You can use social media to help establish the characteristics that make your offering unique.
You can use social media to help establish the characteristics that make your offering unique.

These days everyone is trying to develop their personal brand.  That is to say, everyone is looking for a way to help them stand out in their profession.  Your personal brand explains the characteristics that make your offering unique- your product, reliability, attitude, promise, customer service, etc. Personal branding is especially important for entrepreneurs and those that work with them.  For entrepreneurs, personal branding is important because at the early stages, people are investing in the people associated with the start-up as much as they are investing in the product or idea.   Personal branding is also important for those who work with entrepreneurs (e.g., startup attorneys, venture capitalists, etc.), as their future business is often driven by their reputation.  For examples of startup companies and the people who work with them that are very active on the social media website TWITTER, see venture capitalist Jason Mendelson (@jasonmendelson), Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, (@wilsonsonsini ), a law firm serving entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, or the payment startup Square, Inc. (@square).

Social media websites, such as TWITTER, LINKEDIN, MYSPACE, and FACEBOOK, can be powerful tools in helping you to establish and promote your personal brand.  However, these same tools can also tarnish your brand if used incorrectly.  Here are some helpful tips on how to successfully and responsibly use social media to develop your personal brand.

1. Select your brand

What do you want to be known for?  The goal of personal branding is to establish a positive correlation between you and your services in the mind of others.  As this is highly valuable retail space, you may need to start with a narrow focus.  Are you promoting yourself as a news source, or do you want to be known for your expertise in a particular area?  Decide what is most important to you, and focus your efforts on building up that relationship with consumers first.  Once you have chosen a brand be consistent. Brands only have power because the consumers rely upon them as indicators of predictable, reliable, or valuable products.  Changing your brand will undermine initial efforts in building a brand.

2.  Envision your audience

Next you should consider who you want for your audience.  Are you looking to interact with the general public?  If so, you will want to focus your efforts on social media sites which can be accessed by the general public, such as TWITTER or publicly accessible blogs.  If however, you are looking to target a more focused group of people, for example colleagues in your profession, you may want to focus your efforts on websites such as LINKEDIN, a social networking website for professionals.  Clearly identifying your target audience and choosing the appropriate medium to send your message will allow you to specifically reach those individuals you would like to know your brand.  Also, it is important to realize that it is now possible to link the TWITTER, FACEBOOK, and LINKEDIN feeds together so that a message sent out on one channel is automatically sent to all feeds.  With this convenience users should be even more aware of their respective audiences on each social media site, so that, for example, a personal tweet doesn’t get sent to business contacts on LINKEDIN.

3.  Know what you are getting yourself into and know any limitations you might encounter

The next thing to do before embarking on your social media quest to build up your personal brand is to check with your employer regarding their social media policy.  Does your company have regulations prohibiting employees’ use of social media on certain subjects, or do they support your personal branding efforts?   Are there any regulations about using social media sites during work hours?  Be aware of and follow any limitations these regulations may have on your postings, as misuse of social media can lead to trouble in the employment law context (for examples of recent cases see The Social Media Employment Law Blog).  Early-stage startups should consider formulating a strategy and philosophy concerning social media that all founders and employees adopt.

Assuming your company permits your use of social media to promote your brand, you should familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use regulations imposed by social media sites.  While you may retain intellectual property rights pertaining to anything you post on some sites, this is not necessarily the case for all websites. Know what intellectual property rights you may be giving up before interacting with social media sites.

4.  Gain followers

So you’ve chosen a brand, identified your audience and cleared it with your employer.- so how do you gain followers?  This may be more difficult than you initially think because social media is saturated with information. How do you stand out?  One way is to provide something of value to your readers.  For example, you could serve as a filter for your readers. If you are able to filter out the valuable information from extraneous information- the wheat from the chaff- you will gain people’s attention.

There are also proactive ways to seek out an audience. One tried and true way of gaining the attention of others online is to give attention and assistance to them first.   People are more likely to be interested in what you have to say, or to follow your brand if you express an interest in them first.  There are several ways to do this.  For example, LINKEDIN has an online tool that allows you to endorse the skills of others. Most blogs allow you to “tweet” or “like” their page, thus drawing attention to the posting.  Alternatively, you could post substantive and meaningful comments to others’ blog posts as a way of establishing credibility for your personal brand.  Engaging online in support of others’ work will inevitably draw their attention to you and your brand.

5.  Manage the brand

The most important, fundamental thing to do over time is to ensure that the experience your audiences gets from you is consistent with the brand. This is called managing the brand. Given that social media is dynamic and constantly changing, energy you put into establishing your brand can be quickly wiped away if you fail to maintain the quality of your brand.  Good practices involved in managing your brand include routinely posting reliable information, monitoring the quality of your service, and cleaning up old posts or information that remains online.