The 7 Habits Killing Your Personal Brand


As a society, we’re obsessed with brands. Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, Google – we’re drawn to them like football players to HS cheerleaders. And in the social media world, we’re even more obsessed. We’re constantly hearing conversation focused on brand, telling us how to build one, how to leverage one, and whose brand is bigger and more influential. But even with all the talk, most of us still have a hard time understanding how not to shoot our brand (and ourselves) in the foot on a daily basis. We forget that people are watching and publicly strangle our brand while we’re supposed to be building it. Whether you think you’re a personal branding pro or you’re just learning the ropes, here are seven ways people kill their personal brand every day.

See which offenses you’re committing. And then stop.

1. Procrastinating

Your brand isn’t going to create itself. You need to identify what you want your personal brand to represent and then put the steps in motion to attain it. Ask yourself: What’s unique about you and what do you want to convey to people? Who do you want to be and how will you build it? It doesn’t matter if you plan to brand yourself via speaking engagements, being helpful on Twitter, by creating lots of authoritative content, or by being the girl dancing on the bar. What matters is that you get off your butt and make it happen. If you plan to brand yourself through speaking, then be pro-active about pitching. Stop putting it off. If you’re going to do it through blogging, then get off Twitter and get started writing and promoting those posts. The world isn’t going to wait for you so shutupandgettowork. [Fun Fact: That site was created over the weekend by Julien Smith and received 200,000 visits yesterday. That should tell you something.]

2. Being Crotchety In Public

If you haven’t gotten the meme, being negative to earn attention is so three years ago. People want to do business with Likeable Laura, not Sketchy Sam. We want to engage with people who have positive things to say about the brands they love and constructive things to say about the brands they don’t love today. If you’re using your Facebook account to yell at people, your Twitter account to throw things and your blog to be an unfounded-bully, you’re killing your credibility with nastiness. Criticism is good, but use your words wisely and don’t make the bad stuff all you’re putting out there. Too much negativity and people start to wonder what’s wrong with you not the person/brand you’re criticizing.

3. Being Inconsistent/Unfocused

Brands are built on consistency. Whether you love it or hate it, you trust that Burger King will taste the same at the drive-thru, the airport and at 3am while on vacation in Ireland [Not that I’ve done that.]. Of course, brand consistency goes way further than hamburgers and chicken nuggets. As consumers, we rely on those consistency cues to make attention decisions. We’re watching the brands you say you love and hate to see if you feel that way tomorrow. We’re watching to see if your brand is the same on your blog as it is on Twitter, as it is in real life. Because if it’s not, we then have to figure out which version is real. And then we start second guessing you. Search Engine Land has built a reputation as being the “go to” place for search news by consistently providing great content. Mashable has become that for social media news. If that quality began to drop tomorrow, it would fracture the brand image people held for both. If you’re not being consistent, you’re not creating a unified brand.

4. Embellishing

While it may sound like a good idea to embellish your skills and qualifications when talking with people, your brand won’t recover when you’re found out. If someone in your network hires you after hearing about your social media savvy or your standout search engine optimization skills only to discover you don’t have those skills? Well, that’s going to be something your brand won’t recover from. Don’t lie about your qualifications or what you’re capable of doing. The truth always comes out. We’ll still love you if you admit you can’t do it all. We won’t love if you promise you can and then drop the ball.

5. Bad Time Management

If you’re on Twitter lamenting about how you can’t finish client work, how you having to pull an all-nighter to get on track or how conferences have put you totally behind, you’re not giving off the best impression to people who want to hire you. After all, if you can’t keep track of your own work and time, why would they trust you with one of their projects? While we all love to use social media to complain and procrastinate, do it too much and people still start to wonder if you’re someone they can trust.

6. Mimicking Someone Else’s Brand

It’s tempting. It’s tempting to mimic a personal branding tactic you see working for someone else in the hopes that it will also work for you. However, by doing so you essentially blow a hole through your own personal brand by adopting tactics that are not authentic. You can’t build your personal brand while pretending to be someone else. It just doesn’t work. People can tell when you’re being you or when you’re being your best impression of someone else. To create a successful personal brand, you want to find yourself.

7. Reading This Blog Post

I already told you that your brand isn’t going to make itself while you sit around and ponder your thoughts. So why are you still here? Get building.

Those are some ways I’m constantly seeing people kill their personal brands. What kills it for you?

Your Comments

  • TrafficColeman

    Lisa.. Procrastination is the biggest problem people have. They say they going to do something but never make time for it. We have to take how business seriously, because if we don’t..then no one else will.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Lisa Barone

      Of course it is. But we’re all guilty of it. We have that blog we’ll start “eventually”. That home improvement project we’ll do “when we have time”. If we’d just shut up and do it already it’d be probably be done and we’d be swimming in the benefits.

  • CJ Roberts

    #7 is my biggest issue. I spend sometimes 2 hours a day filtering through relevant, marginally relevant, and peripherally relevant news articles and posts that lead to more posts etc. Even after bookmarking half of it I’m still burning the midnight oil to read half of what is interesting and possibly useful for the days ahead. Helping clients stay in the game is a 24/7 job. #7 is a killer.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, trust me, I feel that pain. I’m totally guilty of wasting way too many hours reading stuff that I don’t really need to be reading. Every time I go to open up Google Reader I have to ask myself, “Am I hear because I need to check up or because I’m putting off something else”. Many times it’s the latter. :)

  • P.S. Jones

    Oh, such a good post. And procrastination doesn’t make anything better. I have no idea what the draw is.

  • Chris Miller

    #5: True, but focusing too much on how people perceive you leads to being something you’re not. If you’re speaking as a brand, focusing too much on saying what people want to hear makes you a sell out. Real people, and brands, miss deadlines. Real people and brands drop the ball. Pretending not to be human leads to that corporate mentality of “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” (Henry Ford)

  • bluephoenixnyc

    One I noticed missing from the list was Impatience. I think that can be a huge brand saboteur if only because it’s what makes most of us jump the gun, whether it’s issuing incomplete blog posts or sending ill-conceived tweets out into the world. Even though social media fosters this breakneck pace of conversation, it’s worthless to try to keep up with this pace if it comes at the expense of quality contributions.

    Impatience in social media is also what prevents a lot of brands from connecting in a meaningful way with others in the social media sphere.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s an excellent point. It’s also impatience in the form of people not wanting to put in the time to get the results they’re after. So then they half-ass it and get half-asss result

  • Russ@Beaufort SC Homes

    Great advice. I decided to pick a niche in my real estate market and brand myself as “the coastal guy” for waterfront property at the beginning of this year and it has paid off. I see realtors advertise that they specialized in about 6 different areas of real estate and wonder how can that work? Picking a niche and branding yourself in that area does take a lot of work but it is worth it. I appreciate the advice because it is easy to slack off and loose focus. Good tips.

    Russ Fielden
    Southern Coast Realty
    Beaufort SC

  • Dhiraj Kumar

    As I think most important point is inconsistency, generally people start with great enthusiasm but slowly their participation declined, which becomes main cause to be fail…

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s definitely a big issue. We forget that it takes time to build a brand people trust and get discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight. Like with anything, it takes time to build something remarkable.

  • Ethan Stanislawski

    Part of my online identity is saying provocative things, which is not so much meant to gain attention as it is to expose hidden truths that are unnerving when exposed. It’s difficult to do this and not seem crotchety (even when I’m not trying to be!), but it’s a good balancing act to work on. It helps that I’m giddy like a child with things I like.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, definitely. And I definitely think you can find a happy medium between being controversial and simply not being an asshat all the time. Because if ALL you’re doing is yelling and stomping, people start wondering what’s wrong with you and if you maybe just need a hug.

  • Ed Han

    Lisa, excellent blog entry & I loved #7! Important content, well said and I like your writing style!

  • Steve

    What kills it for me is that I am overweight, self-conscious about it, and I fear that if I am too successful I will have to interact more with people outside my inner circle.

