I’ve seen too many of my friends begin to build an online brand by signing up for twitter and following the CEO of Zappos, Barack Obama and the NYT, then writing one blog post about how they’re starting a blog, only to let both identities falter.
To build your brand, I highly suggest the following totally obvious (but usually overlooked) starting point:
- What are you trying to accomplish with your brand
- What do you need to show about yourself to accomplish that goal
- Get on the proper channels and use them in a complementary way
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?
The first step of building your brand is to stop tweeting for a second and ask yourself: What am I really trying to do here? Don’t just write about your favorite sports team or trip to the Bahamas (unless that’s somehow related to your goal).
Examples of well thought-out goals:
- Raise money for your startup
- Get traffic
- Hire a great team
This isn’t always so simple. For example, you may be trying to accomplish all of these things at the same time, while also trying to set yourself up for a job. You at least need to understand which goals you’re targeting, so they can help guide the topics of your tweets or blog entries.
As an example, at Catapulter, the founders have multiple blogs and twitter personalities.
First, we have our Catapulter Blog and @CatapultTravel, with which we show domain expertise and help out our users to drive traffic to our business. We also have a section of our company blog dedicated to what it’s like to be a part of our team, so that potential hires can check us out and understand what we’re about.
Separately, the founders have our own personal blogs to display a different side of us, more tailored to business relationships and just plain helping out the entrepreneurial community.
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SHOW?
Now that you’ve figured out your goals, it’s important to figure out what you need to show about yourself to accomplish these goals.
For example, to get traffic, you’ll want to understand who are your target users (an entirely different issue), and what will get them to your site. As an example, our Director of Marketing, Jen, uses Catapulter’s blog and Twitter personalities to specifically target what is likely to get our audience of travelling students and young professionals to our site, and get us found via SEO. This includes posts on travel alerts, travel tips for major cities and travel providers, and the occasional light reading (e.g. crazy subway maps around the world).
In comparison, my personal blog focuses on providing advice to new entrepreneurs, who have the same questions that frustrated me when I started out. Like most entrepreneurs, I take pride in helping out others (as other entrepreneurs have helped me) and that’s my primary goal. However, this blog is also useful to show my professional relationships how I think, who I am, and how we run our business.
USE THE RIGHT CHANNELS
Finally, now that you’ve decided what your goals are, and what you need to show about yourself or your brand to accomplish them, you need to use the right channels, and use them correctly.
A few key places to get started:
First, make a brief bio. Some people leave this blank, but it’s important to explain why people should listen to you.
As you begin to tweet – I admit this should be painfully obvious – try to be insightful and interesting, and share info your target audience wants to hear.
People won’t pay much attention to you if you are obviously selling (e.g. “Win a free iPad!”) or just writing about your day (e.g. “Back from the grocery store – Woo!”). One of my favorite blog posts on what not to do: 10 Reason I’m Not Following You On Twitter.
One of the best ways to figure out what you SHOULD tweet about is to follow folks in the community you want to be a part of, and understand what types of things are interesting to (and retweeted by) that community.
In addition, Twitter is a great place to share your more in-depth blog entries, and make it easy for people to share them (don’t forget to leave enough space at the end so people have room to retweet with “RT [your twitter name]” added!).
Facebook is, like Twitter, another place to share who you are, and in most cases, the same rules apply.
Most people already have a Facebook profile. As a result, since you’ve amassed 5 years of drinking pictures and family-unfriendly wall posts, you should go back and make sure that you share (through privacy settings or good old deleting) only what you would be ok with everyone in the world, including your target audience, seeing.
And don’t quit Facebook. It’s like storming out of the room and slamming a door during an argument – doesn’t help, and you probably should have stuck around and worked it out.
LinkedIn is basically a professional version of Facebook. It’s the place to put your resume online, and build up another social network. In addition, you connect with professional relationships through LinkedIn like you “friend” through Facebook (though LinkedIn etiquette suggests you actually know the person, slightly different than Facebook).
For your brand, it’s important to have this profile, so people can easily search for and find your professional experience. If potential investors, employees, partners, etc. want to check you out, they’ll be able to find your resume here, and any connections (even 2nd or 3rd degree) you have who they may be able to contact to learn more about you.
While you may share blog posts through other social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), your blog is a great place to let people learn about you more in-depth. Of course, continue to stick to your strategy of what you want to show about yourself.
It’s always nice to see your personality (a good place to do this is in your writing style), but if you’re writing a blog to get folks to your travel site and a quarter of your posts are about finance or politics, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors – just muddying up your message.
If you’re just starting, use one of the more popular, simple blogging services like Tumblr, Posterous or WordPress.
Quora is a service that lets people ask and answer questions, and answers can be voted up or down. It’s similar to Yahoo Answers except that Quora has a heavy bent toward entrepreneurship and a much higher quality of answers. In addition, you can follow topics, users or questions that interest you.
One of the most compelling reasons to use Quora is that if you write a response to a question, you already have an audience consisting of the question’s author plus anyone who searches for that question or similar keywords. It’s similar to getting your blog found with SEO, but Quora is more concentrated than search engines, and quality answers are user validated.
Interestingly, answers extend to recent events. For example, when about.me was purchased recently by AOL, there was a question on why the company had sold so early. The CEO/founder responded quickly.
Given so many online identities, the recently launched about.me is a great way to pull all of them together. It allows you to upload a representative picture of yourself, write a brief blurb on who you are, and link to all of your social identities and websites. Though it’s relatively new, it had 400,000 users four days after launch, and is already quite well known.
DON’T BE LAME, JUST BE TARGETED
Finally, though I discussed staying on track with your messages and goals, this doesn’t mean you should be boring! Try to be entertaining and write about what you find interesting and important.
However, building your online brand is one of the most important things you will do as an entrepreneur, so just make sure you think through what you want to show about yourself (and filter out what you don’t want to share), and start your brand out strong.