“I want to keep a low profile” vs. Personal branding

Before I prepare for a corporate personal branding workshop (usually for the CXO/management team, or a select set of employees), I seek inputs from some of the participants so that I take into account the participants’ most pressing concerns or worries or needs, and then incorporate appropriate material in the workshop.

During such input-seeking conversations, one quip gets mentioned very, very often: “Karthik, I (or my CXO team wants) want to keep a low profile online. I don’t want to get into trouble for what I say“.

This seems to be a predominant sentiment as people age – many of the younger ones seem bold enough to have a go online, while age and maturity brings certain levels of self-caution and increased worry about being perceived wrongly.

To be sure, the awareness of being perceived for what we say (online) is very essential, and is almost a precursor to start thinking seriously about personal branding. The crucial addition here is that what we say online leads to complete strangers forming perceptions about us without knowing anything about us, and only via what we say online.

Let me address this ‘low profile’ part directly.

What is low profile?
The dictionary meaning is, “not attracting much attention or publicity”.
The idea is this: avoid much attention and continue to do what you do well quietly.

In the pre-internet, offline world, it meant not being known by a lot of strangers, and being known well by a few people who we are closely acquainted with professionally or socially. This was easy because of physical limitations – you meet people, attend events and build your limited profile accordingly.

Unfortunately, this is not possible in the online world. There are no boundaries online and things tend to go places, even where you do not intend to become visible. So, targeted conversations and sharing that reaches only the most relevant people is not that easy online. You need to utilize the power of broadcast intelligently to reach the most appropriate people to enhance your personal brand.

But low profile does not mean ‘no one should know I exist’. If the intent behind keeping a low profile is to not get into trouble for what you might say, then the solution is not ‘I’ll remain a spectator online without saying anything/much‘. The solution is to be intelligent about what you say online, where you say it and most importantly, how you say it.

A simple analogy to explain this: Imagine you live in a house with 100 windows. If you open all 100 windows, the world can see you all the time – that would be like living your life on a 24×7 video stream. But, if you carefully pick only 5 windows and open them, the world sees you through those windows and forms an opinion about you.

Now, what they see from the 5 windows is not the real/complete you, but it is still you – a chosen version of you.

This means you need a clear personal brand definition, geared towards helping people (anyone online) understand who/what you are, what you may be good at/known for. It also means you need to put more effort into choosing the kind of topics that you pick to talk about (why and what), in articulating your thoughts in the most appropriate manner (how), and picking the right channels to do it (where).

This is not a complex exercise, but simply one that requires conscious thought, diligence and practice.

PS: My personal branding workshops are meant for corporates to help their people think about this in a more focused manner, build the basics of their personal brand and create a sustainable plan and process to nurture it themselves.

Cover picture courtesy: ZME Science, Lifesciencesipreview

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