Book Review: "Branding Yourself"

I recently read “Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself” by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy.  This book was written by two Indy natives who have mastered the art of personal branding. Deckers owns a social media marketing agency and Lacy is the Vice President of Marketing at Lessonly. Both are published authors, blogging experts, frequent public speakers, and experts with years of experience in marketing, digital, and social media strategy. These two social media gurus wrote this book to share tips, tricks, and secrets to building a powerful personal brand online that carries over into in-person interactions. This book explains the basic principles for developing a successful personal brand and provides a simple step-by-step guide to crafting and communicating your personal brand online using a variety of social media platforms.

If you’ve ever read a book or taken a class about corporate branding, then you are well on your way to understanding personal branding. The process is very similar: define your mission, tell your story, and develop action steps and tactics to communicate this story. The main challenge with personal branding is the way that self-promotion makes most people feel. Most people have been told since they were kids not to brag or talk abou yourself. So the premise of personal branding feels icky to most people. But if done correctly, self-promotion isn’t bragging, it’s simply a way to put your work and skills in the spotlight for others to see and understand. Decker and Lacy were smart to kick-off their book by talking about what self-promotion is and why it’s important. They explain that self-promotion is important because it can lead to jobs opportunities, speaking gigs, sales, and much more. Successful people have large networks and they built their networks by crafting an effective brand story and sharing that story clearly with the world. So how do you create a successful brand story? It starts by asking yourself, “What do I want to be known for?” In order to develop your brand, you must discover your passion, be bold about promoting that passion, tell your brand story in an engaging way, build relationships, and take action to put your work out into the world. Developing a personal brand story is very similar to creating a company’s mission statement. You want to be able to tell people what you do and why you do it in a way that makes you stand out.

Once you’ve developed your brand story, Decker and Lacy explain that you need to build your network online. Part II of the book focuses on building your network online through blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, sharing videos and photos, and other social media tools. This section of the book provides the nitty-gritty details on how to promote yourself on the web. If you are new to social media then you should really hone in on this section of the book. Decker and Lacy break down each social media tool from setting up an account to posting interesting content. Part II provides great tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts, and interesting examples that really showcase how social media can elevate your brand.

The first two parts of the book walk you through how to create, test, and promote your personal brand online. Starting in Part III is a roadmap to actually creating a personal brand campaign. Again, if you have a marketing background then this isn’t new to you. A personal brand campaign is just like a product campaign, except instead of promoting a new kind of beverage for example you are promoting yourself. In order to launch a personal brand campaign, you need to understand positioning. Where do you fit into the marketplace and how to you stack up against competition? Table 10.1 on page 207 of the book provides a really great framework for understanding positioning. Developing an effective positioning statement will help you cut through noise and stand out against the competition. Once this is done, the next step is to create a plan of attack. No, not an actual attack. This isn’t Game of Thrones. But just as you’d create a detailed plan to promote a product campaign, you want to do the same thing with your personal brand campaign. Decker and Lacy recommend blocking out time on your calendar (thirty minutes to one hour a day) to focus on personal branding. Eventually, the act of self-promotion may become routine, but until that happens, it is important to schedule time on your calendar so that you are consistent and constant in your branding efforts. Another suggestion is to build a daily task sheet. There are applications, such as Wunderlist, that can help you with this. On page 216, there is a table that outlines a sample task sheet that can be used as a template. And lastly, just as you would develop a tactical plan for your company’s new product launch, you must create tactics to promote you. Tactics might include creating a how-to video, giving away free stuff or coupon codes, guest writing on blogs, or handing out business cards.

As you start to implement your campaign, it’s important to measure success. Measuring success can help you figure out what content is working or not working, what time of the day is the best to post content, what platforms have the most traction, etc. This information will make you smarter and more strategic. So what should you be measuring? This book outlines the following metrics to pay attention to: reach, engagement, quality vs. quantity, visibility, and influence. I actually learned a lot of new information in the chapter about measuring success (chapter 11). Most people tend to skip over measurement, so I was glad that Decker and Lacy committed a whole chapter to discussing tools and tips for measurement.

The third part of the book moves beyond online and into the real world. Decker and Lacy explain that while it’s important to have an active online presence, there is nothing more powerful than human, face-to-face interaction. Chapters 12 through 15 focus on important things to know about networking in person. For the introverts of the world, this section of the book will likely give you anxiety. However, if you are naturally shy and hate networking in person, then this section of the book is the most crucial for you. Everyone needs to learn to push outside of their comfort zone in order to meet new people and build an engaged network. Networking is all about gaining trust and cultivating relationships and this is done much easier and more effectively in person. Just think, would you rather do business with someone you met online or in person? Most likely, you trust the person you’ve had coffee with more than the person you have only ever talked to on Twitter or email. The part of the networking section that I appreciated the most was the discussion of “Giver’s Gain.” Decker and Lacy explain that networking is not a quid pro quo nor is it a game where you keep points of how often you’ve helped others and how often they’ve helped you in return. Rather, networking is about the Giver’s Gain. If you give value to someone else, for example by connecting him or her with an employer, giving professional advice, or writing him or her a letter of recommendation, then you will gain goodwill. Doing nice things for other people will inevitably lead to other people doing nice things for you. But it’s not always an equal exchange and that’s okay. This part of the book also discussed the importance of public speaking and getting published. Doing both of these things will propel you into the world of being an expert. When you speak and/or write about a specific issue, you are seen as an expert and this can help your career in so many ways. And then the last chapter of the book focuses on the job search and how all this work of building a brand and a network can help you attain your dream career.

Overall, I thought this book was extremely interesting and helpful. Unlike other social media books I’ve read, the content in this book was mostly up-to-date and accurate. Social media changes so quickly so it’s difficult to write a book on the topic. But this book focused mostly on basic principles of branding, social media, and networking and these principles for the most part don’t change when Facebook changes their algorithm or a new social media platform jumps on the scene. As a public relations practitioner, developing a personal brand is so important. Many people in the public relations field are freelancers or entrepreneurs, so knowing how to effectively network on and offline can be the difference between making money and not being profitable. And those public relations folks who work for major companies can often prove their marketing and public relations chops by effectively promoting their own brand story. Most companies hiring someone in marketing and social media will ask for a person’s personal social media accounts as a way to see what they know. So the advice in this book is extremely relevant and helpful to anyone trying to build a career in the public relations world.  

I learned a lot from this book, most important of which is that personal branding isn’t all that different from corporate branding. The research, planning, and action steps are really all the same. Knowing that, I can use the tools in this book, and the ones I have learned from my master’s classes, and employ them on myself. I really liked how this book frequently included lists of “do’s and don’ts,” case studies, helpful tables, and stories of “heroes” that remained consistent through the book. These examples clarified each step and brought the process of personal branding to life. As I read the book, I frequently highlighted text or folded over pages that included information that I found extra helpful. This book will definitely become a staple on my at-home desk. I can see myself frequently pulling out this book to get a refresher on personal branding techniques and best practices.

I do think sections of this book were more rudimentary than I expected. Much of Part II outlined really basic steps for setting up social media profiles and learning the basics of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. For someone in the social media and marketing field, this information wasn’t useful and I caught myself just skipping over entire pages. But, I also understand that not every reader of this book has the background that I have and the authors had to write for all types of readers.

In conclusion, I’m grateful that my Managing Online Platforms professor suggested this read. I’m an avid reader always looking for good book suggestions. I am sure I will revisit this book many times throughout my career and I look forward to utilizing the tools and tactics outlined in this book as I begin to craft and implement my own personal brand.

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