How To Build A Personal Brand Online

How to build a personal brand online

I have a question for you. Would you walk through your office or rock up to a business meeting with your shirt or blouse half hanging out?

I mean properly half tucked in, half tucked out styli...?!

I thought not.

Yet many of us do this every single day online. Our profiles half complete, unloved. Half tucked in, half tucked out styli...

This ultimate guide will hopefully convince you to sort out your online attire. What I have for you is a in-depth look at what a personal brand is, why you need one, and finally some techniques for managing and amplifying that personal brand.

Sound good? Cool, let's get started....

Feel free to jump to a section, but read the whole thing top to bottom if you're just starting out.​..

What is a personal brand?

Ok first up, what on earth is a personal brand...

The idea of creating your own personal brand was first introduced in 1937 in the book 'Think And Grow Rich' by Napoleon Hill.

The book talked about the benefits to be had from 'positioning strategy' to advance your own career.

Wikipedia calls a personal brand "the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group or organization".

A personal brand is first and foremost about creating a (positive) perception in the minds of others.

This quote from authors McNally and Speak captures it well:

Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you

Be Your Own Brand, McNally and Speak

The grand-daddy of personal branding has to be Tom Peters. He's the one who truly got the idea back on the map. 

In his now legendary article, first published back in 1997 on, he argued:

Tom Peters

Regardless of age, position, or the business we happen to be in, we need to understand the importance of branding.

We each need to understand and manage our own brands, our 'personal brands', much as big companies understand the importance of their commercial or corporate brands.

We are, to quote Mr Peters, "CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc."

Or as the term was coined.... 'BrandYou'

In essence we are no different to commercial brands, he argues.

Think about the websites you visit, he says. How do you know which are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are worth going to more than once? 

The answer: branding

The sites you go back to are the ones you trust. They're the ones where the brand name reassures you that your visit will be worth your time.

The same holds true for our personal brands. Think about email. How do you decide whose messages you're going to read and respond to first — and whose you're going to ignore for as long as you can, or worse send direct to the trash unread?

The answer: branding

The name of the email sender is every bit as important a commercial brand.

The "brand is a promise of the value you'll receive" - and if that promise, whether its a product or an individual, isn't a good one, you're not going to go back.

The "brand is a promise of the value you'll receive." Tom Peters

Click to Tweet

Making the case for having a personal brand

It accepted by most people that companies don't manage your career as much as they once did. Where once corporations would take you, nurture your talents, give you a fulfilling career these stories are becoming rarer.

Because of this, coupled with the advent of social media where everyone is their own spokesperson, PR team and marketing manager rolled into one - the idea of a personal brand is more relevant today than it's ever been.

And really, the idea of a personal brand boils down to this: look out for your own development, manage your own career, take accountability for your own future.

It's very liberating when you look at it that way. 


To recap...You are responsible. You are accountable. You are CEO of you!

And being that brand, same as any commercial brand, you need to be constantly asking yourself...

  • What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?
  • What's my Unique Selling Proposition (Your 'USP')?
  • Why would anyone choose me over the next person?

You are responsible. You are accountable. You are CEO of you!

Click to Tweet

Why do I need a personal brand?

Let's look at 10 reasons why having a personal brand should matter to you as a professional...

1. Visible statement of professional authority

The internet is awash with claims about "I'm the best at X", "I'm an expert in Y", "I'm world class in Z" and so on.

Well I'm afraid all that is just talk, if you can't walk it.

Instead of claiming you are "expert in discombobulation" you need to demonstrate you are through your online activity.

Who you follow and interact with, the posts you share and retweet, the things you like - all help to reinforce what you stand for. Your personal brand. 

2. The majority of recruitment is done through the internet

Over the past 5 years we've seen a dramatic rise in social media.

This has led pretty much everyone and his gran being on social media in some shape or other.

When booking hotel rooms or ringing cabs is done via the internet, it's no surprise that hiring is being done via the online methods.

In 2015 a Jobvite survey polled recruiters about their online use of social media for hiring. Only 4% didn't use social media for hiring. 4%! 

The stronger your personal brand is when they do come looking, the better. 

3. Having more layers of online presence amplifies your multi-dimension characteristics

Linkedin is the beacon for recruiters to seek you out, but increasingly your online presence is being looked at as a whole.

Often recruiters will jump straight to google and check you out there.

The more well rounded your presence is online the better. Sure, you could just focus on LinkedIn. But if you do you're missing a trick.

As we saw above, recruiters will be looking for a well-rounded presence online. But this is bigger than just recruiters. With various layers of online presence you display you aren't just sprucing up your linkedin profile for your next job. 

