Personal Branding & Finding Your Naked Superhero


The week before we trekked off to SMX West to bring you the best best liveblogging coverage in the land (I’m biased), I had an incredible opportunity to guestblog on Copyblogger about what belly dancing taught me about personal branding. In that post, I listed off a number of things that I feel are important when constructing your personal brand. On specific tactic I mentioned was to create a character around yourself so that you are always presenting people with the absolute best version of who you are. You don’t necessarily want to give your audience “you”; you want to give them your superhero.

Obviously, people had some opinions about this. After all, social media is about authenticity and transparency and all those wonderful things. How the heck can you provide that if you’re not giving people your full, true self? How will they ever get to know the real you? I think in order to best serve your audience you have to create a superhero persona.

Here’s why. Feel free to tell me I’m doing it wrong.

You Amplify What Makes You Great

There are certain traits about me that make me perfectly suited for blogging and community building. Things like:

  • I’m vocal about the things I’m passionate about.
  • I have no problem calling a spade a spade.
  • I’m highly social.
  • I like to help others and lighten their load when I can.
  • I can be witty within the confines of 140 characters.

All of these things make me good at my job. They are personality traits that I hold and that are very natural to me. However, they’re all magnified on the Web. I don’t manufacture who I am, but it’d be naïve to assume that I am this person 24 hours a day. If I lived my life like my Twitter account I would dead within a week. It would be too exhausting. So, to maintain that, the Web gets a very specific version of me. It’s the version that helps us to attract the audience that we’re looking for and the version that best allows me to do my job. We all have multiple personalities. Part of creating your superhero self means knowing how and when to use them.

It Gives You Superpowers

One thing I learned in my Lurker vs Participant post is that insecurity runs rampant on the Web. I was blown away by the number of people who lurk instead of participating simply because they assume that everyone is smarter than them or that speaking up will make them look dumb. When you create a character of yourself, you get to remove that fear. You are no longer controlled by other people’s perceptions of you because you get to be the best version of yourself. You know that version of you who can walk on water, the one that is super funny, and is also a really good dancer? Yeah, the person you become when you’re drunk? Being a superhero means you get to be that person all the time (without the falling over parts). And those are the kinds of personas that people are attracted to. Because it’s who they secretly wish they could be – unmoved by fear and strong enough to be true to themselves. You get to be that.  It’s like being handing superpowers.

Your Cape Shields You From Harm

According to the rules of social media, we’re all supposed to get naked. We’re supposed to strip it all down and present the world with a bare, honest version of ourselves. And that sounds great. It sounds great up until the moment someone starts pelting you with rocks and you start feeling the welts forming from leaving yourself totally exposed. Creating a character that is based on who you are lets YOU decide how naked you want to get and which angles you want to show people. It gives you a very thin barrier of protection you can use to deflect the dings. And trust me, you’re probably going to need it. I broke character on Saturday when someone emailed me very upset over our liveblogging coverage and, as a result, didn’t handle the email the best that I could have. Had I remained in character (and not been overtired from a 12 hour flight), I would have been able to approach the situation differently and do a better job for the brand. That’s the shield your cape gives you. It helps you separate yourself from the situation.

You Draw Your Own Lines

When you look at your online brand as a character, it allows you to create natural boundaries that make it easier to decide what you will or will not share about yourself. Recently Chris Garrett spoke about drawing the line at what you do or do not share, which is something we all have to think about. I think I let a lot hang out in my personal brand. I’m pretty comfortable getting naked because I feel like I’m forced to live my real life like that anyway. But that said, over the last six months I’ve become a lot more aware of what I’m putting out there. I don’t think I filter myself, per se, but there are aspects of my life I’ve chosen not to share. Not because they’re particularly scandalous or interesting, but because I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to hold close the things and people most important to you. Leaving everything about you open for public consumption gives you nothing to turn to when you need that break or time out from the Web. It also leaves them naked, whether or not they wanted to be.

While I see the importance of being authentic and transparent in your actions, I don’t think you need to expose your whole self to your audience. People don’t need to know everything about you or everything that is personal to you. They just have to feel like they do. And that means presenting them with the version of you that best portrays what they’re looking for. Creating your naked superhero self isn’t difficult. It requires three things.

  1. Know who you are and why you’re unique
  2. Know what your audience wants
  3. Know which traits to magnify to blend 1 and 2.

Do that and you’ll not only be able to create a personal brand that people want to interact and engage with, but you’ll also keep a little security blanket to protect you from the cold and errant rocks.

Your Comments

  • Bob Stanke

    Is that a picture of you Lisa?!?!?! RAWR! :)

  • Stuart

    I was talking with someone on Twitter about this the other day. On some social media sites like Twitter you have more control over the version of yourself you present to others. Like you say, it’s not a fabrication, but it’s often an amplification of your existing positive traits.

    Facebook on the other hand can be a bit more of a challenge as people’s ideas about you as an individual is in part based on what you say about yourself, and what other people say about you, photos they tag you in, and the sorts of things your friends are sharing.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s definitely true. Facebook is a much more personal social network than the others, which is why I’m pretty selective about who I choose to add on there. It’s mostly non-industry friends or people I’ve had a beer and trust enough with my persona information. You can also play with the filtering options on FB so certain people can only see certain information, but that’s far too time consuming for me.

