General Marketing

Personal Brand: What It Really Is & How to Build One

Rebecca Liew
Content marketer and writer. Addicted to words, stationery, and exploring new places on foot.
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    Building a personal brand is undeniably hard work, but it isn’t as tricky as you might think. 

    I spoke with two influencers—Wes Kao and Matt Diggity—for their best tips on establishing a name for yourself online.

    A personal brand is how people perceive you and what you’re known for. It’s the skills, experience, and values that give you an edge over others.

    Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman is one example. He helms and hosts the science/health podcast Huberman Lab, lectures at Stanford Medicine, and has earned media mentions from the likes of BBC, TIME, and more.

    Andrew’s personal brand is built on his credibility and areas of expertise. Many of his posts attract thousands of likes and hundreds of comments on X and LinkedIn.

    Andrew gets a lot of engagement on his posts thanks to a strong personal brand (and following).

    If we want to dig deeper, Maven and altMBA co-founder Wes Kao has a somewhat alternative take on the definition:

    In my opinion, it’s better to reframe ‘personal branding’ into ‘personal credibility.’ Personal branding has a superficial undertone. It assumes you have your work, then you tack on an artificial layer of ‘branding’ to shape perceptions.

    Wes Kao
    Wes Kao, Co-founder Maven

    She suggests that personal credibility is about substance: Showing people what you do, how you think, and how you can contribute. Wes adds:

    In this way, you build deeper connections with people who believe in your work—which means stronger relationships, more control, and more opportunities.

    Wes Kao
    Wes Kao, Co-founder Maven

    In this podcast interview snippet with Nick Bennett, SparkToro’s Amanda Natividad echoes Wes’ sentiment: 

    People generally don’t like the term [personal brand] because it sounds disingenuous and icky. Acknowledging the existence of your personal brand is admitting that you care what others think about you, and that you find ways to manage those expectations at scale.

    Amanda Natividad
    Amanda Natividad, VP Marketing SparkToro

    Wild as it sounds, building a solid personal brand gives you more control over your life.

    A strong following could:

    • Expand your realm of influence, particularly in your area of expertise (i.e., be viewed as a subject matter expert).
    • Boost your credibility, in turn allowing you to promote your company/product better.
    • Build a loyal following independent of the company you’re working for (or if you own that company, create more positive sentiment towards it).
    • Open doors to job, networking, and investment opportunities.

    Chiangmai SEO conference founder Matt Diggity shares some excellent points in his Facebook post on the topic, too.

    Excerpt from Matt Diggity's Facebook post on the benefits of personal branding.

    There’s no linear path to building your personal brand.

    As a precursor to the below steps, let’s first talk about finding your “voice.”

    Wes and Matt both emphasize the importance of staying true to yourself. That means not crafting an online persona of who you think you should be.

    I try to write like how I sound in person. Talking and writing are different media, so you shouldn’t try to match the two in a literal sense, but you want to capture your overall spirit. For example, I have a hint of snark in my writing because that’s how I sound in person.

    Wes Kao
    Wes Kao, Co-founder Maven

    Matt echoes this sentiment: 

    How I talk on the internet is how I talk IRL. If I’m not having a f**king blast on my YouTube videos, I won’t do them. It has to be fun.

    Matt Diggity
    Matt Diggity, Founder Diggity Marketing

    Keep this idea in mind as you go through the steps below.

    Step 1: Position yourself 

    Think of yourself as a product: What are your strengths, obsessions, and areas of expertise?

    If you’re well-versed in technical SEO or a seasoned entrepreneur, these might be your unique selling points.

    From there, double down on something you would be excited to think, write, and talk about for years—because “it will likely take years to get to where you want to go,” says Wes.

    As an optional next step, consider solidifying your position with a spiky POV—a term coined by Wes, and which she cautions should be used with care.

    A spiky POV is not about a contrarian hot take for the sake of it. In 2023, social platforms are flooded with hot takes and generic advice. I think about respecting the intelligence of my audience and teaching them something they don’t already know. A true spiky POV is rooted in deep expertise, including recognizing the limitations and counterpoints of your idea. This builds your reputation as someone who is rigorous and worth the time to engage with.

    Wes Kao
    Wes Kao, Co-founder Maven

    Here’s a LinkedIn post by Wes that combines all of the above: a unique perspective backed by her personal experiences, with a takeaway for the audience too. In other words—a spiky, worthy POV.

    Step 2: Start sharing publicly

    You already knew this, but social media platforms are one of the best ways to get growth and build your name. It’s your chance to build your reputation in a public arena.

