You may dislike the term "personal branding," perhaps because some people have taken it to extreme levels. But branding yourself is not optional. Any business professional needs an online presence and a professional identity. Colleagues, customers, and potential employers look you up, every day. On Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and on your personal website, it's smart to give people a concise description of who you are and what you're about. This opens the door to useful networking, speaking, and job opportunities. And as you change jobs, it's imperative to have a personal brand that will travel with you from company to company.
But it is possible to try too hard to create a personal brand. As with hairspray on yearbook photo day, less is often more.
Perhaps you have run across over-eager personal branders in your social networks, broadcasting work successes and humble bragging, one too many times. In a quest to establish an admirable and authoritative identity, they annoy rather than impress. You end up thinking less of them.
How can you build your personal brand in an authentic way, without sounding like a narcissist? Beware these seven personal brand killers:
1. LinkedIn loading: Oh, the joy and the pain of LinkedIn. The whole arc of your professional career can be judged by a 30-second perusal of your LinkedIn Profile. Some people try to stand out by loading up their job descriptions with superlatives until they sound like gurus, ninjas, and rock stars of just about everything. But it's the results you've achieved that show you're a rock star, not your way with adjectives. (Hopefully your record of publications, industry awards, and personal recommendations will speak loudly about you, too.) You want to show more than tell.
On a related note, personal branding should never mean stretching the truth. Will your former co-workers read your descriptions of your roles and results and shake their heads? Nothing kills a personal brand faster than exaggeration.
2. Photographic crimes: Every social media network asks for a photo. Think carefully about the image you want to project. You don't have to look like a model in order to establish yourself as an authority. Glamour photos with dramatic lighting can be jarring, yet I keep seeing them. Also, be careful using that headshot from ten years ago, especially if you look very different today. That's inauthentic. Get a current, business appropriate headshot, and be happy with it.
3. Serial posting: While trying to build your online presence, it will be necessary to increase the number of items you post. But over-posting can backfire. Two trips a day to Twitter can make a big difference in your professional reach, but bombarding all of your social networks with multiple posts every day (or, God forbid, repeating the same posts several times a day) will tire people out and make them tune you out (or block you). Which brings us to the next crime committed in the name of personal branding…
4. Failure to target: As you work to build a personal brand, you need to decide: Is my Twitter account primarily about establishing me as a management consulting expert? Or is it about trading jokes with my college buddies? This goes double for Facebook. Many people decide Facebook is mostly about one's personal life, while LinkedIn is about one's professional life.
LinkedIn offers a great place to note the industry conference at which you're speaking, but your Facebook pals may not care. If you tout the speaking engagement once a day for a week, on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, you're carpet-bombing people, a huge turn off. Target your various constituencies and post what interests them.
5. Taking but not giving: Do you know a taker? You know, the former colleague or contact who only emails or calls when he or she needs something? Conversely, think about the friend or mentor who checks in with you periodically to see how you're doing, how that book is going, how friends in common are doing with their careers. By sharing your contacts, expertise, and time, you will establish your personal brand with more people. If you're joining a new industry association, volunteer. Take time to connect friends and colleagues with mutual interests. After all, who do you want to invite to speak at your company's next conference -- a taker in your life or a giver?
In fact, givers do better at rising through the career ranks, says Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Check out more of his advice here.
6. Humble bragging: At some point in your career, you will do high-flying things and run with the cool kids. When this happens (or while you're working to make it happen,) resist the urge to humble brag. A humble brag, of course, is a disguised brag, often combined with a complaint. They often show up as Tweets: Eight speaking appearances in three months! What was I thinking?
The humble brag tries to generate admiration and sympathy at the same time -- but fails, as Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, tells The Atlantic. ( See "How to Brag.") His research says you should toot your own horn or complain, but not simultaneously. "People think they can get the best of both worlds by being indirect. Instead they are perceived as insincere," he says.
7. Staying in your electronic corner: You will meet fascinating people online. But to build your personal brand, you want to meet people face-to-face. So close your laptop and make time for that seminar or conference. Sign up for volunteer work that exposes you to people in other groups inside your company. People get the clearest picture of you in person.
What personal branding moves bug you? Share your experience in the comments field below.