Book Review: “Known”

Whether it’s on social media, in the workplace, or at school, it seems like nearly every person has an innate desire to become known by their peers. As a society, we tend to define who we are based on the opinions of others. We mistakenly confuse this phenomenon of believing the world’s label for us as becoming known. Being known isn’t dependent on who has the most friends or the most followers. It’s not dependent on who’s the prettiest or funniest. Being known means utilizing digital media to building an actionable audience that respects your reputation and authority.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Take an expert’s. In “Known: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age,” Mark W. Schaefer breaks down how to build your personal brand in four easy parts: find your place, determine your space, find your fuel and create an actionable audience. Although these steps seem relatively simple, each one takes a tremendous amount of research, thought, patience and desire. Schaefer intends for these steps to be used specifically for building a personal brand, all four are applicable across different subject areas, including social media.

Step One: Find your place

Growing up, teachers, parents and other authority figures say, “Find your passion and run with it.” But, what if I told you that isn’t enough? According to Schaefer, discovering your passion is only half of the battle when it comes to find your place. Now, I won’t lie. It took a lot of convincing for me to believe that. In my last blog, I talked about social media’s influence on my life, and how it led me to my passion. My life, including my career choice, has been built around my passion for giving others a voice. But after 27 pages, Schaefer had me convinced.

Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean it will translate into a successful and enjoyable career. As much as it pains me to say this, passion just isn’t enough. Instead, Schaefer suggests finding a sustainable interest. “What does that mean?” you ask. Well, please, allow me to enlighten you because I find this topic extremely intriguing.

Explained simply, Schaefer defines a sustainable interest as a topic you love, but that you want to become known for. But, this definition didn’t differ from the definition of a passion to me. Let’s paint a picture:

I graduate in approximately eight months (but who’s counting?). Within the next eight months, I need to start thinking about what my sustainable interest might be. Now, if there is anything that anyone needs to know about me, it’s that I have an undying love for dogs. A cute video of a pup can turn even the darkest of days around for me. But, I can’t necessarily make a career based upon my love for dogs. Instead, I need to think about something I’m passionate about, but that I can also pave the path for me to achieve my long term goals.

Schaefer used his past experiences to identify his sustainable interest, but that’s only one of many ways you could find yours. In fact, Schaefer was nice enough to give you seven different exercises to find yours:

  1. The “Only I…”
  2. The 2 by 2
  3. The Core Mash-Up
  4. Strengths Finder
  5. The beautiful questions
  6. Visualize your future
  7. The 35 headlines

Now, I’m not going to go through explain all of these, but I did them all as I read through chapter three. They were all helpful and helped me identify my sustainable interest, but I found “The Core Mash-Up” the most helpful.

When you go through “The Core Mash-up,” you find your sustainable interest by combining a personal values or characteristics with something you love to do or that you’re passionate about. First, start with creating a list of your core characteristics and values. It could be as little as 10 words or up to fifty. My list consisted of about 20 words, which I narrowed down to three:

  1. Honesty
  2. Creativity
  3. Communication

The trick is to mix and match the different values to create a sustainable interest. It’s apparent to be that my sustainable interest is going to fall somewhere in the public relations field – good thing since I’m about to have a degree in it. Now, I still don’t know specifically what topic I want to base my sustainable interest on, but that’s okay. If there’s anything I learned by going through these steps, it’s that not everyone is going to know their sustainable interest right away. The more you experience in life, the more apparent your sustainable interest will become.

Step Two: Determine your space

About 600 words ago, I mentioned that these steps could be applied to pretty much anything, like social media. But, what I should have said is this:

“..all four are applicable across different subject areas, especially social media.”

I think it’s safe to say most of us know the importance of social media when it comes to building your personal brand- at least if you’ve read my blogs you would. Social media gives you the opportunity to share who you are with the world. It’s probably one of the most powerful tools ever invented. That’s why finding the correct space for your sustainable interest is so important.

