you instead. Search out people who have a genuine opinion & who aren’t afraid to share it. I always look for the helpers, the givers. 

    The people who spend most of their time with one aim in mind: to connect. These people are worth their weight in gold & then some. I’ve learned more from following people who are different to me & who are in different roles to me than I have by following a whole heap of CEO’s names John or Dave. With a good mix of colleagues, contemporaries, & kick-ass people who you just seem to gel with, you’ll make a much better impression on just on the world – but you’ll learn a whole lot more & be able to feed your curiosity more authentically.

    Also, things we should do more fastidiously are: 
    Thank people. 
    Compliment people. 
    Ask questions. 
    Banter. 

    Remember, building a personal brand isn’t about kissing asses. 
    It’s about trust, integrity, & being true to who you are as a person. If you’re keen on learning more from people higher up the ladder, follow away. But don’t forget to stop for a moment & look at everyone else around you. It might just be your network of contemporaries who lift you the highest as you move through your career. 
  • SHARE COMPANY STORIES 80% OF THE TIME, PERSONAL ONES 20%
    I see this a lot. Folks who are either a) drinking the Kool Aid hard-out & don’t realise the damage they’re dong to their personal brand by not branching out in their interests or who are b) looking for congratulations & adulation from others within their business alone. In the olden days of LinkedIn (yes, there were olden days & I lived through them) the rule of thumb was to only share stories about the business or industry you worked in, but that was because the platform was originally a hunting ground for job-seekers & HR folks looking to poach top talent. 

    If you were caught on LinkedIn during the Wild West days of the platform, you were always branded a person looking for greener pastures. Lucky for all of us, the platform has matured (hopefully as have we) & the facts don’t lie: to have people engage with you you must be engaging. Seems fairly obvious, right?

    Yet, I quite often see folks who will only talk about XYZ business & XYZ profits & XYZ strategy… blah blah blah. In all reality, if you’re looking to grow your personal brand online, you need to flip the above percentages. Or, be much cleverer in how you share information so that the people you’re hoping to engage with understand your personal drivers. If you share 100% business information, but can do so with a personal interest or a passionate & human spin, then that’s a-okay. Because… you guessed it… that makes the information you’re sharing relatable & valuable.

    I mean, I’m sure your big/small/medium sized business is awesome & that you are truly in love with the CMS, DMP, & campaign PIRs you work with… but tell me something interesting. Tell me something surprising. In fact, share a new idea. Say something bold. Something different. I’d love 100% of you & your ideas… but if you’re on LinkedIn, sure go on & pepper in some business speak. But please don’t make it an 80% love-fest about corporate policy.

    Humans connect. Be human. 
  • POST TWICE A WEEK ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.
    Again, this is another case of the “nopes”! What I mean by this is that winning the algorithm & going viral is kinda like winning the lotto. The odds are stacked against us all simply because of the vast amount of content being made & shared every second of every day. If you’re looking to do anything, look to make an impact on one person. Then two. Then three… etc. 

    Instead of trying to hack an algorithm, simply interact with intention. Quite often even I get caught up in thinking that I need to post to Instagram, or to Facebook, or to LinkedIn on a daily basis. But some days (ahem, MOST DAYS) I really don’t have that much to say. So instead, I fight the urge to post a bunch of waffle & instead I only post if I can interact in a way that gives. 

    When we give people our thoughts & our experience, then they receive the gift of knowledge. I love giving people my attention, my time, my expertise. Be boundless in how you give… give give give. 
    In fact, if you take anything away from this article at all, let it be this: GIVE. 
  • WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
    A few months ago I called a guy on LinkedIn an asshat. It was the nicest thing I could think to call him after he attacked me via DM & in public on the wall of my own LinkedIn feed. I’ve never met this man & really don’t ever want to, either.

    New Zealand being small & Auckland being even smaller, I probably will end up next to this dolt at a conference or riding home on public transport – but so far, I haven’t had to breathe the same air as him. Without going into too much detail, this poor, triggered fellah didn’t like my language. He didn’t like my ideas. He didn’t like me at all. 

    So, instead of blocking me or just moving on with his own damn life he tried to put his sticky beak into mine. He wrote to my employer. He attempted to continue DMing me well after me having blocked him. He just really needed to stop being an asshat. In reality, what this stranger was trying to do was to quiet me. To take my voice & my freedom of expression. He tried to bully me online, then through my employer (they didn’t bite, either). He tried to make me feel small. At all of these things, he tried & failed. 

