In recent years, personal branding has exploded.
On LinkedIn, you can find macro, micro, and nano influencers putting out value-adding content to help their prospects and customers solve pain points and reach their goals. Marketers the world over are realigning their priorities, moving away from the traditional lead generation model and towards the brand-led approach championed by the likes of Chris Walker.
In the aftermath of last week's session for our network, Cognism's Senior SEO and Content Executive, Greig Robertson gives you his practical tips to kickstart your company’s personal branding journey.
Scroll to the bottom of this article for the full session, or read on!
1. Set goals - Personal & Company
This works best when the company and employees are aligned with each other and compliment each other’s efforts.
Personal goals focus less on personal brand building for the greater good and more on individual advancement. For example, an influencer may seek to demonstrate their expertise on a particular topic to attract recruiters or headhunters, with the end goal of getting a promotion.
By consistently producing value-adding content, they may be able to bypass the interview process. The obvious downside of this is a company loses top talent because of the strength of an employee’s personal brand, rather than gaining customer loyalty and business.
Company goals focus less on personal brand building for individual advancement and more on the greater good. For example, a company may want to create what former HubSpot chief, Mark Kilens, calls “a groundswell of community engagement” which puts the company top of mind when prospects take a buying decision.
To do this, they get their employees to add value to them over time which drives high-intent leads to their site which are easier for their sales team to convert. They’re encouraged to follow relevant people to ensure their feeds are relevant to the business challenges their company solves and be smart about who they engage with.
But while leveraging the crowd in this way will impact the company’s bottom line in theory, expecting employees to invest in extra-curricular activities without the promise of any personal gains will only go so far.
Personal x Company goals for incremental gains
Personal branding is at its most powerful when companies and individuals identify opportunities to pursue mutually beneficial personal branding activities.
For example, an individual’s goal might be to join a community full of peers to upskill themselves and keep their finger on the pulse of their field. To do this effectively, they consume and engage with content created by the community, while creating content of their own that the community responds to. As part of this process, the value the individual adds to the community becomes associated with the brand. Meanwhile, the company reaps the rewards of any new-found knowledge the individual gains.
Another mutually beneficial personal branding activity is arranging brand collaborations. For example, a start-up may have poor brand awareness, meaning they need to piggyback on the reputations of more established companies and individuals.
To achieve this, they need someone in their marketing team to get on the influencer’s radar and soften them up for outreach. By regularly engaging with the influencer’s content, the individual is able to develop a strong relationship with them, resulting not only in a brand collaboration but also engagement with their own content. This boosts their reach and the strength of their own personal brand. They may also start up their own guest blogs in collaboration with the brand.
2. The art of LinkedIn SEO
The easiest thing you can do to get your personal x company branding journey started is to optimise yours and your employees’ bios. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to help you do that:
As you can see in the above example, Saif’s job title serves as a keyword, making it easy for people to discover and connect with him. He also has a benefit-led headline which leaves you in no doubt about what he does or the problem he solves. This is because Saif uses ultra-specific language and tone of voice that is also associated with Cognism as a brand.
Alice has taken a similar approach with her profile, while also including a stat which validates her abilities. Underneath her bio, you can see she’s turned “creator mode” on to ensure anyone landing on her profile knows what they can expect from her posts.
“Creator mode” also switches out the “Connect” button for a “Follow” button, which is a lower ask to anyone searching for her and makes it easy for people to see the topics she mainly talks about and quickly assess her profile’s relevancy for them.
The 'Featured' Section
Next, in Saif’s “Featured” section, you can see he’s included top-performing LinkedIn posts. This is better than showcasing work you’ve done on an external site, such as a blog, as it disrupts the user journey.
Plus, on the whole, LinkedIn users expect to be served value-adding content, rather than to be sold to.
3. Overcome imposter syndrome
In your company’s personal branding journey, you’re going to encounter one seriously annoying thing - a widespread mental block, otherwise known as imposter syndrome. Failing to overcome this will stop you dead in your tracks and leave your personal branding engine spluttering.
Speak to anyone who’s sceptical and they’ll tell you their main fear is going viral with a stupid opinion. Or being savaged by other people in the community because they “don’t know enough”.