But as Schaefer explains, finding your space doesn’t just mean you should create a Twitter account or blog. Determining what your space is takes research, and a lot of it.  So, once again, Schaefer, that sweet man, gave us more steps to follow:

  1. Develop a unique tone or point of view
  2. Move to a social platform within your niche
  3. Dominate a content type
  4. Try a new content form
  5. Focus on frequency
  6. Find a unique demographic or geographic niche
  7. Connect with industry influencers
  8. Use curation as a niche

Unlike the exercises Schaefer gave us in the previous step, all of these steps are equally important. If you haven’t inferred yet, this process involves quite a bit of trial and error. Just like writing the introduction paragraph to this blog, the first step is always the most difficult. Developing a unique tone or point of view sounds really easy, but once you dive into it, you find out otherwise. This step is easy to underthink, but its just as easy to over think. I truly cannot explain the best way to do this better than Schaefer:

“It might be tempting to try to sound funnier / nerdier / hipper / snarkier than you are in real life, but that is likely to get exhausting. Your tone has to be a natural extension of your personality.”

Now, I’m not an expert on this topic by any means, but I am going to use myself as an example. Take this blog for instance. You come into this thinking that this is going to be formal because most book reviews are. But that’s just not who I am. If I tried to make this completely formal, I’d be exhausted writing it and that would come through while you’re reading it. Instead, I let my naturally conversational tone flow through my writing, which hopefully makes this blog more unique and enjoyable.

Now that we’ve got step one of determining your space taken care of, we can shift our focus back to social media. The rest of the steps focus on selecting the platform to display your sustainable interest based on your content type, your lifestyle and your niche. Let’s skip down to step, five. Now, when you want to focus on frequency, you have to consider your personality and your lifestyle, as well as your readers’. If you want to create a social media account as your main content type, you need to be able to post to it multiple times a day, or you will inevitably lose the interest of your audience. Maybe you think you can only create content weekly or monthly. There’s nothing wrong with that, you just have to shift your space. Maybe your space isn’t a traditional social media. It could be Apple Podcasts.

At this point in the book, Schaefer has me convince that he is a personal branding genius. “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. Step eight is an absolute game-changer. According to Schaefer, you can obtain first-mover advantage without even creating original content. Honestly, if you’re not convinced to pick up the book and read it yourself at this point, the snippet I’m about to share should sway you. Schaefer talked about the story of Christopher Korody, who established first-mover advantage when his interest in drones peaked during a client project. Korody didn’t create any original content. Instead, he curated content about drones and posted it to his site daily. Now, he’s considered an expert in the industry. Talk about working smarter and not harder.

Step Three: Find your fuel

According to Schaefer, your content is your fuel. In step two, you found your space. But like I mentioned, there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. This is the step where you can cut back on that. Schaefer starts to talk more about how your lifestyle and personality can lead you to selecting the right content type. Unlike the last two umbrella steps, he breaks this part down into only three subsets:

  1. Find the open space
  2. Figure out what you love to do
  3. Match content and personality type

Personally, I find that the first two steps are pretty self-explanatory. That could just be because psychology and personality type peak my interest, but oh well. You’re going to learn something new. Schaefer categorize personalities into two types: introverts and extroverts. Introverts would create content that is “slow and cerebral,” while extroverts development content that more on the spot. Schaefer gives the examples of blogging, interviews and visual social media content for introverts. Similarly, he says introverts will gravitate towards “quiet” platforms. On the other hand, Schaefer says extroverts create content on Snapchat, live-streams and Twitter chats. The platforms used by extroverts tend to involve more active engagement with audiences.

Which content type would you gravitate towards?

Step Four: Create an actionable audience

I know I’ve said this more than once throughout this blog, but I love this topic. Networking and building a following is so enjoyable for me. Creating an actionable audience is about building relationships with those who are interested in your niche. Schaefer touches base on a number of strategies that you could use to create an audience.

But we aren’t just talking about people who care about what you say. The keyword here is “actionable.” You want your audience to care about what you say, and then do something about it. Now, this next point I’m about to make Schaefer and I agree on without argument. Engaging with your audience is the most important thing you can do to retain their attention.

“Engagement is the glue that connects you to your fans and drives them to that “inner circle.”

Schaefer says that when your audience is engaging with you and your content, you’re moving in the right direction. But how you, as Schaefer says, activate your audience? Wow, I’m glad you asked. Building a personal brand is just like public relations and communications. It’s all about building relationships. Networking with your audience is the key to your success. They want to know who you are and what drives you. Once you establish that relationship, they’re more likely to engage with you.

I hate to break it to you, though. Activating your audience isn’t the end. Schaefer thinks you can take your brand to the next level. So do I. After you successfully complete Schaefer’s four steps, the options are limitless. You could write a book, become a public speaker, or start a whole new career. The only thing that could hold you back is you.

