How to build your personal brand – even if you work for a company

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

Personal brands aren’t a new concept in the digital age. Everyone has a brand. Whether that’s locally or globally or online and offline or just offline.

Building your brand at the same time is easier than ever before, but it’s also harder.

Sure, I can post my stories. And I can share them. But that doesn’t mean anyone will read them.

And communicating across the globe has never been easier…

Jo Miller joined me on the podcast to share why everyone should consider building a personal brand and she shares some personal branding tips.

To build a personal brand:

  • Make sure you know what you stand for
  • Pick the networks and content types that work for you. For example, you aren’t going to see me dancing on TikTok but that works for some personal brands.
  • Share stories that are interesting and engage your audience.
  • Make sure it aligns with your professional life.

Personal branding tips as part of companies

Some companies seem afraid of personal brands. I find that interesting and even puzzling. Having strong personal brands in-house can help the business and the person. On LinkedIn, there’s a real advantage to sharing content from personal profiles over brand pages.

Read next: How to optimize your LinkedIn Profile for better social selling

Sometimes, it comes down to perceived control. Who owns the brands? And some employers want to own brands. Or at least they want to feel like they are in control. But who actually owns brands?

brand interactionThe real answer, of course, is: Our audiences.. You know what I mean: The people that listen to us and that we interact with. They own our brands. Whatever they say our brand is is indeed our brand – no matter how much we might disagree.

As Mark Schaefer mentioned on the podcast: How marketing works is changing. He calls it a marketing rebellion.

For example, I like to say my brand is enterprise content strategy and building a content performance culture. More recently, livestreaming and podcasting has become a bigger part of it, too.

The business brand

This one is easy. It’s the business brand and related accounts. Company A is owned by its owners, shareholders, etc., and the accounts are clearly identifiable and have the business name in them. The business (let’s hope) has a strategy and a person or team update this account in line with that strategy.

The leaders brands

This is the first of two kinds of accounts that involve people as the public face. You may notice that I don’t call them personal accounts.

Having true personal accounts will become harder and harder as work and lives integrate more and more and become more open online. Especially for leaders in an organization, it’ll be hard to see a difference between their “personal” and “professional” identities. If those two identities don’t align, it’s hard for employees and external audiences to align them with each other. One’s trustworthiness could suffer.

Read next: How to handle blog bylines

The people (employees) brands

I call these people vs. employees brands because for many people nowadays it’s less and less likely to work for the same company for an entire career. The people brands are company independent, but when all three brands truly align internally and externally that’s when companies, their leaders and employees can all help each other by:

  • Strengthening each other’s brands
  • Acquiring more customers
  • Learning from each other
  • Being a participant in our communities

Smart people build their own brands and then integrate them with the companies they lead or work for. Smart companies and leaders encourage it and even help the three circles work together authentically and transparently with simple rules outlined.

Where there might be a rub

In the past, I’ve heard about journalists and other communications professionals who have established their brand on social media and then the organizations they work for claim they own those people’s social media brand. Usually, they just call that “the accounts.” Probably because it’s hard to argue for owning somebody else’s brand.

Typically, this is only a topic of discussion, of course, when an employee with a strong brand is planning on leaving a company that was reaping some benefit of the strong personal brand.

On one side, there might be some truth to that, that an organization helped an individual built their brand. But the organization’s brand also benefited from the person’s brand. And what would an organization do with a person’s accounts when that person leaves anyway? It’s not like they can have somebody else take over.

“Hi, I’m your new @ctrappe.” Right, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

Make sure the ownership of accounts is clear before starting.

When these discussions happen they are really a holdover from a time when (some) business owners thought they could control everything. In a world of abundance, there’s no reason we can’t all have our own pieces, which can operate on their own at times and at other times come together and support each other.

Personal branding in the corporate world?

I hear this quite often still – usually from VP or C-level leaders. Can we build personal brands in a corporate world? Yes. Chantelle Marcelle joined me on the podcast to share how to that specifically.

