Early in my career, when social media was fairly new, I had a disagreement with a colleague.
Me: “We should train our scientists on blogging and social media. They could build their personas online to show our audience what we do and how we can help them.”
Him: “Well, we don’t want to give away our secrets for free. Plus, they don’t have time for that.”
Me: “They’re already sharing their expert opinions by email, and it doesn’t take them much time. What if they posted these thoughts on Twitter and our blog instead to get more traffic and leads?”
Him: “I’m not sure I agree. We’re more of a person-to-person company.”
To this day, a decade later, I haven’t forgotten that line.
Building a personal brand is nothing new, but in technical fields like the life sciences, the power of personal branding in the digital realm is often overlooked.
Developing a strong, authentic online persona is a low-cost way to boost awareness of your business, establish credibility in your niche, and build connections in specialized fields.
You don’t need to be a salesperson to benefit, either. Everyone from junior staff to the most senior executives can benefit from the added exposure and thought leadership opportunities that come with it.
Here are a few steps scientific and technical experts can take to build their personal brand online:
Define Your Personal Brand
First things first: who are you, how do you want to be perceived, and why? Are you aiming to be the expert in cannabis science? The person everyone looks to for thoughts on sustainable agriculture? Carve out an authentic niche and know what you want to achieve.
Next, choose a tone of voice that makes sense for how you want to be seen. It’s also important to make sure that voice is authentic to the real you, otherwise you could come across as not genuine. Are you funny? Quirky by nature? Blunt and to-the-point but super knowledgeable? Be yourself, be consistent, and let your image and voice shine in all your communications.
Brush Up Your Digital Persona
With your personal brand defined, it’s time to update your social media profiles to reflect the image you want to project. Not sure which social platforms to use? Start with these top social media platforms for the health and life sciences.
Highlight key projects you’ve worked on, add relevant keywords and skills to your bio, and join groups that make sense for your field.
If you want to build your persona in the agri-food space, for example, you’d update your profile to highlight your publications on crop science, follow agriculture companies’ pages, and share or write relevant articles on farming techniques.
If you’re not sure what to include in your profile, take a cue from leaders you admire or aspire to be. Be sure not to overtly copy, but instead use them as a role model (we’re looking to set ourselves apart, not become someone else).
Update Your Profile Picture
A grainy photo of you at the beach—or worse, no photo at all—won’t do you any favours in the professional department. Hire a photographer to take a high-resolution headshot photo of you (or whatever style makes sense for your industry) and use it across all your work-related social media platforms. It’s worth the small expense to look legitimate and professional.
Engage with Other Leaders in Your Space
Social media isn’t just about putting your message out there. It’s also about listening and engaging. The more you participate in conversations related to your sector, the more likely you are to be seen.
Leaving a comment on someone else’s post on LinkedIn, for example, is like rubber-stamping the conversation with your name, job title, and thumbnail photo (this is what’s visible to everyone). This activity will also show up in other users’ feeds, giving you extra exposure.
So click “like” on posts that interest you, or leave a comment that showcases your expertise. Just make sure anything you write is well thought out, professional, and high quality (otherwise you’ll appear spammy).
Stick with Your Strategy Long-Term
It takes time and work to build a personal brand, but after a while your network will know what to expect from you and start to associate you with your field.
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As for my colleague, I’m happy to say I eventually changed his mind. Encouraging employees to become active participants on social media, and developing a personal brand in their field, ended up having incredible benefits for the company and its people.