Five simple steps to building your personal brand (without feeling like a phoney).

Whether you like it or not, if you have an online presence, you have a personal brand. The reality today is that employers, prospective clients, and even social contacts often encounter us digitally before they meet us "IRL" and that first impression matters. According to a CareerBuilder study, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen job candidates before hiring them. And according to another study, 94% of buyers reported using online research at some point in the purchasing process.

Most of us know how important those digital first impressions are, so why don't more of us invest in cultivating a personal brand? We've found for many people the prospect of crafting, polishing and curating the digital version of themselves feels at best, daunting, and at worst, disingenuous.

Luckily, when you're armed with the right strategies and tools, personal branding doesn't need to be time consuming or difficult, and it definitely shouldn't feel fake. In fact, research shows that when it comes to personal branding, authenticity and credibility (along with relevance) are some of the top drivers for building trust with your audience. The more authentic you can be online, the more your audience will engage with you, and the more equity you'll build in your personal brand.

So, where do you start? Here are five simple steps anyone can follow to start building a personal brand that will open doors, warm up leads and usher in new opportunities.


1. Audit and update your social profiles.

The first step in building your digital brand is to figure out how you are currently showing up online and clean up your social profiles. Googling yourself is a great place to start. Do you have a Facebook business page you haven't logged into since the day you created it? Is your Twitter profile picture an egg? Do you have a blog you haven't updated since 2009? Before you do anything else, go for easy wins; complete and/or update your personal information on your social profiles, including your profile and background photos, and deactivate any duplicate accounts or accounts you have no plans to use.

2. Think about what makes you, you.

Your brand should be an extension of who you are, so don't try to misrepresent yourself online. Instead, think about what your most distinctive qualities are and what you are known for. Do friends compliment you on your thoughtfulness or sense of humour? Are you passionate about science and innovation? Is there a particular charity or philanthropic cause that is personally meaningful for you? Ideally, this will be an exercise in narrowing focus to really think about your *most* distinctive qualities and interests, rather than trying to compile an exhaustive list. Effective personal brands tend to act like a short cut, allowing your audience to feel like they have a sense of who you are and what you're about, so it's important for you to get clear on those things!

3. Build trust and become a thought leader by consistently delivering value.

Cleaning up your digital footprint and understanding your unique qualities is only half the battle. In order to build trust in your personal brand and establish credibility, you need to consistently provide your audience with something of value. That "something" could be as small as a status update or as large as a published article. It could be could be original content you create yourself or third party content you carefully select and share. When it comes to content sharing, quality and consistency matter. The content that readers value most is generally useful, entertaining, trustworthy, aspirational or some combination of those things. If you can provide relevant, authentic and credible content on a consistent basis, your audience will come to trust in and rely on you.

4. Think carefully about what you post.

It's important to provide value on a consistent basis, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be deliberate about what you share. First and foremost, the content you post and the way you behave online should ladder to the qualities you've defined as part of your personal brand. Beyond that, it's also critical to remember that the digital isn't the ephemeral. Your online history is permanent. Even deleted posts can be unearthed and expiring content can be screen captured. A good rule of thumb is to think of the things you post online like tattoos – something you should be proud to have associated with you and that you may have to explain, even years later. One ill-thought-out comment or inappropriate article can tarnish even the most trusted personal brand. And if you're a member of a regulated industry, there may be even more specific guidelines you are required to follow in representing yourself online.

5. Don't go it alone. Use tools to help.

Personal brand building does require *some* investment of time and effort, but it doesn't need to be a full time job. Social selling tools such as Grapevine6 and LinkedIn Sales Navigator can make it easy and fast to select and share relevant brand-building content to multiple social networks with a few simple taps. And if you're in a regulated industry, compliance platform integrations within Grapevine6 can enable you to share relevant content that is pre-screened for compliance.

For more information about Grapevine6, say [email protected]