I really do recommend giving this book a read. Unlike other personal branding books I’ve attempted to read, Schaefer adds case studies, exercises and commentary to keep you engaged. I’m better off having this knowledge under my belt, and you will be to.

Social Media: A Blessing, A Curse and A Tool

Like it or not, social media has changed the landscape of our society, both positively and negatively. If you take a blast to the past, say 25 years or so ago, social media was pretty much nonexistent; not even texting had been invented yet. If you wanted to meet new people or build a relationship, you actually had to talk to them. Weird, right? Social media has caused an entire generation to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. Instead, people hide behind their screens masquerading as who society wants them to be all for the sake of gaining a few extra followers.

And of course, I can’t forget to leave out what I like to call the plague of social media: cyberbullying. Sure, bullying has always been around. But like I mentioned, social media has given people an easy opportunity to have an alternate personality. A lot of times, these personalities are ruthless and hateful. One hateful comment, video or meme can go viral in minutes. Unfortunately, the comments or actions people take through social media cause their targets to feel worthless, depressed and alone. Sometimes, victims even take go as far to to take their lives.

But as in life, there are two sides to every story. The story of social media isn’t all bad; it’s not even mostly bad. A lot of good has come from the evolution of social media. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have connected the world it a way that it never has been before. Different people from different cultures find common ground without having met. News outlets share stories with readers without having to wait for the next paper to roll-out. Victims of school shootings establish activist movements that go on to inspire entire nations.

What I find to be the most beautiful aspect of social media, probably seems like the most insignificant. It feels like every time I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I see stories about hope. Whether it’s a friend who finally found their passion after years of searching, or a story of a stranger donating money to hundreds of teachers across their state, those posts show the best of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all of the terrible things going on in the world. But, social media lets people have a voice and gives them the opportunity to provide hope where all hope might seem lost.

Social Media as a Branding Tool

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of people who use social media as an excuse to be someone they’re not. Social media can be used for the opposite purpose, as well. It’s a fantastic resource when attempting to amplify your personality and build your personal brand. Throughout my PR journey, professors have preached on the importance of personal perception. No matter the business field, employers want to know who they are hiring. What better place to find out than on social media?

While Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat are outlets for social interaction, it’s always important to keep in mind who might be watching. You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here.  Employers don’t want to associate themselves with candidates who don’t reflect their company’s values or mission. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’d be ashamed of your grandma seeing it, don’t post it.

Now, this isn’t my slick way of saying you need to be a cookie-cutter professional with no unique personality. That’s boring. Social media gives you the opportunity to show the world who you are and what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. Your personal brand on social media should set you apart by highlighting your values, skills, talents and goals.

Social Media as a Networking Tool

Public relations, much like life, is built on forming and maintaining relationship. That’s why I’m not mystified as to why a strong professional network plays such a large role in successful job or internship searches. You might be thinking, “I have over 500 connections on LinkedIn. I’m good.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it doesn’t matter how many connections you have on LinkedIn if no one is willing to advocate for you. So, no. You are not “good.”

Social media in itself is not enough to build a strong network. A strong professional network should be comprised of seasoned professionals who are willing promote your work. But, building connections on LinkedIn is a fantastic way to start. Don’t let that be the end of your story, though. Social media literally puts the world at your fingertips, giving you the ability to connect with millions of professionals around the globe.

Trust me, I understand that taking the first step can be slightly terrifying. When I started marketing myself as a professional, I was hesitant to connect with or reach out to anyone I didn’t personally know. Actually, that’s an understatement. I refused because, honestly, they really drilled “Stranger Danger” into me as a kid. As it turns out, strangers can actually be your allies in the business realm. Everyone has a different path and a different experience. It’s always valuable to reach out, listen to a new story and gain fresh perspective on your work.

When you take a risk, reach out and build a relationship, you’re elevating your personal brand. Your new network of professionals will likely connect with you on more than just LinkedIn; they’ll follow your twitter, instagram and your blog. More importantly, they will read and share your work with prospective employers.

As I continue on my PR journey, and through life, my blog and my social media will embody my values, passions and goals. Social media, like most things in life, is a blessing and a curse. But at the end of the day, its given each and every one of us something that no one can ever take away: a voice.