  • Warning: remember not to spread yourself too thin. It's a good idea to be present on more than just one network, but it's equally important to get to grips with one before you move to the next.

4. Well networked, means well connected

Networks, and being networked, is more valuable and useful today than it's ever been. Having a personal brand makes it easier to network full stop, because it's more obvious what you stand for. 

Networks are like living organisms, and reward individuals who give first before they take.

You build your credibility and trust in a network by being generous with your knowledge and contributing.

Learn to give to the network without any promise of return is the way to go, then your network will be there for when you need it most (just like 'real' life, right) 

The power of networks

Networks are one of the most powerful assets you can have as a professional. Forget the corny 'networking events' you came across years ago. With the onset of the social web there are networks for everything and they are super powerful. 

It's imperative you find, join and contribute to these networks as they'll build up your professional credentials instantly.

You'll meet people, create valuable connections, and have a lot of fun along the way.

Networks within networks

LinkedIn and Facebook are both social networks, but within them there are thousands of 'mini networks' called groups. Hunt these down, join them and start interacting.

There are groups for just about everything imaginable. Can't find one that meets your needs? Start one yourself.

5. There's no hiding how well connected (or not) you are

We've seen that talk is cheap and that you have to walk the talk too. 

You can't claim to know about stuff without being able to back it up. 

And the scary thing is...the tools exist to back it up!

Applications such as let you analyse a person's Twitter account to see how connected they are to key influencers in their niche and how often they tweet about topics. 

These are being used by recruiters and whoever wishes to use them (they've mostly free) to understand ​what you're all about.

6. Increases the opportunity for referral and recommendations for your expertise

A personal brand leads to opportunity you never knew existed.

Establishing yourself as a prominent person in your field will inevitably lead to invitations to connect, to speak, contribute to articles, be interviewed, the possibilities are endless. 

7. A demonstration of being 'natural to digital' increases hire-ability

Most businesses large or small are going through an immense amount of change due to what's been coined 'digital transformation'.

The digital revolution is touching every part of the organisation, from hiring (as we've seen) to manufacturing, marketing, supply chain and so on.

​Having a strong online personal brand is a sure-fire statement to the world that you understand and have embraced digital.

8. Social platform algorithms work that the more you put in, the more you get seen 

The more active you are online with your personal brand, the more the search engines will thank you for it and shoot you up their rankings. 

Google's algorithm is made up of over 200 factors, which together determine whether you appear at the top of page 1 on Google or end up in the weeds at the bottom of page 25.

Being active online won't instantly get you results on search engines, but over time if you remain consistent you will inevitably gain prominence for your field and you'll rise up the ranking. Leading to an abundance of opportunity.

9. Networks make you smarter

Why depend on just one brain? 

Networks are groups (sometime huge groups) of people with a common interest, hanging out together. 

Imagine for a second. You are struggling with something - you've racked your brain but still no idea. In pre-social web days, you'd be pretty much stuck. However, social networks allow you to draw on the 'wisdom of the crowd'.

A bit like 'Ask The Audience' in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!

10. You already have a personal brand (you just might not know what it is)

I've saved the best point till last.

You already have a personal brand online, whether you like it or not!

You are giving out signals all the time about who you are. A half-thought through LinkedIn profile, a slapdash Twitter account with a blurred profile shot you took on your last hols - is all sending a signal.

Everything we do is positioning our brand - but until now we've not really thought about ourselves like a brand, so we've been pretty les au faire about the whole thing.

The brand with no brand manager or CEO has been left to grow organically. Now it's time to take the reigns. ​

But first we need to understand one key thing....

What is my (current) personal brand?

So how do you know what your current personal brand says about you? 

Take a moment and in 15 words capture your signature strengths. What do you excel at? What are you an A lister in? Where are you an authority? 

And don't just rely on what you think your competitive advantage is. In that echo chamber of your own head, you can make out you're great at pretty much anything.

Now ask respected peers, friends, colleagues the same question.

You may feel a bit awkward, but better a little bit of feeling silly than a lifetime of second guessing.

Ask the question: what am I good at?

How do they perceive your brand? Your is most noteworthy personal trait?

Once you've consolidated all the feedback, it's time to give yourself a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it the brand you want?
  • Does it need to change?
  • Is your online brand consistent with your offline brand?
  • Does it differentiate you from the rest?
  • Warning: As you're doing this, don't fall into the trap of thinking any of this is set in stone. You should continually be self-reflecting to understand what drives you. Defining your core strengths, passions and virtues is a continual act of self-discovery.

(Re)building your personal brand

If your brand isn't want you want it to be, lets look at how to rebuild it.

