How To Ruin (Or Build) Your Personal Brand

A little while back I was invited to keynote at a young professionals’ event in Hamilton, on the topic of personal branding. I presented at the event this morning, and thought I’d post it here for you, too.

Rather than taking a single view on the presentation, I shook this one up a little by dividing the topic three ways:

  • How to ruin your personal brand
  • How to build your personal brand
  • Things you can do today

I’ve embedded the presentation below; the primary talking points are summarized beneath.

How to ruin your personal brand


  • Ignore the Internet – Reputations are made and broken online nowadays. Even if you think social media is a fad, the fact remains that the Internet is a significant driver of business in today’s economy. Even if you don’t care about that, know that employers will Google you. Ignore the Internet and lose the opportunity to manage other peoples’ impressions of you.
  • Go negative – Few people like trolls. No-one wants to work with someone who only tears people down without providing anything constructive
  • Broadcast without engaging – The 1990s web let people with technical expertise publish in a one-way fashion. Today’s technologies enable two-way conversations; use them for one-way broadcasting and you’re missing out.
  • Think no-one is f&$#ing watching – It doesn’t matter if you think your Facebook profile is locked down – lots of people have found the opposite to their cost. If you wouldn’t want your boss or future employer to know about it, don’t post it. Want to ruin your brand? Swear away.
  • Trigger-post – If you’re feeling emotional about something, hold off on posting. Sleep on it.


  • Know everything or nothing – You don’t know everything. Don’t alienate people by thinking that you do. On the flip side, you’re hired for your skills. Put them to use and contribute when you can.
  • Write sloppily – Writing is a critical skill. This is especially so in communications, but true in any field. Be honest with yourself – if your writing isn’t up to scratch, take steps to correct that.
  • Be “that person” – Don’t be the guy who leads with a business card, or who is constantly looking for the next person to talk to, or who asks for favours before getting to know you properly. Don’t know that guy? Then you probably are that guy.
  • Do the bare minimum – Be hungry for more. Seek out work. Cruising is a path to mediocrity.
  • Let up once you’re let in – Landing that dream job isn’t the end of your journey – it’s the beginning.

How to build your personal brand

  • Build your brand before you need it – The time to build your reputation isn’t when you need it – it’s before. It takes time; start now.
  • Be a sponge/say yes… enthusiastically – Spend the early part of your career in general, and of any job, being a sponge. Take every single opportunity to learn everything you can about your role and the organization. Try to continue that learning orientation throughout your career.
  • Create opportunities at and outside work – Volunteer; participate in extra-curricular activities; organize sports teams; get out in your community. The more you do, the more opportunities will present themselves. They’re unlikely to come if you do nothing.
  • Follow your passion; be yourself – Be authentic, both about your passion and about you as a person. Authenticity is critical, especially in online channels where one example of a lack of authenticity can hang around for a long time.
  • Define your goal – If you don’t know where you’re heading, you can never get there. Figure it out early.
  • Under-promise; over-deliver – Always aim to exceed expectations – delight rather than satisfy.
  • Kill people with generosity – Give to other people more than you take. Help other people more than you ask them for help. Build social capital for the times when you need it.
  • Find a mentor; don’t be afraid to connect – Find a mentor. Don’t let someone else assign them to you; find someone you gravitate to, who you respect and to whom you can relate.
  • Network like crazy – Get out there, online and offline, and meet people (without being “that guy”).
  • Be willing to fail – Failure drives learning. Find a supportive environment which encourages failure so you can develop.

