How to build your personal brand without being insufferable

LinkedIn is where the party’s at in the corporate world. And everyone who’s anyone is there – entrepreneurs, employers, valuable network connectors, and investors. If you’re building your brand, you’ve got to be part of it. But the preachy posts and toxic positivity are starting to get old. How do you build a presence without becoming an insufferable Linkedinfluencer?

As a professional network, LinkedIn is the undisputed champion with over 55 million companies and 830 million users. 

That’s millions of people invested in getting hired, promoting their businesses, or promoting themselves. And as far as the algorithm is concerned, your startup is just another drop in the bucket. 

To escape said bucket, some founders are opting for the “Linkedinfluencer” route.

Back-patting success stories, hustle culture “inspo”, charity humblebrags, clickbaity headings… there’s even a subreddit commiserating it. It’s all so insufferable, yet it’s everywhere the eye falls on the LinkedIn wall. 

It also gets a lot of engagement.

Does everyone with a brand to build – personal or professional – really have to MC themselves across multiple social networks? 

Is this just the way of the modern world?

Building a brand without being a dick

7x founder and Aussie LinkedIn blogger Tim Denning is known for his inspiring (and brutally honest) articles on entrepreneurship, technology, and personal development. 

A Linkedinfluencer made good through multiple failures, Denning advises founders to “watch your ego like a hawk”. 

“My out of control ego killed more business deals than a lack of customers ever did. You got a business, so what? Lower your ego and the barrier to the relationship that can help your business thrive will be lifted. Nobody wants to deal with an asshole.”

The most successful founders are focused on the customer, not themselves. 

If you want to get buy-in, give away something for free. Not just clickbait or thinly-veiled sales, but genuine insight, value (education, guide, free trial, discount) or insider knowledge. 

It’s important to be current here. You’ll no doubt know what’s happening in your industry. Give your take. This has to be a “death of the author” scenario where you’re being generous with your knowledge, forgetting all sales intentions, and editing out non-neutral statements. You don’t matter – the content does.

Your community will be your early adopter base and your most powerful word-of-mouth strategy. When you’re building a brand, think of what will benefit them the most. Don’t think ‘acquire customers’. That’s what marketing is for. Think ‘build trust’.

Self PR

Corporate self-help author Darius Foroux was wrong when he said, “You can work on your skills. But you can’t work on a reputation.”

If you’ve created a monster with your personal PR, it’s never too late to rebrand. 

In the 1980s, Bill Gates’ personal brand sucked. He was known around the halls of Microsoft as a “taskmaster who would prowl the parking lot on weekends to see who’d made it in” and an “angry office bully” who “dressed down employees in public [and] hurled sarcasm at rivals”.

Now people know him for donating over USD $50 billion to charity, and making philanthropy his life’s work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But make no mistake. This doesn’t mean old Bill went to therapy and made himself a better man. In fact, there are rumours to suggest the contrary. The harmless nerd we see before us today was carefully constructed – probably by a full team of experts. 

Rules of engagement 

If you’re struggling to build a following organically – as is the case for 90% of people, given the overwhelming volume of attempters and constantly changing algorithms – some Linkedinfluencers are gaming the system using engagement pods

Just as grim as they sound, these are echo chambers in which users conspire to like and comment on each other’s posts. With it, influencers trick LinkedIn’s algorithm into thinking “this post is popular, let’s promote it,” and their content gets bumped up the feed.

It’s a strategy that seems more suited to the sharky world of Instagram – and it is rife over there. The results are thousands of inauthentic posts, fake engagement, and low-quality content hitting everyone’s feed on a daily basis. 

The thing is, even if you use it for business, you can stop using Instagram for entertainment. This kind of inauthentic activity is more problematic on LinkedIn, a platform people are in a sense forced to use. 

It’s often the first port of call for recruiters, employers, and investors wanting to know your professional background. You could try to find a substitute, but no other social media channel comes close in terms of sheer user volume.

And while engagement pods may produce short-term benefits for your posting popularity, they don’t work long term. Users – and the almighty algorithm – soon detect when you’re submitting low-quality posts and exchanging ersatz comments and likes. If you get caught out, it ends up eroding your personal brand and your followers’ trust.

It also violates 8.2.q of LinkedIn’s User Agreement which prohibit gaming algorithms – if you’re worried about that sort of thing.

In the end, you’ve got two choices: build your personal brand through empathy, authenticity, and offering genuine value. This means putting in whatever the “hard yards” mean to you – whether that’s posting every day or running webinars or events every week – and accepting the sheer time and volume it takes for these efforts to bear fruit. 

Or: work on changing the world quietly behind the scenes, focusing on other types of customer acquisition strategy. 

Whatever you choose, just remember the wise words of J.L. McCoy: “Acting like a dick won’t make yours any bigger.”

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