      • Stuart

        I have 2 types of “friend” on Facebook. Friend-Friend which get to see everything and post on my wall, and Business-Friend like Co-Workers, Colleagues in Town, etc. They don’t get to see very much, including my wall. Now that it’s setup is very easy to manage — when I add someone new it asks me if they’re friend-friend or business-friend. That’s it. :)

    • Dawn Wentzell

      You can say that you were talking to ME about it, it’s not a secret :)

  • Tommyismyname

    Well put. You can be seen exactly the way you want to be seen. The only danger in this approach is knowing when to turn it off. Having the superhero self without pre-established boundries can run the risk of melting over into the world outside the web, and while in some aspects can be awesome, in others could turn you into an egomanical asshole.

    I think Gary vee, Chris brogan, and Brian solis do a very good job of this, where that you know elements of their personality, but ultimately you know they sat down at their computer to do one thing and one thing only. Work.

    • Lisa Barone

      Heh, nice observation. There are definitely people who get “stuck” in their Web version and then try to bring that into the wrong situations. And, yeah, it makes you want to lock them in a closet.

  • Rachel @ Shedding It

    Love, love, love this. I always talk to people about writing in your “voice” — and to be great and memorable, that voice requires turning certain aspects of your personality up a notch. The superhero analogy is perfect!

  • Jason

    Thanks- this is great, Lisa. Now, if I only had a hot-tub time machine and could go back about a year so I didn’t have to spend so much time figuring this out through trial and error :)

    When I made a conscious decision to spend more time with social media, I put too much effort into being Super Jason. Wise and witty, I wanted to be the Most Interesting Man in the World (“I don’t always tweet, but when I do… I tweet something awesome” kinda thing).

    I would write, and then re-write tweets; my Facebook profile was littered with books and movies that I felt were what Super Jason would want people to know he read and watch.

    I guess this is more of a cautionary tale for taking your superhero persona too far. I have since learned that this is about less rehearsal and more showtime. Less sketch, and more improv.

    Be you, but be the best you. I like that a lot.

  • Ross Hudgens

    Rather than “And that means presenting them with the version of you that best portrays what they’re looking for.”, I like better that what we present to the world in our blogs and our Twitter feed isn’t something different, it’s just a slivered portion of who we are.

    I’m not going to disparage my friends and make offensive jokes in my Twitter stream, even if I’m going to do it real life. But I am going to share and talk about things I’m passionate about, try and get a laugh occasionally, and be transparent.

    Opening the doors and saying “this isn’t me, this is a reconstructed version of me” can’t be good, even if it’s true, and even if it means the exact same thing “presenting a portion of ourselves”.

  • James

    Sheesh, first belly dancers, then naked superheros – way to raise the temperature, Barone.

    I think most people understand that there is a difference between being yourself and being yourself and by most people, I mean anyone who has ever managed to secure a second date. I imagine even the ‘social media is about honesty’ crowd would accept that the persona they project online is not entirely the same as the one they possess offline – why would it be?

    Social media gives everyone the opportunity to be the charming, door opening, bill paying, waitress tipping Knight in Italian wool that you are on a first date – why in the world would you want to be anyone else?

  • Steve Nicewarner

    Well said. One way of looking at this is to imagine yourself as a diamond and your “web persona” is a single facet. It’s not being deceitful or disingenuous to decide what facet you show in any given situation as long as you are showing part of the real diamond.

    OK, that sounded better in my head, but I hope it makes sense to someone.

    • Heather Villa


      Makes perfect sense to me. We all have different aspects of ourselves that we show/present in different situations. I don’t show my ‘party girl’ persona to my in-laws. The same is true on the web. Who I am on my personal accounts is slightly different than who I am on my business accounts. I’m the same person, but I ‘show’ a different aspect (or facet) of myself depending on who my audience is.

  • Chad Northrup

    Excellent points here, Lisa. The part I think people tend to forget about being a superhero is that it’s OK to be vulnerable. Having a bad moment or even a bad day is acceptable. I see so many people on Twitter who would have their followers believe their life is all roses all the time –> closing 100 deals per day, inbox perpetually full of requests for their time and attention, constantly seeking their next opportunity to change the world, etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is when constructing that superhero persona, don’t forget that Superman had his kryptonite. Mentioning an occasional failure, disappointment or regret can provide that authenticity & transparency you need to balance your public image.

  • Suzanne Vara


    We tell people what we want them to know. Social media is that all exposing tool that provides an opportunity to for us to give some insight into who we are and what we do/are best at. From here it gets a bit confusing as people take what they have read and create an image of who they are by who/what they want us to be. It is the creation a sort of superhero or under performer that is equated to “knowing them” or feeling as if they do. Expectations are created that ignore truly who the person actually is. With this exposure, it is almost at times setting ourselves up as if we go outside the norms of what people expect from us there is backlash and we are crucified but when we stay within the norms of expectations we are rewarded with the I agree, great post, you are awesome blah blah.

