The catch cry of personal branding experts is “authenticity!” But sometimes it can be hard to know how much information is too much — when authenticity gets a little too true-to-life — in your personal branding efforts.
Public breakups, breakdowns and tantrums are just some of the personal events I wish I hadn’t seen online. But pointless name-dropping, disjointed communications that make contacts seem like split personalities, and mysterious updates that are never followed through are among the more common ways in which many of us dilute our personal brands every day.
One approach that can help us to identify information that we’d be better not to publish to our peers — and information we really should — is to use creative storytelling techniques to assess and improve our personal branding efforts.
Think about it: the way you communicate your personal brand isn’t static. You grow every day, and every day is a new adventure in your life. It follows that getting a grip on the storytelling techniques of characterization, plot and narrative can help you to assess, improve, and communicate your evolving personal brand.
In this three-part series, I’ll be looking at each of these elements in turn. First up: Characterization.
What is Characterization?
A storyteller uses characters to help communicate the key themes in a story. You’re the key character in your story, but there are undoubtedly others too — the people in your contact network, your colleagues and clients, mentors, family and friends, idols and heroes.
Characterization involves using the information you have about yourself to best effect in giving others a clear picture of you.
Building Your Character
If you were to think of yourself as a character, you can see that the information you choose to distribute about yourself, and the means you use to distribute it, will help others build a perception of you.
A storyteller selects crucial defining information about their characters and focuses on communicating that clearly, in a way that suits the character. We can do the same to build our personal brands efficiently.
Applying characterization techniques in personal branding is less a question of, for example, avoiding mentioning that you eat dinner at an unfashionable restaurant each week than it is about meeting your audience’s desire to know you in the most effective way.
We all know that there’s a plethora of options for communicating your character though personal branding, including:
- the channels you use
- the language you use
- your profile data
- the photos you publish of yourself and others
- your interests, pastimes, and the topics you focus on, including links and other content you promote
- your frequency and depth of public engagement with others
- the places you like to visit or meet others
The other side to the characterization coin is to work out which pieces of information most clearly define the key aspects of your character. Few of us have time to transmit every piece of the minutiae of our days or nights, so we need to choose what we’ll communicate. How do you know what will best illustrate your character to your contacts?
The answer will depend on your character! I usually only communicate about things that I feel very strongly about — topics I’m passionate about — which in itself reflects my character to some degree. You might decide to focus on communicating the things you enjoy or like the most, or information regarding what you feel are the main, or most important, areas of your life. Conversely, you may choose predominantly to communicate about lighthearted, non-serious topics if you’re that kind of person.
Characterization in Practice
Some of my contacts are extremely good at characterization. One, a designer, uses a combination of his blog, Twitter and Flickr to communicate his professional and personal interests in a very coherent form, though at first glance, it may seem fragmented. He uses his blog to chart his creative pursuits and interests, Flickr to illustrate his role as a husband and dad, and Twitter to make brief philosophical comment on the world.
He rarely, if ever, links between the three, so he possibly sees these channels as serving different audiences. But as a friend and creative contact who I follow fairly closely through all these online channels (and see pretty often as well), these efforts combine to make him a very clear-cut character.
Another friend is a computer programmer by day and singer/bassist in a band by night. Between his blog, his Facebook page (he’s just polled his Facebook friends about whether he should cut his hair or not), his Twitter comments (he was recently snapped manning the BBQ at a backyard concert and tweeted the link) and technical articles he writes occasionally, as well as my personal contact with the guy I know and love, I have a clear idea of his character.
Obviously, since personal branding involves a range of channels, consistency of your character across all of these is key, but as my friends’ cases illustrate, it doesn’t mean you have to communicate the same pieces of information across all of those channels. But it may. Ultimately, the way you communicate your character is limited only by your creativity and personal preferences.
However you implement characterization, it will help your personal branding if you think about yourself as a character in your own story. I should help you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and choose to communicate that character efficiently, effectively, and thoroughly through various channels.
How do you communicate your character online?