How to Build a Personal Brand Without Being Too Self-Promotional

Older woman who fancies herself as a social media influencer taking selfies of herself.

There’s no denying that personal branding is important in business. People like to do business with people they know, or who seem like people they know.  That’s always been true. It’s why making one’s personal brand known through networking has always been one of the leading ways small businesses find customers.

Thanks to social media and to cell phones with great cameras, it’s easy to get your personal brand and the “authentic you” out there beyond your local network, too.

You can take shots of yourself smiling as you talk to a client. Or you can photograph yourself staring pensively into the camera or doing anything you can capture in a selfie taken from your outstretched hand. You can have someone else take photos or videos of you in situations where you can’t take them yourself —like when you’re presenting a seminar.

Caricature of female social media influencer obsessed with her own image

And you can share all those images easily and quickly to all the social media platforms you hang out on. Doing so lets you show yourself frequently to people across the country as well as those in your local area.

But should you?  And what and how much should you share?

Here’s the rub: Post too many pictures of yourself, and you might just turn off your audience instead of building your personal brand.

What is a Personal Brand?

Basically, personal branding is all about storytelling. It’s the practice of consistently presenting yourself in a way you want others to think about you. Ideally, that is portraying yourself in a way that leads people to recognize and appreciate your professional skills, values, and experiences.

But your personal brand is about more than just pictures of you and the story you want to tell. It’s how others perceive you. In other words, it’s about your reputation.

Done right, personal branding can enhance your reputation by building name recognition, credibility, trust, and loyalty.

Do it wrong, and you’ll develop a reputation for being a self-promoter, bore, and an annoying interruption in your audience’s social media streams.

The Difference Between Personal Branding and Self-Promotion

Developing a personal brand means developing an image of yourself that you want prospects, customers, and associates to see.  But, unless you’re Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, that doesn’t mean people want to look at endless photos of you. 

Caricature of social media influencer taking a selfie to promote themself

You may think it’s cool to show dozens of selfies of yourself smiling confidently, looking thoughtfully into the camera, or shaking hands with people. Or you may think it impresses others when you post a lot of pictures of you with an arm draped around a happy client, or pointing at some hand-drawn diagram on a whiteboard as you present a workshop.

Occasional shots like those are OK and satisfy people’s desire to see the “real” you.

But when your posts focus primarily on you rather than on providing relevant content for your followers, your “personal branding” turns into self-promotion.

Worse, it can make your followers miss the real value you do offer and lose confidence in you. They may start to think you’re too “full of yourself,” or that you’re trying to make yourself look important when you’re not.

Where do you draw the line?

Your purpose for posting is to achieve your goals.

But what your audience really wants to know from your posts is, “What’s in it for me?” How will following your posts help improve their lives, brighten their days, help solve some nagging problem, or entertain them?

To achieve your goals without being seen as overly self-promotional, be strategic about what you post.

Consider your Objectives and those of Your Audience

Start by defining the objective of your social media presence. Ask yourself: Are you aiming to educate your audience, showcase your expertise, or share your professional journey? Look for ways to align your content with these objectives while providing value that enriches your audience’s experience and knowledge.

For instance, a food influencer could post a brief video showing how to avoid food waste and create a delicious new meal from leftovers.  A consultant could prevent posted images of themself from being overly promotional if each image has text superimposed with a short, helpful tip for readers. (Just don’t overdo the tactic.)

Embrace Authenticity

Your social media should reflect your genuine interests, professional ethos, and personality. You can talk about lessons learned, show a brief video of yourself volunteering, or demonstrating how to safely use some tool. This kind of authenticity humanizes you and fosters connections with your audience.

Engage, Don’t Broadcast

Interact with your audience through comments, shares, and discussions about industry-related topics. Engaging in this way positions you as a thought leader who values dialogue and collaboration.

Diversify Your Content

While sharing achievements and milestones is important, incorporating educational content, industry news, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into your work process can provide a well-rounded view of your professional identity. This variety not only keeps your audience engaged but also highlights different facets of your expertise and personality.

Navigating the fine line between personal branding and excessive self-promotion on social media requires mindfulness and strategy. You can build a respected personal brand by focusing on providing value, embracing authenticity, engaging with your audience, and diversifying your content.   Remember, the goal of your social media presence should be to foster connections and showcase your expertise in a way that feels both genuine and relevant to your audience.

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