Seven things to do today:

  • Google yourself – Find out what people are saying about you. If you haven’t done this before, you may be in for a surprise.
  • Monitor yourself – Use Google Alerts, Twitter Search etc to make those searches persistent so you know whenever someone posts something about you online.
  • Scatter breadcrumbs online – Having your own online properties can be a great asset. If you’re not ready for that, scatter breadcrumbs – comment on other peoples’ work; upload photos to Flickr; find small ways to spread your reach online.
  • Build-out your LinkedIn profile – Your LinkedIn profile is one of the easiest online properties to build out (you have a resume, right?) and can likely become one of the highest-ranking results in search engines. If you don’t have a profile there, get one – it’s quick, risk-free and free.
  • Find similar people – Whatever your passion, there’s probably a community for it. Search for similar-minded people and connect with them.
  • Reach out to someone you admire – Think of someone who you respect, who you’d like to meet or connect with – for whatever reason. Reach out to them today.
  • Get out and meet people – Online media are great but offline connections are just as powerful. Get away from the keyboard and meet new people.

What do you think?

(Hat tip to Jeremy Wright for the idea for the videos)

42 Responses toHow To Ruin (Or Build) Your Personal Brand

  • People don’t realize it is very easy to ruin their personal brand and really hard to build it. Building the personal brand takes effort and hard work, but it is worth it.

  • Nice, don’t you love Prezi?

  • Love it!! Jamie Notter and I gave a prezi along the same lines – looking at individual and organizations – called Truth and Authenticity in the Digital Age. We asked everyone to google themselves at one point, and tell us any surprises. The conclusion was that you can’t control the “Google Effect”, but you can control the “long tail” – by making sure you fill out your various profiles with the info you want, etc. Here’s the link –

  • Alexandra Peters
    ago11 years

    Your personal brand = your reputation = your trustworthiness = the good you do in the world = how people think of you

    Great tips! Thanks!


  • Yes so true – in the early stages of your career you definitely have to be a sponge and soak everything up! Also setting up Google alerts for your name is a good idea; it’s good to be alert to see who’s Googling you and what pages they’re visiting. 🙂

  • Great stuff.

    I think trigger posting is probably the quickest and easiest way to ruin your brand, just like in the real world. except now, everyone can see it forever!

  • I agree with pretty much all of this except avoiding posting if you’re feeling emotional about something. There are obviously some situations where our little friend, common sense, will have to be listened to even harder than usual, but those times when we show that sensitive side of ourselves are so rare in social media that I tend to embrace them.

    And perhaps I disagree so strongly at this moment in particular because I have been going through something and I’ve probably said some things that are TMI for some. But for others — those that actually care about Rayanne Langdon, the person and not Rayanne Langdon, the girl that can help you with something — this gives them a chance to let me know they’re there for me. And let’s face it — this is the place I want to say these things and these are the people I want to hear from.

    Maybe a lot of people would have trouble knowing when to just stop talking, though, which is where I understand why that’s a point in your presentation. I guess it’s easier to shut up than back up or slow down.

    • Hey Rayanne,

      Exactly – it’s not so much to say “don’t post it” (although sometimes that’s the right approach) as much as to say “pause and think about it before posting.”

  • Alex Bell
    ago11 years

    Fantastic advice! Articles like yours have encouraged me to start building my own personal brand online and join in conversations.

    Thanks Dave!


  • Great article.

    Personally speaking I strongly believe in the “Pay It Forward” ethos which you describe under the heading of “Kill People with Generosity”. Use your abilities – in the real and online world – to help wherever you can. Contribute enthusiastically and unabashedly. If you’re a LinkedIn pundit then you likely know Dave Maskin the most prolific contributor to LinkedIn’s “Answer” section. He appears genuinely interested in helping folk out. Not a bad foundation to build any brand on.

    Secondly, ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. Be clear in what your brand is about but then be doubly clear on what you want “purchasers” of that brand to do. If its a job opportunity, ask for it. 10 minutes of someones time to discuss an issue, ask for it. Don’t pussyfoot around and be ambiguous. If you’ve create real (and social) equity in your brand, then you can afford to be explicitly clear in your request. Ambiguity is the deathknell of any brand too.

  • Do amazing work.
    Try not to be a dick.
    Say sorry when you’re wrong.

    That’s all.

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