5 “Rules” of Personal Branding: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social
Those two words probably evoke one of two responses: eagerness to hit your first 5,000 followers, or an eye roll and a snort.
Now try these two words on for size: “Social selling.”
The future of B2B sales, or overhyped by the same riffraff hawking their personal brand courses?
I’m not here to pass judgment on either take.
I’m just here to share my own experience—and what I’ve distilled into my five personal “rules” for social media. Take some of it, take all of it, take none of it. We’re all forging our own path, and we’re all just walking each other home.
This makes me uncomfortable
I keep getting one recurring question: what’s your social strategy? I’ve gotten it enough that I figured it was worth writing about.
But, I’ll be honest: I’ve put it off for a few months now. This article has remained, stubbornly, on the back burner. Not just for all the obvious reasons, either (client calls, launching Beam, hiring our team, two toddlers at home…)
Instead, it’s been stuck in my craw for one unignorable reason: it makes me a bit uncomfortable and more than a bit self-conscious.
I’m not out here trying to be some personal brand hype bro.
But, still, I get the question. I've heard it enough times now to put some thought into how I approach Twitter and LinkedIn.
And I can better ignore the discomfort than the fact that nearly 100% of Beam’s clients have come via inbound or referral by way of social.
So here we are.
I've run out of excuses. At the very least, this will help me organize my thoughts into something resembling social strategy (yuck).
Let me start with two stories real quick
I started seriously thinking about this post after two particular, unconnected experiences.
The first experience:
I connected with a fellow marketer via DMs back in February, and we jumped on a call to talk about all things marketing and career.
It wasn't a sales call. There wasn't a pitch.
We shared our experiences, asked questions about FT work versus freelancing, talked about what’s next for both of us, and then went on our way.
Four months later she sent a referral to a dream client completely out of the blue.
The second experience:
I tweeted something dumb (as one does).
A Head of Content liked it, then messaged me to ask if I'd be interested in working on content together. Backing up a bit: a few weeks before, I'd connected with his team on LinkedIn because I liked their pricing page (and told them so).
The dumb tweet was just the trigger, apparently.
To me, those two experiences highlight exactly why I'm not interested in "building a platform." I don't have any info products in the works. I'm not looking for reach; I'm looking for engagement.
That’s why I put this in terms of my personal “rules” for social media, rather than some manufactured social strategy aimed at maximizing views and followers.
I’ve cleared my throat a bit.
Thanks for being patient.
These five “rules” ensure all this
(a) stays fun, and
(b) remains worth it.
Take them with a grain of salt.
My 5 personal rules for social media
Before we get too far along, here’s the twist: I don’t really have a social strategy. My “editorial calendar” is a notes doc on my phone and a screenshots folder on my desktop. I don’t schedule things out or plan things in advance.
I either post things as I go, or write them down for later. (That’s why you’ll see two or three posts from me in a day; a big no-no according to all the LinkedIn gurus.)
If anything, it’s good old-fashioned relationship sales, with some memes and screenshots thrown in for good measure. These “rules” just help keep me grounded.
Keep it focused
For me, that means asking myself a single question: is it about content marketing, freelancing, or writing?
Then don't post it.
(Unless it's funny. Always post the funnies. You gotta keep yourself entertained.)
Look: I’m 30, and really only about 5 solid years into my career. I’m not going to try to give out career advice. I’m a content marketer, not a copywriter. I’m not going to try to give out copywriting advice. I have a passing knowledge of sales after a couple of years in the space, but I’m not going to try to give out sales team advice.
You get the picture.
At the risk of sounding like a grouchy get-off-my-lawn type, let me say: write about, and post about, what you know.
But it’s not just that. It’s also about being known for a particular thing. If you cast your curation net too wide, you might have a post or two catch some attention, but you won’t be consistently engaging with who you want your community to be.
Find the handful of things you want to talk about and are equipped to talk about.
Then talk about them.
Keep it balanced
Here’s the hard truth: there’s no strategy for going viral on LinkedIn or Twitter.
The dumb meme that takes me 30 seconds might get 100k views.
