I always tell people – entrepreneurs, executives, business leaders, anyone who will listen – that their personal brand doesn’t really matter. I tell them that customers pay for products and services, not them. Do they listen? No, not really. That got me thinking about why.
I guess we all have an online presence. We have to. Like it or not, it’s a requirement. And whether you’re selling a product, building a business, or looking for a new opportunity, wherever you go and whatever you do, your online presence is there. So, yes, it really does matter.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our personal brands suck. Don’t feel too badly about that; you’re in good company. I don’t think mine is anything to write home about either. The problem is there’s simply no manual for this sort of thing.
Sure there are some books out there, but I don’t think any of those people have a clue either. Truth is, social networks and user-generated content are still relatively new. We’re all sort of winging it, trying out different things to see what works. And that goes for all of us, even the self-proclaimed gurus.
That said, as a guy who led marketing at some high-tech companies, you would think I’d have at least some intuition about this kind of thing. And while I may not know exactly what works, since no one does, I do have a pretty good idea of what doesn’t work. Here are 10 reasons why your personal brand might be doing more harm than good and some helpful tips:
1. You write like a third grader.
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating for emphasis, but if you spend any time at all online you know what I’m talking about. On average, your collective writing skills aren’t up to snuff. Since LinkedIn opened up its blog platform, I’ve seen plenty of truly embarrassing posts. Don’t do that.
Related: Know When to Trust Your Gut
2. Too much information.
Everyone knows to keep it simple but nobody does. Look at an Apple product. What do you see? Two brands: the Apple symbol and the name of the product. Know why? Apple knows we’re overloaded with info and can only remember a tiny fraction of what we see. Pick the one thing you want people to remember, make sure they can’t miss it, and minimize the rest.
3. Most of your content is useless fluff.
Nobody says it but we all know it’s true. I guess people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones but I grew up in the highly competitive high-tech industry where people gave it to you straight. If your work sucked, somebody told you. If my content were crap, I would expect no less from you folks.
4. Enough with the inspirational quotes already.
I’m just going to say this once. It’s your brand, not Steve Jobs’s, Henry David Thoreau’s, or Gandhi’s. And for God’s sake, don’t quote yourself. That’s got to be the most annoying, pompous, self-important thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. Ever. No quotes.
5. Your picture is lousy.
Come now, surely you can come up with one half-decent picture of you and you alone – with all your clothes on and without your dog, cat, kids or better half. It’s called a personal brand, not a porn brand, family brand, or cartoon brand.
6. You have a unique handle…like everyone else.
Different is not differentiated. There’s a big difference. Differentiated means in the eyes of your potential customers or whomever it is you’re trying to influence. Instead of being different, focus on your value proposition, what others will pay for because you’re better than the competition.
7. Hashtags are not personal.
Some of your Twitter profiles are entirely made up of overused or esoteric hashtags. Some go symbol crazy. That’s neither personal nor expressive. Do some work and use your words, people. Come up with a truly differentiated value prop, not some overhyped BS or arcane reference nobody gets.
8. There’s no call to action.
Marketing 101, Rule 1: If there’s no call to action, nothing will happen. Granted, users can like, follow, or link to you, but if someone miraculously ends up looking at your profile, why not have a direct link to your business? No, links to your other social network pages don’t count. That’s just circular.
9. You take yourself too seriously.
You’re not going to be discovered by some famous Hollywood director so don’t get all heavy and dramatic. It’s a Twitter profile, not an epitaph on a tombstone. All you’ll succeed in doing is making people think you’re overly sensitive or too self-involved to work with.
10. You don’t answer, “Why?”
No, you don’t want to literally state why customers should want to do business with you, but you need to at least get a message across, in as few words as possible, that answers WIIFM (what’s in it for me), where “me” is the other person, not you.
One more thing. If you insist on saying you’re a husband or a mother, naming your spouse, stating that your views are your own or telling the world you’re a Packers fan who loves Sushi, you’re wasting space, people’s time, and an opportunity to get something meaningful across. That’s what personal branding’s all about.
Related: How to Be Smarter