    I’m old enough & worn around the edges enough to speak my truth. I do it kindly, I do it often. And, I hope you do, too. To build your brand, use your language. Speak your truth. People can see right through anything that’s not authentic. And, when that happens you lose trust. No trust = no ability to network.

    Never be afraid to use your language. Your own form of poetry is that which the world is ready to drink in. No one is allowed to steal that from you. One of Dr Maya Angelou’s most impactful quotes in my life has been this “A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing, she goes where she will without pretense & arrives at her destination prepared to be herself – & only herself.

    Don’t watch your language, friends – use it. 

So there you have it. 
A lot of words on personal brand that can easily be distilled down into one common theme: build trust by sharing your passion, your knowledge, & by being truly curious about who other people are & why they do what they do.

Also, wear double/triple/quadruple denim whenever you please. 
Your body. Your mind. Your rules.

Dr. Suess said is simplest. 
He said it best.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. 
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Go & do you, Boo. 

Social Media Is Dead, Long Live Social Media

A few evenings ago, I had the immense pleasure of sharing a room with about 70 local digital and social media minds to talk about the ever fascinating topic of Social Media ROI. I’ll be honest and tell you this: I stopped going to most social media gatherings centered around this topic a long time ago because I feel like I’ve been there, done that.

We’ve hashed, re-hashed, and re-re-hashed the subject a million times as an industry to seemingly no avail. Trying to find a ‘golden measure’ of social media success is oftentimes akin to hitting your head against a brick wall. The brick wall doesn’t budge. But your head does. And, all you’re left with is an achy melon and the knowledge that bashing yourself against an inanimate object for over a decade isn’t good for anyone involved. Especially you.

That said, I went along the other night for a few reasons. Firstly, I knew the person putting on the talk. She’s a cool cat, and amazing at what she does – if anyone could draw interested, interesting, and engaged people to the venue to really get down to nuts and bolts and talk, she could. And, she did!

The night itself was great. The venue was funky, and open plan – mostly brick, too (yikes! protect your heads!) The speakers for the evening were engaging before, during, and after the proceedings. Dialogue fascinating. And the crowd asked important, evolved questions. Yee haw! Though we all took angles in talking through social media ROI, a common thread was woven across the tapestry of topics. And, when boiled down, the most important takeaway for me from everyone in the room was this: humans matter most.

In marketing.
In storytelling.
In channel planning.
In brand and social media ROI.
Yep, humans.
They’re the best.

Seems pretty commonsensical, right? That people matter more than platforms. More than analytical tools. More than data and insights. More than anything. But your brain would boggle and your head spin at the amount of times I’ve been called into a meeting and been told to “prove the worth” of Facebook as a line-item on a community or direct marketing campaign pitch. You’d fall out of your chair in shock (or maybe not) at how often I still get asked about whether audience should go before channel. Here’s something I can tell you without a single doubt in my mind: ROI is driven through the human condition. All of it.

AUDIENCE. FIRST. ALWAYS.

Let’s taking a quick walk down memory lane, shall we? I remember the first time I was hauled into a senior manager’s office to sit next to the CEO and CFO and talk social ROI. The exec knew that that new ” social communication channels” were lining up to be the new next-best-thing, but weren’t sure how these emerging channels would slot into the existing marketing mix. Fair enough to ask the hard questions as bean counters. But, at 25yrs old I wasn’t quite as well versed in the language of cash-flow and P&L ledgers as I am now to be able to have eloquently answered the questions put to me as I could now. In fact, my attempts at speaking ‘marketing talk’ to digital people, and vice versa, were fumbling at best. I failed a lot at convincing people of the value of social media, but also kept at it. I kept talking passionately about community and the returns in the long run. From that, I got more and more wins on the board. It was all simple psychology and basic marketing fundamentals – just on new platforms. Right? If only the IPA study about brand building in the long term had been out a decade ago!

The funny thing is this: social media has always just made sense to me. At all junctures. It’s never been strange, other-worldly, or foreign. Maybe because I’m inherently a creative and love learning new ways to share images, or stories, or video. Social has been another avenue (or, more recently, major freeway) on which businesses and individuals were able to tell powerful stories in a more relevant way than perhaps traditional advertising could. In my life, social media has become a passion, a profession, and almost an obsession. From the beginning, social media ROI has always been in relationships – it still is. Before the tracking tools. Before the analytical powerhouse back-ends. Before the ad platforms. Before custom and lookalike audiences. Before all of that, and to this day, I firmly believe that social media ROI is in all of us. It’s in emotion, familiarity, and trust.