You personal brand is made up of the 5 Ps - these are Purpose, Personality, Presence, People and Performance. 

Purpose - your purpose needs to shine through and is key to your personal brand. Often we find ourselves doing jobs out of convenience, rather than passion. Two good questions to unearth what you'd really like to be doing is to ask yourself is 'what advice would I give my younger self?' then ask your older self – 'what regrets do you have?'. This is work out where you currently are.

Personality - there's only one you, and that needs to come through in your personal brand. "You may as well be you, because everyone else is taken" Oscar Wilde famously said. Adding authenticity to your personal brand is key - the more the real you shines through the better. 

Presence - This is pretty obvious, but it gets it's own place in the 'P's' because if you aren't present, then however good everything else is, you won't be seen, heard, or noticed. You need to build strategies for staying front of mind among your target audience. 

People - networks are made up of people at the end of the day, and it's people that count. You need to be generous with your time and help people where you can. "The currency of networks is generosity" Keith Ferazzi

Performance - you need to perform in accordance with the above. You need to be consistent. 

Thanks to Jay Shetty for sharing these 5 Ps.

How to amplify your personal brand

Ok let's look at some tactics for optimising and amplifying your online personal brand.

Whenever I'm coaching people on social media, I'm astounded how they haven't even got to first base. That is, they've invested zero time in making their profile look decent. 

Basic things like good profile pics, punchy descriptions and background images are all but missing. It's the equivalent of having your shirt half hanging out while walking through the office!

1. Profile picture 

Is it good resolution? Is it clear? 

Are you looking at the camera? Are you smiling? Does it capture the essence of you?

2. Description

Writing a good description on Twitter and Facebook is like writing a Japanese Haiku. You're limited by characters, and they're hard to get right.

Persist with getting it right until you're happy. And look at how others write theirs. 

Hillary Clinton's as an example is clever: concise, but also funny (hair icon, pantsuit aficionado!)

3. Strategic use of keywords

One element I often find beginners completely overlooking is optimising their profile descriptions or summaries for search.

Want to come to the top of the list when someone type in 'digital marketing exec' - make sure you're profile is optimised for that keyword.

How do you optimise your profile?

Simple, you strategically use that keyword throughout your profile so that when Linkedin (and for that matter any search engine, i.e. Google) index your profile, it's obvious to the 'bots' what your profile majors in.  

See in this example how Julie has included her specialisms (blogger, personal trainer) and included a hashtag (#FitFluential) in her profile. Her line about peanut butter adds a bit of humour too.

  • Warning: Don't go keyword stuffing your profile or it will read like a piece of spam mail.

4. Background images

Pretty much every social network allows you to add a background image to your profile. Its surprising how many people don't bother using them. Adding a background is a great way to add a bit of 'pazzaz' to a profile. It's also a way of emphasising your brand values.

Not everyone has a TED picture to add, but anything is better than the default ones.​

There are plenty of places to find free images to use too. Check out Unsplash or Death to the Stock Photo for a great collection of completely free to use images.

Learn how to engage

Where do you start with building your influence online?

Simple: You start by doing. Experimenting. Seeing what works.

Step 1: dip into your networks regularly and see what people are sharing. Make a list of 10 people in your industry that you respect. Only 10. Look them up, and follow them.

Notice what they are saying. What they are sharing. How they are doing it. Watch what works. Watch what gets a reaction.​

Step 2: Like, retweet and share things you like. Consume content and share it with a one liner that grabbed you.  

Use an @mention to notify someone you think may also like to see it. Tag companies, people, call people out.

Step 3: Find your own content: Set up a google alerts for keywords in your field. Sing up to newsletter in your industry.

When you see something of relevance that aligns with your personal brand, share it.

Use scheduling tools like so you can queue up your posts and do so directly from your browser.

Try to always share a post with an image - they get more attention. Use to create your own for free.

Use hashtags - use to find the most popular ones

Make social media part of your daily workflow. Make it a habit. Block out 15 minutes once or twice a day to go into your networks and engage. Take moments when you're on the train, in a queue, on hold, to dive into your networks and engage.


If you read the entire article, well done! I sincerely hope it's inspired you to think differently about your personal brand. And you are one of the ones with the online equivalent of a half tucked in shirt, I hope it's convinced you to look in the mirror :-)

I'd be thrilled if you drop me a line to share your thoughts, questions or observations. Thanks again for stopping by.

About the Author Gerard

Hi there. I'm Gerard Richardson, a social business consultant with over 10 years experience working across large multi-nationals in digital communications, both internal and external facing. This site is called and is my blog / scrapbook / live journal all about the power of social networks for business. Welcome aboard!

follow me on:

Leave a Comment: