The currency that helps shape a personal brand

A significant part of my corporate workshops on personal branding, after I have set the context for its need and assorted nuances around social media/networking platforms and articulation, is about content.

On the internet, anything and everything is ‘content’. It is also an important lever in accentuating a perception about yourself, and build your ‘personal brand’. In a way, content is the currency with which you can shape a personal brand using digital platforms.

But there are also a lot of misconceptions around what kind of content ‘works’, and for what purpose.

Broadly, most people seem to believe that content that is popular is the one that ‘works’. And such popularity is usually determined by social media platform-level vanity metrics – Likes, Shares, Retweets, Comments, etc.

I had written about the power of the invisible, silent audience earlier this year.

The ‘works’, as a metric for content, needs to be seen from the perspective of having some objectives for yourself within the context of personal branding. It goes back to the question, “What do you want people to know you for?”.

The more you conceive, articulate and share content on specific topics and themes, the more the chances of people stumbling on it and remembering you for those topics and themes.

And this ‘content’ has no universal template. It could be literally anything and everything – from a selfie video, to a 2-paragraph note, to a single pithy line on Twitter, to a photo on Instagram, and so on. What matters are 2 things: the effort you put in to stick to your voice and theme, and the consistency with which you stay on your theme.

To be consistent, you need to plan your content consumption and creation process. You cannot leave it to serendipity and need to go after the topics that interest you/you want to be known for, research them actively and articulate them. But again, it is bound to be difficult for anyone to find content consistently on one particular topic.

So, you build layers around your core content and increase the spectrum that you can go after.

Let me explain with my own example.

My objective, from a personal branding point of view, is to be considered by corporate decision-makers for communications-related workshops and consulting projects. To attract the attention of the decision-makers in this segment (usually CMOs, CXOs, learning and development heads, HR heads, and so on), I need to showcase an active interest in all-things-communications. Communications can manifest in multiple dimensions.

I can air my view on how communications are handled by a brand, either in the news currently, or from the past.
I can showcase how a piece of communication (could be anything from a brand tweet to a brand’s advertisement) is worth looking at or is not worth looking at.
I can do the same at an individual level – how individuals handle their communication, and this directly impacts their personal brand.
And so on.

But within this spectrum, I’m aware of the fact that I cannot hit the bullseye in terms of my objective (and not in terms of ‘virality’) all the time, as an individual, without any support team that can research and write content.

So, I see the content effort in 3 layers:

Layer 1 – This is a bullseye. This is the content that is directly relevant to my objective. Like this post, for instance, that has a direct bearing on my personal branding workshops.

Layer 2 – This is one level removed from the core, but still, if I do it consistently, it helps to build my own brand around my observations on communications by others/other brands. This is most of my perspectives on ads, PR efforts, social media posts/campaigns, and so on. This helps in my attracting consulting engagements.

Layer 3 – This is further removed from the core, but helps in getting mildly related attention from people, which in turn feeds interest into layer 2 or 1. Here, I’m trying not trying to demonstrate expertise in a subject but only trying to showcase the way I think or analyze a subject. These are, for instance, my views on a broader range of topics, including (future of) work, industry-specific/category-centric perspectives, and so on.

From a purely content format point of view, I’m also aware of the time I have to spend on sourcing and articulating content. While I always, always (double emphasis) read as much humanly possible on anything before I share it (my thumb-rule: read 10x more than you share), I’m also conscious that with some pieces of content, the shorter my view, the better.

My broad intention for any content I share is that it should be ‘useful’.

That is, it should make people think that they got to learn something – a new point of view that makes them think. I could be talking about something that happened earlier, but my intention is to bring in a perspective that gets people thinking in newer directions.

But ‘useful’ is only my perspective – you could have a different thumb-rule that ‘works’ for you.

For instance, you may decide that you want your posts to make people laugh – if you are a comedian, that’s a perfect thumb-rule.

Or, if you are a food blogger, you may want most of your content to evoke interest in all-things-eating.

But again, this is just my model for personal branding that does not have anything to do with the ‘influencer’ model. My model does not monetize content directly. That is, you cannot draw a straight line between any of my content with any of my client work. I have made a conscious choice to not create paid-for content.

In the influencer model, your content is monetized directly – you charge a fee to create content and get paid by relevant brands or agencies. In that model, the size of your followers matters more than what you are known for. In fact, you don’t even need to be known for any ‘kind’ of content – you could be like The Times of India, serving content on multiple topics, but all with the intent of getting more and more people to follow you and share your content. The larger the audience, the better.

My intent, in my model, is to attract specific kinds of people with my content, not as social media followers, but as paying clients in the offline world. The influencer model is about attracting the most people to follow you so you can mine that captive (supposedly) audience by charging clients by showing them that you have an ‘audience’ that they can speak to, through you.

There is no right or wrong model. Each model works differently, for different goals. But the currency for every model is content. And since content sourcing and creating takes time and a lot of effort, it is useful to understand the dimensions around what kind of content work for you, and how to define ‘work’.

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