So when I say social media is dead, we all know it’s not. It’ll never die. But, it will evolve and change quicker than Beiber’s hairstyle. Social is powerful. It unites us. It divides us. And it earns us the right to speak about things other than just our products. Social media allows brands banter, heart, and voice. Each touch-point, each piece of content, each story is a chance for you and your brand to differentiate and ingratiate yourself to consumers. Put people first, and your ROI will be ever-growing.

Long live social media.
Long live all media.

Social Media Influencers (one kid’s perspective)

On the drive to school this morning, while sipping a hot chocolate & telling me all about Minecraft and why I MUST LEARN TO PLAY, my daughter paused to ask me what I was doing recently at work – &, if she could help with anything.

My first response was a quick internal conversation with myself that went something like: “WHOA! What a cool little cat to ask how work is going. #proudmommamoment” but what came out was “Babe, I’m thinking a lot about social media influencers & the different channels they make an impact across. And, ultimately, how businesses can work with really cool people to share stories & create some fun moments between customers & businesses.”

Her next question? Brilliant. Simple. Pointed. And, necessary.

“Momma, can you define influencer for me, simply, please?” Um, yep! While coming up with an answer though, my mind was buzzing. Here I had, in my vehicle, an engaged 10yr-old keen on working out factors in her mom’s business & why they matter so much. I jumped on this moment & went with it with a keen eye on selfish learning…from a kid.

To answer  her question, I defined an influencer in the simplest way that I could – not because she wouldn’t grasp a longer winded explanation, but because explaining something simply always challenges me to be a better communicator (& because she asked me to keep it short & sweet).

“So, kiddo an influencer is something like this: a person (or people) who have a large, engaged social media following on one more more channels. They might be famous, or not. But, they’re always someone who people like a lot – enough, in fact, that they’ll follow them, share their stories, and trust their opinions.”

Hmmmmmmmm. She sat quietly for a moment. Looked at me, & said “Mom, I have some ideas… would you like to hear them?” Yes my girl, I would. Hit me with your view of the world.

MINECRAFT (had to happen, right? The kid’s 10yrs old)
If you’re going to work wit influencers – then at least one of them needs to be a Minecrafter. Why? Well, because Minecraft is amazing. Mom, did you know that Microsoft bought Minecraft for something like $2.5B US dollars? $2.5 BILLION! Surely if people are good at that, AND they have millions of followers hanging on their every word & move… then they’d be good to have.

They Should Be Funny (and Nice)
This is a good one. Why? It takes us right back to the start about why we like other people. No business objectives or brand synergies needed, just funny, nice people communicating with like-minded individuals. Seems a great place to start & reminds me that kindness really is the only way to be when professional & personal lives interweave. So, if you’re keen to be a social media influencer, Rule #1 must always be this: Don’t be an a$$hole, & be funny & nice.

They Need To Mess Up Sometimes
We all mess up sometimes… but a lot of people online try to pretend they don’t. That’s not fair to most people, right? Because, it makes it seem like some people are perfect. And, they’re not. By making mistakes, we know our favorite YouTubers are really real, just like us. The more we can see ourselves in others, the more we can empathize with them…the more we want to follow them, to share their coolness, & to be like them.

They Also Need To Know Cool Stuff
That means, they need to know stuff that I (the fan) don’t know yet but could share with my friends for added “cool factor.” The more cool stuff they know & share (it doesn’t have to be BIG stuff…just cool stuff), the more we’re going to want to watch their shows & engage with their stories & videos. For kids especially, feeling like we’re learning – but that it’s fun – is really important.

So there you have it. Four pretty spot-on ideas around social media influencers. What makes them popular, engaging, & worth aligning with as a brand or another influencer. From my perspective, I love how kids can grasp concepts so easily & then give unfiltered feedback that makes so much sense once you take your own preconceived notions out of the equation & truly listen to what’s being said.

Beyond all of the social media & influencer stuff, what did I learn from my daughter this morning? First, to just sit back, slow down, & to listen. Most of the time we talk about Pokemon, school plays, sports & friends. Allowing kids to talk & to be heard is just as much a gift for the child as it is for the parent – I for one can attest to that 100%.

Teaching moments are all around, whether with kids, colleagues or friends…embrace & enjoy them. As for my amazing 10yr old & I, I hope our relationship continues like this through time. An easy, two-way conversation about everything & nothing. A love built not just on blood & DNA, but of a foundation of trust, kindness, and safety.

Thanks, social media influencers (and Minecraft) for today’s talk on the way to school. It was a goodie.