The in-depth content strategy post that takes me 30 minutes might get 5k views.
Don’t believe me? This 10-word, 10-second post got 107k views:
But that’s OK. More than OK, actually. It’s a good thing. One gets reach, while the other gains connection and trust.
It’s good to have both. You can really only gather new connections with views*, but you can really only get value from your social presence with thoughtful comments, messages, and follow-on calls.
*and consistently connecting with 100 people each week
Not every post needs to be a well-thought-out, polished playbook designed to show how smart you are. Conversely, not every post needs to be an appeal to the masses (or, in less generous terms, a desperate attempt to game the algorithm and rack up views on views on views on views.)
Just, y’know, be you.
Keep it real
Speaking of Mr. Rogers-esque cliches: please, for the love of pod, don’t make up stories or blow ho-hum everyday occurrences out of proportion.
(Haven’t seen this in your own feed? Check out LinkedIn Lunatics on Reddit.)
On the flipside, you’ll see overly stuffy, academic language or try-hard Canva images from folks thinking they have to impress their CFO or VC audience.
Avoid both ends of the spectrum like the plague.
Mention "Best of LinkedIn" on Twitter. I'm not just talking about avoiding stuffy, academic language or using emojis. I mean make it personable. I share raw screenshots. I poke fun at myself. I share what I'm learning and what I'm struggling with.
In other words: don't take yourself too seriously.
Poke fun at yourself.
Share raw screenshots.
Share what you're learning and what you're struggling to understand.
You're here to have conversations, not to pretend you have all the answers.
In general, my posts come down to:
- What I’m working on
- What I’m reading about
- What I’m thinking or learning about
- Who I’m talking to (and what we’re talking about)
Keep it meaningful
I like 1,000 likes as much as the next guy, but the real impact of social has been in what comes in-between social posts.
Less personal branding, more personal connection, plz.
For me, social posts are often just the gateway to some awesome DMs and Zoom calls with freelancers, marketers, agency owners, and other tech pros. Sure, maybe I’m less protective of my calendar than others, but I really think it’s these non-public conversations that have led to the referrals, sales, exposure, and trust I’ll get into below.
None of that happened in the comment section—much less on a post with tens of thousands of views. Keep the cumulative effect of your social presence in mind and look for opportunities to follow-up on meaningful conversations.
Sift for those opportunities.
Remember: if you have time to post daily, you have time to respond to messages and help where you can.
Keep it in perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the vanity metrics of LinkedIn and Twitter. That’s why I try to bring it back to the real “why” behind spending a not-small amount of time on social.
I'm not looking for millions of impressions and thousands of engagements.
I'm looking for:
- Freelancer help
- Requests for work
- Networking opportunities
- Opportunities to help freelancers
- Invitations to collaborate or contribute
Sometimes I get a referral from someone without even knowing about it. Sometimes a freelancer DMs me who’s a great fit for what we’re doing. Sometimes a networking call turns into a content partnership. Sometimes I get encouraging messages from freelancers about my content. Sometimes I get invitations to join a podcast, an event, or a roundup.
I can’t (and don’t try to) measure all of this.
But it’s panned out well over the last couple of years.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Two years ago, before I had any kind of social presence, we went looking for freelance writers on job boards and marketplaces. It was a disaster. We couldn’t find writers that fit our writing style and skill level. Then, when I posted that Beam was looking for freelancers a few months ago, I received 400+ responses. I was eventually able to narrow it down to the 12 excellent freelance writers we’re working with now.
This month, we landed $216,000 in new business for Beam. That was all from either inbound or referrals, by way of social. By my napkin math, if I spend 30 hours each month on social (more or less my real number) each month, that’s like…really high ROI. (I’m not an ops guy, so don’t press me on this one.)
So, is “personal branding” or “social selling” worth it?
I’d say yes.
But I’d also say don’t overthink it. Post daily, post weekly, whatever. Just post:
- What you’re working on
- What you’re thinking about
- What you’re talking about with others
(And, again, if you wanna keep it enjoyable, what you find funny. Always post the funnies.)
Stay humble. I’ll try if you’ll try.