    There is an image that we want people to form of us and we use the SM tools to put that out there. It does not always work that way as character, full transparency or anything, the community will let you know if you have violated their image of you. Almost kind of a pressure cooker here but then again we cannot please everyone. The backlash can be hurtful as you have to wonder sometimes why people feel the need to go at someone they barely know. Hmh.

  • Stephen Q

    Well put. People have the right to reveal what they want, and there is nothing wrong with that. The web is a great medium because it allows you to show the brightest side of yourself.

    Was this post by any chance inspired by the House episode last night or just a coincidence that they are related?

    • Suzanne Vara

      Exactly, we have the right to reveal as much or as little as want. Where I get a bit squeemish is when people go outside of what others feel is the norm and get bashed for it. I do not mind one bit people disagreeing or challenging my thoughts but an all out bashing to make themselves look bigger or to promote themselves I am not a fan of.

  • Therese

    Offline I use to have this huge wall up (years ago), and then, I suppose because I am a bit of a extremist (I blame it on the Scorpio in me), I learned how to let my self become vulnerable, now I question whether I am too vulnerable. So when I caught onto social media, and the authenticity of it, how it was real conversation happening , I became hooked.

    Offline, people still have not reached this level of authenticity, so I felt I was able to be vulnerable in this online space. When I say this I don’t mean that I am going to tell you my life story, but to be able to speak candidly and to not have pretenses and for it to be okay.

    Kind of in the same lines of this post, there is a post I just read by Brian Solis – and in his post he talks about how being able use this space has given others the confidence they need to take it offline, which to me is a beautiful thing about social media, and one I find to be true.

    So although, I have no problem with being authentic and vulnerable online, and at the same time drawing the lines on what I share. I have not learned how to tap into my inner super hero when it comes to putting my shield up, and not letting what others say have an effect on me. I will not let this stop me from writing in my blog, or tweeting, but the nonetheless, it still exists.

  • Justin Kownacki

    People relate to other people, but people respond to archetypes.

    Do you want to be related to or responded to? Engaged with or followed? Seen as a peer or seen as a leader?

    Chris Brogan is a real person, but due to his success, his personality become archetypal by association. Same with Arrington, Scoble, Kawasaki, iJustine, etc. The less personal your relationship, the more likely people are to process you via sociological shorthand.

    There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but if you’re successful, you’ll end up becoming an archetype — or a superhero/villain — by default.

    • Therese

      This is interesting, you made me sit back and think. Although, I do agree for the most part, I also think the two can go hand-in-hand. I think you can be related to and responded to. Just because I see Chris Brogan as a leader, does not mean that I too can’t see him as my peer, I don’t think how successful you become changes how people can relate to you, I think it is how you deal with your success.

      True or not, I feel as if I could reach out to Chris Brogan just as I would reach out to other peers, but I would never feel comfortable reaching out to to lets say Seth Godin, I love what he has to say (at times), but I feel as if he is talking ‘at’ his readers vs. to them or with them, so I think it has more to do with how you handle your success vs. the success itself.

      Does that make sense?

  • FireSpy

    Lisa –
    It seems like you’re lumping personal branding with something everyone wants to do on social networks, or that people on social networks are all there for some kind of self-promotion which inherently necessitates some kind of ORM. I think it depends on the motivation of why someone is on the social network in the first place.

    For example, porn bots are the best superheroes on Twitter according to your definition. They don’t give too much away about their personal life, but we get to see ‘the goods’. Their nakedness IS their cape.

    Meh, but most of us aren’t bots so…for those people who aren’t bots, or there to promote themselves or their company in some way, why would they care about personal branding? They don’t.

    But what do I know? I’m drunk right now. What I’m saying is, if someone is building a personal brand, for whatever reason, I agree with you. I like your superhero persona. But not everyone needs to be or can be a superhero like you.

    See? That diarrhea mouth above is why I usually just lurk.

  • Jorge

    Interesting perspective. I was reading this and I remembered this post by Tara Hunt that gives a different view of the personal brand idea.

    I think that rather than a personal brand we should be people and finally people want to get know other people. Of course we should keep some stuff to ourselves as we do in our offline professional life vs our offline persona life, but rather than controlling ourselves too much we need to keep being us (our personality/rather than our ideal).

  • Tim Danyo

    A good example to look to is Talk Radio. Those guys/gals definitely amplify their personalities to attract and keep HUGE audiences. Many are controversial and extreme. Some are uber helpful solution providers. The best ones are masters of stimulating conversation and debate.

  • josef

    Hi Lisa
    thanks so much for this post. As an artist it is very tempting sometimes to blur the distinction between your real self and the outward persona.Since I am not in performing arts but in painting it is sometimes difficult to make this separation as in the visual arts there is a kind of demand to be authentic (whatever it means) and putting out there a “fake” persona feels kind of weird.
    I mean, nobody expects Britney Spears to put her real self out there but everyone expects Lucien Freud to be “real”.
    your post is very helpful..thanks