  • Amy Teeple

    Great post Lisa.

    I think that procrastination and trying to keep up with all of the great information out there is definitely a one-two punch of a time suck. It doesn’t help that I always seem to put my personal projects at the bottom of my list. Now, let me take your advice and get back to working on my brand! :-)

    • Lisa Barone

      I think we all put our personal projects on the bottom of our list … and then we wonder why we never make any progress on them. It’s hard to schedule yourself in like a client, but you really have to. Otherwise, you rack up stuff you want to do “someday”. And that’s a bummer.

  • Pam

    Wow, you have such great stuff here. Makes me give some serious thought if I am doing enough to attract readers to my blog. Of course, mine is a small niche blog, but you keep giving me food for thought. I checked out the link about “Likeable Laura” and am real glad to see that I fall into that category, (at least I think so), and not Sketchy Sam. You really are a great writer!

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Building your personal brand is a lot like managing your business, any size it might be.
    Entrepreneurship is all about optimizing your time and getting things done, even when you would really like to watch that last episode of your favorite TV series or to read that post from your favorite blog.
    These 7 habits, and sadly many others, will kill your business as much as your personal brand, or any “creative effort” you might have, for that matter.

  • LeslieS

    @ CJ Roberts – I find that I do A LOT of skimming. Because there is so much material, I try to skim paragraph headers to see if it’s worth my time. Sometimes I will only read the paragraph headers and consider that enough. I definitely understand the time it takes to read the abundance of material out there.

    Also, this goes along with procrastination, but “fear of failure/criticism” is a huge killer of personal branding and could be added to the list. It feels, well, humbling, to put yourself out there and hope for a good response. I’ve only just started my own and I was even nervous to show my website to some of my coworkers. My first comment was “you have a grammatical error in your subtitle.” OUCH!. Criticism is the best way to improve though so we must embrace it.

  • Britt Michaelian

    This is such a great list. So simple, so powerful, so true. The most important point you hit spot on- don’t try to be something you’re not, stop talking about doing something great and GO f-ing DO IT!

    There are actually a lot of great lessons not only in this post, but also in the comments- so thank you for your teachings, Lisa! What I love most is that you told people to leave and go do what they should be doing and yet there are clearly a few of us who still felt inspired to comment. Well done! ;)

  • Darryl

    Great post. Interesting, but a lot of the comments here seem to be zeroing-in on procrastination as negative or detrimental to the development of a personal brand. I disagree.

    In a broad sense, procrastination is often overlooked as a viable technique for enhancing creativity and idea development. I tend to agree with Scott Belsky, “When you’re rushing to a solution, your mind will jump to the easiest and most familiar path. But when you allow yourself to just look out the window for 10 minutes – and ponder – your brain will start working in a more creative way”.

    As an ideation strategy, one person’s procrastination is another person’s research and critical exploration of adjacencies and alternatives to the seemingly obvious or expected result.
    Certainly [in brand development] one could argue ideas need time to grow, room to be manipulated, mashed-up, delayed or slept on before proceeding or passing judgement upon.
    However many people—especially left-brain oriented thinkers—equate procrastination with laziness or delaying the formation of deliverables as an excuse to getting things done in a timely fashion.
    Right-brain oriented creative people generally seem more open to embracing distractions and tangent idea thinking techniques (procrastination perhaps dubiously included) as a way to enhance brand development and to a larger extent creativity and ideation.

    • P.S. Jones

      Procrastination is never a good thing. Many people are confused about what it actually is, thought. Concepting, brainstorming or just mulling something over isn’t procrastinating. These are necessary steps in the creative process. Sometimes letting things just “marinate” is the best way to get to the right answer. On the other hand, procrastination is when you let fear, laziness or just inertia prevent you from acting in a timely manner. If you are acting setting out to think something over, it’s not the same thing.

  • Kenny

    Hi Lisa,

    I just wanted to say this post is brilliant.
    And I think there are points in here for every professional.

    Keep up the great work.

    Kenny Norton
    Account Manager
    Sysomos Inc.