    Wes, Amanda, and Matt each utilized a combination of online channels to promote their voice and content. It’s one of the first things you should do—because your content is really only as good as its reach.

    This doesn’t mean cross-posting your content across more platforms than you can manage, of course.

    Study where your target audience spends most of their time, then hone in on those platforms (ideally, stick to no more than 2-3).

    In Matt’s case, his followers are primarily on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—and that’s where his SEO-led content thrives.

    Matt Diggity's videos get lots of views on YouTube, again in part thanks to a strong personal brand.

    If creating whole posts from scratch seems daunting, start by commenting thoughtfully in relevant online communities. Obviously, do it with heart:

    Here are some simple ways to start.

    LinkedIn: Contribute to a collaborative article

    You might have seen these articles floating around LinkedIn—perhaps even been invited to add your insights to them.

    These blog posts are similar to Wikipedia pages: LinkedIn users build on each AI-generated article with their perspectives, and readers can choose to react to these additions or engage with the content.

    Example of a collaborative post on LinkedIn

    Here’s an example of what a contribution looks like:

    Example of a collaborative post on LinkedIn

    Reddit: Weigh in on discussions

    1. Go to a relevant subreddit, e.g. r/bigSEO
    2. Sort by “Top” and “This Week”
    3. Browse the questions or discussions and offer your two cents where relevant.
    Popular post from the /r/bigSEO subreddit

    Ride on trending topics

    Found an interesting insight on X or someplace else? Turn it into a poll, question, or post. (Be sure to also tag and credit the author!)

    Bring it all together

    If some of your responses or posts get traction, repurpose those answers into new content: a blog post, video, or series of social posts.

    (PSST: Learn more about my process behind curating and repurposing content for Ahrefs’ X account.)

    This segues into our next and final step:

    Step 3: Double down on what works

    By now, you should have an idea of which topics you’re most comfortable discussing at length—and what resonates most with your target audience.

    You can further maximize your reach by doubling down on the things that have brought you success. Or, more specifically, by repurposing popular content in other formats and creating more content about similar things.

    For instance, we turned this popular video on how to use ChatGPT for SEO into a Twitter thread and LinkedIn post—and later, a blog post.

    Our repurposed ChatGPT for SEO post on LinkedIn
    Performance of our repurposed ChatGPT for SEO post on LinkedIn

    Wes has also done this plenty with her “eaten the bear” analogy over the years. She first wrote about it in this 2019 blog post, rewrote it in 2023, and shares variations of the analogy on LinkedIn and X every few months.

    Wes' "eaten the bear" analogy, from her original 2019 blog post

    Each time, these posts garner hundreds or thousands of likes

    Don’t let your success die there, though. You can find more content ideas that will resonate with your audience by doing some keyword research around your topic. Here’s how:

    1. Plug your target topic into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
    2. Go to the Matching terms report

    For example, if we enter “chatgpt seo,” we see that people are searching for ChatGPT prompts for SEO and ChatGPT SEO extensions:

    Finding keywords (topic ideas) in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

    Given how our audience is interested in ChatGPT and SEO, these would be great topics to create content about—whether that be social media posts, videos, blog posts, or something else. 

    If you don’t have a paid account with us, you can plug your topic into our free keyword generator tool to view related phrases/questions.

    Extra tips to build your personal brand

    We mentioned some of these in some shape or form earlier, but they’re worth expanding on.

    Maintain human connections

    Who are you without the people who consume your content? Engage consistently with your followers and others’ content. Human connections are worth their weight in gold when you’re trying to get your personal brand off the ground.

    Maintain consistency across your social media profiles

    This means using the same profile picture across all platforms, and a standardized bio so others can quickly get a sense of who you are and what you often post about.

    Jack Appleby is a great example. The creator/consultant is behind Future Social, an independent social strategy newsletter with 56,000+ subscribers.

    Notice how he maintains consistency on X and LinkedIn:

    Jack Appleby's Twitter branding
    Jack Appleby's LinkedIn branding

    Ahrefs’ Tim Soulo further explains the importance of your profile picture in personal branding here:

    Be yourself

    Remember how Wes and Matt shared the importance of staying true to yourself? We couldn’t emphasize that enough.

    Final thoughts

    These steps aren’t exhaustive, obviously. To truly stand out online, Wes suggests having a combination of these things: social proof, good design sense, strong writing, interesting insights, and a track record of contribution.

    As she puts it: 

    All these things will make people think, ‘This person knows their craft.’

    Wes Kao
    Wes Kao, Co-founder Maven

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