The emergence of social media allows us to connect on a more personal level with online contacts. This is great news for professional networkers everywhere: by developing your online presence, you can meet people from around the world and enjoy the same networking benefits as with the best mixer you can imagine.

Establishing one’s personal brand and exposing an authentic personality online is something anyone can do. More importantly, you can use your brand to increase sales and retain your existing business.

It’s easy to be anonymous on the Internet. If you’re only interested in playing online poker or reading the news, anonymous is fine—but not if you want to create a following and build a successful business. More and more people have become immune to marketing messages delivered by faceless web sites which have no association to a real person. Anonymous has become synonymous with invisible.

On the other hand, the Internet makes it easier than ever to build an audience of people who share your passions and follow you, because of the value you create with your presence and the content you share.

Here are a few examples of individuals who have built strong followings in their niches:

Fans of these people sign up for every call, read every email, archive all newsletters and purchase one product after another as they are released.

No matter what business niche you’re in, the same is possible for you. With hundreds of millions of people online, developing an audience is a matter of exposing your personal brand to lead and influence others.

Establishing Your Personal Brand

Your most important asset online has nothing to do with the home you live in, how much money you make or the friends you have; however, it can have a great influence on all these things and more. Your most valuable asset is your personal brand, the essence of which is found in your relationships.

Think of a can of Coca-Cola. For the most part, the formula for Coke is the same around the world. It never changes to suit an individual. It is what it is. Do you like Coke? Do you know people who dislike it? Do you know people with a take-it-or-leave-it view? If you interviewed a hundred people, there’s little doubt you’d get a hundred different descriptions of what Coke means to each person. Yet Coke is always the same.

The brand of Coke is held in every one of those relationships. Through consistency, Coke satisfies the needs of its followers. Those who prefer something else can find a better match elsewhere.

Establishing a personal brand starts with taking an inventory. This inventory is the foundation that will support your online activities and your personal brand. It is based not on the stuff you have in your home or carry around in your briefcase, but on what you carry around within yourself.

What are your values?

Your personal brand is a reflection of your principles and values. What do you stand for? How do you want to behave towards and in front of others? Questions like these help establish a baseline against which you can measure your activities. Do you know yourself to be a compassionate person at heart? It’s probably best to make sure you are clear on that if you ever end up in a heated discussion online or face-to-face.

Everything you do online leaves a trail that leads back to you. Six months from now, people reading a snippy comment you left on your blog won’t realize that you weren’t feeling at best on that particular day. If that’s their first exposure to you, they may make a judgment about your personal brand. A poor first impression may prevent your next referral or sale without your even realizing it. When it comes to your personal brand, it is crucial to act always in congruence with your values.

What have you got?

What do you like to do? How do you spend your free time? What are your skills? Let’s face it: no one goes online looking to be marketed to. People who frequent social media sites are even less prone to respond to direct marketing efforts. Yet these are also real people with real problems that need solutions. They have wants and are looking for someone they trust to help them fulfill those wants. However, before anyone is going to buy your offer, or tell a friend about it, you need to become a part of this person’s network of people they know, like and trust.

In the real world, how would you connect with new people?

You go to wine tastings, gardening workshops and book club meetings. You take a cooking class, you volunteer with a local charity, you seek out people with similar passions. You can do the same thing online. There are social media venues that support just about every hobby and interest you can imagine.

As you meet people in the real world and develop new relationships, your new contacts become curious about what else you do. The same thing happens online: people click on the links listed in your profiles, comment on your blogs and forward your material to their contacts.

Sure, it’s possible you’ll hit a home run and your next video will get a million views in three hours, as people you don’t even know send your video links to all their friends. What’s more likely is that your core group of friends and fans will forward your new content to their lists of friends, and based on the power of that social proof, your viral content will gradually gain momentum.

Part II of this article will discuss the three elements of your personal brand that will effectively support your relationships: authenticity, relevance and consistency.

DAVE SAUNDERS is a social media and personal
branding expert who enjoys showing professional
networkers how to stand out and attract business online by
harnessing the raw power of social media. He’s the creator of where he teaches the best
practices for social media marketing and personal branding.
Dave is also a faculty member of Networking University