Katy Goshtasbi provides an excellent yet simple definition of a personal brand: It’s what people say about you behind your back. Essentially, it’s your reputation.
As people have become more active on social media, though, the idea of a personal brand has expanded. Before social media, I suspect your reputation was largely based on what your professional peers thought of you in the workplace. Now, however, people share their activities and thoughts outside the workplace with pretty much everyone. This forces us to be more mindful about how our personal posts could affect our professional reputation.
Recently, a law school asked me to speak about how to build a personal brand. As a solo practitioner who is active on social media and blogging, I know I have a personal brand, but I don’t give it much thought. I’m just me, and so far I think that’s working out. But the invitation gave me the opportunity to reflect a bit more on what I think my personal brand is. I ended up with two lists: (1) What I want people to think about me, and (2) How I convey that message.
Here they are:
What I Want People to Think About Me
- Competent lawyer
- Connected to the community
- Prevent problems
- Wicked smart
- Professional speaker
How I Convey That Message
- T-shirt Friday, jeans and sneakers
- Member of Local First Arizona
- Volunteer with Ignite Phoenix
- Speaker at Phoenix Comicon
- ABA Legal Rebel
- Two blogs, three books
- Active on social media
- Simple office, answer my own phone and email
- Swearing, rants
- Awesome website
The Ultimate Test
The ultimate test of my brand, though, isn’t what I want professional contacts to think of me; it’s what they actually think about me. So I sent a survey to over 70 people I know who work in marketing or the legal industry, or who are entrepreneurs active on social media (and who I suspect understand personal branding). I asked them to reply anonymously to a simple question: “What is Ruth Carter’s brand?”
I received 30 responses and was surprised by how remarkably similar they were to each other and to what I hoped people would think of me. Here’s a sampling:
- “Independent, off the beaten path, edgy … and yet somehow always professional.”
- “I find your brand to be someone who is intelligent, connected, community focused and has just the appropriate amount of quirk to make interacting with you consistently fun and never boring.”
- “As an individual brand, you are a passionate, loyal, compassionate person always willing to help out a friend or cause that you believe in…. As a lawyer, you are flexible and focused and speak to the meaning behind the law more so than the law itself. It makes you very approachable in a field where people often are leery of engaging with lawyers and asking questions.”
What about you? When’s the last time you asked what people think of you and how your actions influence your reputation? (By the way, please remember that “branding” is about being authentic, not trying to sell a fake persona.) If you want to do something similar and ask your contacts for feedback, I recommend using an anonymous survey to get the most honest responses to your questions.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth’s new ABA book, The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers, launches this month. She is also the author of the ABA book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans, as well as The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.