No one does personal branding better than Lady Gaga. Her Super Bowl halftime performance, while not as brazenly political as some would have expected, still showcased everything that helped build her rabid fan base: outrageous costumes, magnetic stage presence, breathtaking vocals and a dash of social commentary.
As a strategic communications professional and business leader with more than 20 years of experience, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of curating a strong personal brand -- particularly when you’re still in startup mode.
Often, we associate personal branding with blatant self-promotion, and yes, it’s a great way to build up your reputation as an industry leader, but it’s so much more than that. Your personal brand encompasses the offerings you deliver; the assortment of values you advocate for; and the unique resources, skills and knowledge you bring to the table. A well-crafted one can help you gain a competitive edge and boost brand equity, and it can even act as a highly valuable recruitment tool.
The question is this: How can you tap into your personal brand to attract and retain like-minded innovators who will power your budding business?
1. Foster a genuine personal brand that people want to rally around.
Though you probably don’t have the high visibility of Lady Gaga, you are the face of your startup, and, especially in the beginning of your business’s life, your personal brand and your company brand will likely be one and the same. When you can project an authentic one, you’ll attract individuals who want to rally around you and your company’s mission. In turn, your workforce will be more engaged, productive and loyal, according to Gallup.
In the corporate world, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly is the embodiment of his company’s attitude. His customer-first stance and relaxed demeanor mesh seamlessly with the company’s overall brand image, and he takes his role of rallying employees around the culture seriously. As a result, several of Southwest’s 53,000-plus employees are long-standing, and it’s rated as one of the best places to work in the United States on Glassdoor.
Back in startup land, you can start by actively writing articles and sharing your personal values, beliefs, ideas and opinions in the marketplace. Prospective employees will search online for information about you and your company while they’re in the early stages of considering working for you. Make sure there’s plenty out there for them to read before they even come for the first interview.
Once you’ve caught their attention, be an active part of the interview process. Although the primary focus is on learning about prospective employees, you can also use this opportunity to share highlights from your own leadership narrative -- how did you get to where you are today, what challenges have you faced and overcome and what is your leadership style?
Multiple studies have shown that it takes only seconds for someone to form an initial and oftentimes lasting impression of you, so make sure you’re speaking genuinely -- or risk coming off as insincere to the best candidates. Being open about your own journey allows them to understand and connect with you better and creates a stronger draw to work for you. In the end, to trust the company, candidates need to trust you.
2. Use social media to amplify your brand message.
Just 10 years ago, CEOs weren’t required to be visible at all -- much less maintain a presence on social media. Today, people expect them to be active online embodiments of the brands they represent.
Though Kelly is the CEO of a company that Market Watch said broke $20 billion in revenue last year -- not the founder of a 10-person startup -- his personal brand remains an important part of Southwest’s strategy. On Twitter, he gives credit to those around him, advertises customer satisfaction awards, lauds Southwest’s employee profit-sharing program and sends the occasional personal shoutout.
Kelly doesn’t just do it for the customers, though. According to Altimeter Group and LinkedIn, social engagement makes companies 58 percent more likely to attract better employees. Better employees create a better product, attract more customers and make investors happy. If personal branding can help create this effect for a company this large, imagine how big a difference a smartly branded startup founder could make.
But before you start tweeting willy-nilly, be very clear about the image you want to showcase. Avoid projecting inconsistent -- or worse -- conflicting messages online. Just as you may use social media to research candidates, they’re doing the same to determine what kind of company leader you are. That said, make sure to stay focused in your efforts.
I try not to be too scattered in my social content. Instead, I have a few key areas I commonly write and share about -- such as leadership and entrepreneurship. Pick two or three areas that match up with your passions, and start a conversation on those topics. That will help you stand out more in those spaces.
Go beyond mere words to incorporate visuals. The more visual the content, the more others are willing to engage with and remember it. According to an experiment testing the Picture Superiority Effect, when people merely hear information, they can only recall about 10 percent of it three days later. Whereas people can recall 65 percent of the same information three days later if a relevant image is paired with it.
Personally, I’m very active on Instagram and look for ways to tie pictures in to my brand. I’ve also found Facebook Live to be very effective in engaging with others, particularly around content from my new book, “Leading Through the Turn.” Whether you utilize videos, photos or designed content such as quotes, visuals will make your content more attractive, digestible and memorable.
Don’t let competitors scoop up the best talent. Instead, build and market a strong personal brand, broadcast it consistently on social media and back it up with business decisions -- because when it comes to placing trust in a company, it all starts at the top.