Wendy Van Gilst talked about the importance of building that personal brand on LinkedIn. Of course, LinkedIn is the most professional social network of the main ones out there – so one might argue that building a personal brand on LinkedIn certainly is related to the corporate world.

How to “protect” brands

Once you have the brand you want, life’s humming along at a good pace and  you are making meaningful connections, it can be easy to think that we now need to protect the brand. And that’s true, but how do you protect a brand in an ever-evolving and fluid digital world?

People can blog about other people. They can even rate them and their products.

A few years ago I published my own “Mean Tweets video.” It’s okay when not everyone loves us. And part of my brand is to share stories like that.

I’ve had people disagree with me – online and offline. Some exchanges throughout my life were positive and some weren’t. One guy from middle school Facebooked me once to let me know I wasn’t nice to him back then. Sorry. We learn as we grow (and go).

But how do I protect my brand? Here are some of my guiding principles and personal branding tips:

  • All decisions are made in line with my values – honesty, authenticity, openness, curiosity, learning, empathy, etc.
  • I try to understand other people’s situations and viewpoints – even when I can’t or won’t budge on my opinion.
  • I communicate quickly. Yes, sometimes that leads to saying something not vetted or thought-through for 19 days. It does allow me to be authentic. I do reserve the right to change my opinion.

Protecting our brand in this digital world – which connects more and more with our offline selves – isn’t actually about building up that wall to keep out intruders. It’s about:

  • Understanding what we stand for.
  • How we participate publicly.
  • How we explain ourselves.
  • Knowing when to bow out of a discussion.
  • Living by our values – relentlessly.
  • Being willing to change our opinion.

I’m protective of my brand, too. Sure. If somebody misquotes me, that can hurt my brand. I can choose to respond quickly on here or on another channel. But aside from protecting, I’m much more interested in being secure in what my brand stands for and participating in a meaningful way. When that happens maybe our advocates even protect our brands on our behalf.

Also remember what the other person’s motivation might be. Do they want you to respond, share what they are saying and maybe even link to them as part of their marketing strategy? It’s possible!

Knowing what others are saying about your brand 

One thing to remember is that it’s good to keep an eye out for what people are saying about us. Some tips on how to do that:

  • See who is linking to your site
  • Set up Google Alerts for brand mentions and your name
  • Check mentions on social accounts
  • Talk to customers

Personal branding tips while living anywhere

I was on the Wild Business Growth Business Podcast and Host Max Branstetter asked me about how hard it was to build a global brand while living in Iowa.

Thanks for saying that I have a global brand and I do get that Iowa comment here and there as I live in Marion, Iowa, with a population of under 40,000, I certainly don’t live in a metropolis, though there are many positives.

This blog is read by people from all kinds of countries from the USA, United Kingdom, India, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Malaysia, Germany, Singapore and South Africa. My podcast has been downloaded over 250,000 times from listeners in 100-plus countries. During the coronavirus pandemic I gave keynotes in Singapore and Istanbul, all from my basement office in Iowa.

And of course, building a brand doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go anywhere – though it helps to see people face to face at times.

You can build a brand by simple producing rock-star content on your blog and on social media. Maybe write a book – maybe from your blog content! Do a podcast. Live Twitter audio or other live streams.

Read next: How to start a video podcast simply

The ways to build your brand that don’t require you to go anywhere are endless. Sure, many channels now require some kind of budget to get in front of people, but as long as you have that, you can still sit at home on your recliner, blog and share content that is helpful. And the new channels can often be maximized with no budget – even when it’s just temporarily.

Just don’t forget that building a brand and then monetizing a brand are different things!


No excuses

Don’t let your location stop you from sharing stories, creating value and driving your business goals forward. Build your brand by sharing your stories no matter where you are – and that’s a concept that can be used by people and companies alike. That goes for any kind of potential barriers really.

Don’t let excuses stop you from building your brand. Move forward as much as you can. Doing something is better than doing nothing.