To stop this attitude from setting in, you need to remind your organisation of 3 important things:
No one cares - Sounds harsh, right? But it’s true. When you first start posting, your audience is small and unengaged, meaning the damage you can cause to yourself is minimal. That is unless you start posting conspiracies on your page. So don’t overestimate the significance of your posts in the beginning. Use them as a testing ground to find your voice, your audience, and the types of posts that work for you. That means that by the time people are actually listening, your personal brand will look refined.
There’s always an audience for you - Many would-be influencers underestimate the usefulness of their own expertise. For example, you can be in an entry-level role and still have valuable things to say to your peers. After all, if everyone focused on creating advanced content, how would any new starters ever get to the same level?
Negative comments are positive - A good rule of thumb is that 70% of people should agree with your posts and 30% should disagree. Having this balance means you’re saying something worth saying. Chances are, if everyone agrees with you, you’re probably being too cautious. And you’ll never get the engagement you need to really grow your personal brand.
4. Building and keeping post momentum
Having defined goals for your personal brand helps keep you motivated to post. At least in the beginning. But you’ll need to use actual posting frameworks if you want to keep momentum over the long term. Here are 3 you can use:
A content plan maps out the topics you’re going to tackle in advance of the days you post. This means you have control over the long-term narrative you’re building, while it still allows you to sprinkle inspiration on your posts and tap into viral trends.
Bulk writing posts is a technique that produces all of your week’s posts in a single slot. This means all you have to do is schedule each post, which saves brainpower on a daily basis. It also takes care of the times when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
The pillar/clustering technique transplants the content SEO strategy and applies it to LinkedIn personal branding. For example, if my pillar is “B2B SaaS content marketing,” because that’s:
A) My profession
B) A segment of the marketing persona Cognism targets
My clusters are going to include things like “content marketing strategy,” “keyword research,” “content marketing metrics,” “content marketing career advice”... The list goes on.
Using a structure like this and adapting it to LinkedIn, you can craft a consistent narrative over time, instead of taking a scattergun approach. And consistency will help connections and post viewers associate your personal brand with specific topics.
You need to post around 3-5 times per week on average to achieve the most impact.
5. LinkedIn posts that work
This section comes with a caveat.
Truly, there is no cookie-cutter process for writing viral LinkedIn posts. To find your sweet spot, you need to test the times you post and the formats you use.
That said, here are some that worked for me:
Progress posts - These posts can take a variety of forms but the general narrative is this: you start off bad at something and you become good at something. It helps when you back that up with data.
Pain point posts - These posts aim to quickly solve your target audience’s problems. So if you recently discovered a hack you think might help your peers, share it.
Niche, value-add posts - These posts help your target audience reach their career ambitions. And to do that properly, you have to really drill down into the detail, which requires that you really know your audience.
Top tip: Wherever you find your sweet spot, make sure your posts are varied. A meme could help you get a ton of reach, whereas niche content will build trust. You need to do both to build your personal brand.
6. Implement your personal branding initiative effectively
So, to round things up, it’s worth me sharing some of the lessons Cognism learned from implementing all this advice:
Firstly, run any company-wide masterclasses twice a month. We found weekly sessions were too labour intensive to curate, while monthly sessions fell off the radar of attendees. Ask people which days and times work best for them and stick to them.
Secondly, choose a company figurehead to front these sessions, ideally someone who already has an established personal brand. A more junior personal branding champion can prepare all the necessary materials in advance of the session so senior staff’s workload isn’t greatly increased. But you need that extra clout to give voluntary sessions a compulsory feel.
Thirdly, to make sure the work you do is scalable, record sessions and save decks in a central repository the whole company can access. This will ensure that even if live attendance is low, people can still get value from the content you create.
Fourthly, get your C Suite onboard first and leverage the senior profiles in the business as much as you can.
Finally, use incentives to get people bought into your personal branding initiative. Whether it's a financial reward or excitement and recognition from your team, it's important to get your team excited and engaged as ambassadors for your businesses brand.
And that's it! It's important to understand that these things will take time, but with consistency - and commitment - a branded community is one of the strongest tools in your marketing arsenal.