It can be difficult to find your voice in today’s digital world. With every brand, influencer, and viral video out there, anyone trying to establish a strong personal brand could get lost in the shuffle. That challenge is twice as daunting for social media professionals. How do you build your own identity online while also managing brand accounts?
With a background in public relations and social media marketing, Adrienne Sheares has over a decade of experience in this balancing act. She coaches both brands and individuals on the keys to personal branding. We chatted with Adrienne about the importance of a personal brand and how social media managers can get started building their own — on social media and beyond.
How would you define personal branding, and how is it different from social media influencing?
A personal brand is really the potential promotion of you. That could be your expertise, your skills, your values, who you are, and it's really what differentiates you from the crowd. Social media influencing is just that: influencing people and organizations to take action, whether that's driving social change or motivating them to buy something. The two are similar; you can trust the social influencer because of their personal brand, but you may not necessarily be an influencer just because you have a personal brand.
What makes up a personal brand beyond just social media profiles?
It's a lot of things. Your personal brand at work is how you show up there. Are you the person organizing everything? Are you giving brown bag talks? Sharing thought leadership within your company? Think about what you’re known for and how you’d position yourself when networking.
Another element is what you're associated with. The organizations and causes you engage with can build up your personal brand, and social media is probably the most accessible way to show this. We have relative control over what we put out on social media, and it’s probably the easiest way you can be on people's radars.
What questions should you ask yourself when starting out in personal branding?
What are your goals? If you want to create an additional revenue source, that's going to look different than just becoming known in your industry. Your goals are going to center you and dictate everything that you're going to do.
Who is your target audience? Learn where they show up and what’s important to them. Once you know who you’re targeting and what they care about, figure out where your values align. Finding that sweet spot is where the magic happens.
What do I want to be known for? A lot of people feel pressured to have a niche and be specific, which is very difficult to do. If you're good at a lot of things and you're known for a lot of things, just get started and your niche will reveal itself to you. You’ll see how people are engaging with you and what stands out, and then drill down into that. Don't give yourself too much pressure. Just get started.
How do I want to show up? This also ties with your goals. For me, I wanted to do more public speaking, so that meant being on video more to showcase those skills. How you show up is going to be very unique to your skill set. You know who you are as a person and what you have the bandwidth to do.
What is your best advice for social media managers and marketers looking to develop their personal brands — especially those who already spend a lot of time online building up the brands they work for?
It’s honestly very difficult. I'm not going to lie. I always say the best social media marketer has 237 followers and a private account, because that shows they’re very busy. As a social media manager, you already have to stay on top of changes and new features. Having those insights and learnings from your everyday life be the content for your personal brand makes it infinitely easier, because you don't have to switch gears as much.
Another way to maintain a balance is with content batching. While someone else might spend an hour a day creating content, I’ll block out a day to spend five hours on just content creation. Even if I generate a few posts a week, I’m buying myself time for the month so I can create more content on the fly when I have a moment. Or if I’m extremely busy, I feel good because something is at least going out. Scheduling content works amazingly well — sometimes it’s just not realistic to post everything in real time.
How does personal branding benefit job seekers in the social media and marketing industry — beginners and/or those with experience?
I started my career because of a personal brand. I don’t know if social media marketing was even a field yet when I started. It was very new. It was also a tough economic time, similar to today: a company market and not a job seeker market. I kept hearing, “It was between you and someone else, and we picked the other person.” I didn't want to hear that ever again and I really felt like I could do the job and had the right experience.
I felt like whatever the time allotted was in interviews, I wanted more of that time. When I started creating my own blog, recruiters or hiring managers would actually ask me questions about it or point out things they liked. Now, they're asking me questions about my expertise and already have some insight into the way I think. After that, I stopped getting “you were number two,” and I really think it's because I entered the room before I actually entered the room with a blog and social media presence, and I stayed in the room after I left.
Today, you have a lot of remote work, which means you're competing with people everywhere. People are getting laid off, and you could be a really great applicant but still get lost in the influx of applicants. A personal brand keeps you top of mind, especially if you're in social media marketing. What you're known for, or your particular dose of expertise, could really help a recruiter or hiring manager say “That's the person, that's the one for us.”
A personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s necessary for most people. I would say there are some people who don't need it, because their reputation and connections are just amazing. But unfortunately for us marketers, a lot of people think they can do marketing, and you have to learn how to separate yourself.
Some employers expect social media manager candidates to have robust followings and impressive thought leadership on their personal profiles. What’s your take on this narrative?
There's a fine line between being an influencer on social media and a social media marketer. The skills overlap, but they're not exactly the same. For example, building a social following for yourself is actually a lot easier than a brand, because you don't have any red tape. When you're a social media marketer, you have approvals, stakeholders, and office politics, and you’re rarely able to just post what you think will work. This is also why employers shouldn’t judge a social media marketer solely by the accounts that they manage.
What should brands look for in social media candidates instead?
Problem-solving abilities: Algorithms are always changing and content is usually rewarded by a platform if it stays on there, not if it directs users to your website. Social media managers need to adapt to make content perform well despite platform changes and things not being set up to their advantage.
Emotional intelligence: We're in a very toxic, politically charged world. Social media managers need to have very high emotional intelligence and understand their audience. I joke that I wish I had a portfolio of the crises I’ve averted by stopping content from going out, because people want to hop on trends without necessarily thinking about potential criticism that could be very valid.
Working well under pressure: Because social media is, once again, always changing. It's rapid, and trends come and go in hours. Everybody wants you in a million places at once.
Good writing skills: Having a social media manager who can write well makes it easier on your brand if you need them to do any content creation, write copy, or collaborate with other creators.
Curiosity: In a changing landscape, someone who’s curious about the business, the customer, and where they align is the gift that keeps on giving.
Any other expertise you’d share regarding personal branding?
Just get started. Don’t wait for perfection, your brand can evolve with you. Mine is still evolving, but I’ve found some consistencies. I'm always interested in helping people, being accessible, and not being pompous. Whether I'm talking about social media, marketing, public relations, personal branding, or thought leadership, all of those values still hold true.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself to find that niche. Give yourself the room to grow and stumble upon that awesomeness.
Bio: Adrienne Sheares is the owner of social PR consultancy ViviMae Labs. As an entrepreneur, keynote speaker, storyteller, strategist, and coach, Adrienne helps both companies and individuals harness their expertise and improve their branding efforts.