When scrolling through LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms it seems like everyone wants to be portrayed as a leader or influencer. But what does it really take to be seen as a leader online? How do you build an impeachable personal brand that positions you to stand out from your competition?
Many entrepreneurs and business professionals don’t have a full marketing team of social media professionals making them look pithy and clever and confident online. Instead, they’re women doing great work and navigating the complexities of having full and rewarding lives as moms, wives, business owners, executives, professionals, doctors, and more.
Women today must create online brands that are influential and impactful – honoring their gifts, history and talents – and become recognized and perceived the way they desire. Here’s how:
Clarify your vision
If your personal brand is how you want to be seen, your vision for your personal brand is the legacy you desire to leave when you’re gone. When the people you’ve worked with, served with and led remember your impact on their lives and careers, how do you want them to remember you? What feelings do you want them to experience when remembering you?
Your desired brand is the version of you you’ll move towards every day, in every action, communication and relationship. Your vision leads your strategy of how you’ll show up online as the leader you aspire to be.
When Eva came to me for executive coaching, she’d enjoyed an outstanding 25-year career working on Wall Street, and then 15 years working for a non-profit organization that promoted equality for women.
When the organization closed due to funding challenges, Eva became curious about business ownership. People who knew her recognized her talents, strengths, and passion, but only as a behind-the-scenes person. To be seen as a leader, she’d need to pivot her reputation to that of an owner and this meant clarifying her vision.
Eva loved supporting women – she had many stories of growing up with five sisters and saw first-hand how challenging their careers had all been due to biases, limitations and stereotypes. Her vision, as she shared with me, was to be “a change agent for women, empowering them to see their inner and outer beauty so they’ll change the world for the better.” Clarifying this vision enabled Eva to build her voice and brand online to attract women, companies and allies who shared her passion, related to her vision and who saw her as the leader of a cause she was deeply committed to.
Understand your audience
Using Eva’s example, being clear about who you’re speaking to is vital. Eva wanted to rally other women around her message. She also wanted to engage the media (who were beginning to note the importance of such empowerment messages) and companies (who began to place high priority on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives). Eva clearly communicated her messages to each of those audiences in a language, tone and way that gained their support and followership.
But what if your goal isn’t to be positioned as a high-profile social advocate but rather a leader in your community or industry? It’s still important to know your audience: What do they need to know about you and what do they need to feel about you to give you the leadership title? (It’s also not enough to call yourself a leader. Type the word “leader” into the search bar on LinkedIn and marvel at the results: 8,100,00 individuals align with that title. Are they all actually leaders? Or are they hoping you’ll see them as a leader because they say it’s so?)
Being clear on who your audience is – the people who are looking for someone just like you – necessitates you understand them sometimes better than they understand themselves. When you speak to them online, use their language, keywords and feelings to reach them. Resist the urge to speak your language. If your audience doesn’t “get” you or find you relevant, compelling and interesting, they’ll have trouble seeing you as a leader.
Share with consistency
In personal branding, the goal isn’t’ perfection but rather consistency. We can’t be perfect, we’re human! But we can (and must) be consistent. The way someone experiences you in person must match what they experience online. Consistency is Queen (if content is King, as is often asserted.)
When you share information, insights, content and ideas online, make sure it’s consistent with the brand you’ve built and the vision of the desired brand you want to achieve. Over time, the more your audiences learn about you the more they’ll perceive you the way you desire. Others will be more likely to want to follow you if they consistently see you behave, speak and form relationships that align with your values and brand.
When there is inconsistency, audiences become skeptical. Imagine if your favorite childhood heroine – the superhero you looked up to, dressed up as for Halloween, and who you believed represented all that is noble – was found to be a drug addict. Your perception would change dramatically! Most of us don’t risk disappointing our audiences to such extremes, but consistency is paramount.
Tell the story of you
I’m a huge fan of stories and storytelling. In fact, my work crosses many countries and cultures, and common among all people is the ability to communicate through story. We bring others close to us with a story, we empower and engage others with a compelling story. We help others experience the same emotions we feel by telling a story with heart.
In my book, Control the Narrative: The Executive’s Guide to Building, Pivoting and Repairing Your Reputation, I offered, “Stories are at the heart of personal brands. Your brand should tell the story of why you are here, why you matter and why you care (and, why you want us to care, too). If you aren’t controlling your narrative, you leave too much to chance and speculation. When you control the narrative, you drive the audience to the conclusion you want them to reach.”
When you’re clear on your story, you can confidently share it with audiences as you wish. If you’re not clear, and can’t communicate your purpose and vision to others, you make it almost impossible for them to relate to you, be inspired by you, and want to follow you.
No matter what type of work you do or where you live in the world, as women we must keep pushing to stay relevant in our fields. No one will do this for us. A strong personal brand that clearly communicates your value gives you control over your career, offers you the confidence to share your authentic gifts with others, and enlists your target audiences to join you on your mission to build a leadership brand that is trusted and credible online.
**As previously appeared on SWAAY.com