Monday, February 23, 2015

Personal Branding for Startup Founders – A Practical Guide

Did you know that the “About Us” section is the second most viewed page after the home page for most of the websites? Today, when a lot is being talked about creating the company brand and image, it is equally important to have a strong personal brand of the founders – this is especially true for startups because for many startups, the founders, CEOs and the people behind the company are more known than the company itself.

Think of Apple. Think of Microsoft. Think of Google. Although these are large organizations, there are some strong personalities which come to our mind when we think of these companies – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. We don’t ‘live’ in a virtual world – we live in a world where we speak with humans, we build relationships with people and we engage with people. So it is very important that founders think of their personal branding very seriously.

But how do I go about it?” – I get it asked many times. So rather than preaching more about why it is important (I am hoping that you are already convinced!), here are some practical ways of leveraging some of the popular social media platforms for building your personal brand.

If you have to choose one platform, choose LinkedIn. It is THE most important professional networking platform. First and foremost, it is crucial that you have a well-developed LinkedIn profile. It should very crisply and clearly list your education, experience, expertise, passions and likings. There are lot of articles available online on how to create a powerful LinkedIn profile, the do’s and don’ts and best practices. Follow the advice there. If you think you don’t have time or expertise to write a killer LinkedIn profile, take external help – but do it. It’s mandatory.

You cannot stop after creating a LinkedIn profile. You should aim for following
-          Post at least one status update every week – this could be about your company, your offerings, an interesting insight, your views about industry updates and so on. This is important for being in front of your connections.
-          Join relevant groups which interest you and start getting active there through participation in ongoing discussions.
-          Occasionally, start ask thought provoking questions and elicit responses.
-          Leverage LinkedIn Publisher platform - It allows you to write long updates or articles. You can use this platform to demonstrate your expertise or knowledge.

No, Twitter is not for kids or for people who don’t have any work. Twitter is gaining popularity and is being used as a prime network, even in B2B segment, for news, updates and information sharing. It’s a myth that Twitter is time consuming. You don’t need to have Twitter app in ‘always on’ mode on your smartphone. There are schedulers such as Bufferapp or Hootsuite which you can use to schedule your tweets. You can choose to share interesting industry updates, your opinions on latest topics, news about your company products or services. You could also appreciate your employees and motivate them. You can join ongoing conversations through hashtags. It is easy to create an image of a curator of interesting information or opinion-maker on Twitter. Don’t hesitate to show your personal side by way of some casual updates about your vacation or personal interests like
photography, poetry or sports.

You obviously have lot of knowledge about your industry and domain or technology. Use blogs to share that knowledge and demonstrate your thought leadership or expertise to the world. Based on my personal experience, finalizing the blog topic is the most difficult task. What I do is, pick up the pain points of my customers and write a purely educational post around that. Try it, and it might work for you as well. Don’t try to sell your product or services through your blogs. Genuinely solve people’s problems or provide answers to their questions. A blog written in a simple language which honestly provides relevant and useful information is always appreciated. If your customers approach you after reading your blog, they will approach you as knowledge partner and not as just another vendor.

Yes! Don’t be surprised to see it listed here. Pinterest can very well be used for personal branding – here is how. Suppose you run an exclusive boutique or a cafe, there is no better place than Pinterest to showcase your passion, products and services.  It’s very visual, the interface is very cool and most likely, and your target audience is already on Pinterest! You could also pin other interesting stuff like your office photos, customer testimonials, the books you like, your favorite vacation spots - flaunt your creative side and pin about your passions. There is no harm in showcasing your personal interest on social networking sites.

If your knowledge of Quora is limited to the email notifications you receive when someone “follows” you there, then it’s time to change it. Quora is a brilliant platform for personal brand building. It is increasingly becoming popular and it seems to be favored by search engines too! Lot of discussions (yes, serious discussions) happen on Quora. Since it is a question and answer format, if you have a point of view about something or have some good pointers to share, there is no better place than Quora. Join interesting conversations and respond to questions. Occasionally, your responses could be supplemented with the blog articles which you have written – I have seen examples where people have seen a steady flow of traffic to their blog coming from Quora.

As we know, Personal Branding is nothing but creating a right kind of emotional response when people hear your name, see you online or meet you in person. Ensure that they find consistency everywhere J Always make sure that your offline persona matches with your online image.