We’re on a personal branding kick here at WebWorkerDaily, and like all self-promotion, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I’ve never been one to toot my own horn; it’s part of the reason that I escaped the corporate world, and all of the ladder-climbing and interviewing bluster that goes along with it. I find that working on the web actually allows me to stay away from most of what I would consider “personal branding,” especially since much of the work I do involves providing content for sites that are not my own and already have strong brands of their own.
The key to providing that kind of content, and to other kinds of writing that are less focused on the byline and more on the product, like ghostwriting, is not to have too strong a brand yourself. Content producers are often encouraged to sidestep the limelight so as not to cast a shadow on the blog or product brand they’re contributing to. Doing so is easy if you’re naturally a shrinking violet, but it also means treading a thin line between being a good supporting cast member and being altogether too forgettable.
Learn From the Best
If you want to portray yourself as a top content producer, look at what other people who are already where you want to be are doing. In a lot of cases, you probably won’t be familiar with the most important players in your chosen field. People like Christina Warren, Adam Frucci and Luke Plunkett might not be familiar to you, yet they produce a lot of the content you’ll see on TUAW, Gizmodo and Kotaku, respectively. The key to their success? They identify and assimilate the brand and voice of the publication that they’re working for, instead of being memorable in and of themselves.
Content is King
It’s an oft-quoted maxim, but it remains true, especially for those trying to get gigs as content producers. Any kind of technical/ghost/content-writing position will be more focused on the meat and potatoes of your actual work, and a lot less on you and your credentials. I often have to remind myself to include my educational background when applying for new writing jobs, even though I have an MA in writing, because my portfolio is so much more important to the outcome of my application.
The best way to foreground content is to build up your portfolio. Ideally, you should get paid work, but if you’re just starting out, you might have to do some things on spec/for the byline just to build up a bit of a content bank.
Personal Blogging and Social Media
It might be difficult to see how you can still put your own blog and your various social media profiles to use in building a self-effacing anti-brand, since they are arguably focused on you as an individual by default. You can still make sure these tools are redirecting focus to your content, too, by making them operate like hubs and launchpads rather than resumés or personal promotion tools.
For your blog, make sure you go minimalist, and write entries that direct readers to either other places where your paid work appears, or to contextual articles relevant to your target industry that will help establish your authority in that field. For your social media accounts, the idea is much the same. Share relevant links, engage in meaningful conversations, and generally keep the focus on what’s going on in your field rather than on your achievements and track record.
It’s Not Me, It’s You
I know this kind of approach won’t go over so well with a lot of you out there. We Westerners tend to be individualistic, and part of that means taking and receiving credit for our contributions. The fact is, though, that a lot of those looking for content providers want exactly the opposite: someone who will do the work and quietly step aside (or point back to the brand) when that work draws attention. It may not be glamorous, but it pays the bills, and that’s all that counts in my books.
Do you think avoiding a personal brand is ever a good idea, regardless of what kind of work you do? Do you think it’s even actually possible?
Image by flickr user pulpolux