Guest post: How to build your Personal Brand


Why ask me, of all people, asks Gianni Catalfamo?

Jonathan is a good friend of mine who lived and worked in several countries and eschews Social Media; we try to keep in touch despite his and mine wandering about and like to discuss big subjects like:

“How do you establish a personal brand?”

Assume I have profusely apologised for inferring I know

I tried to duck the question pointing to Jon the fact that I wrote a book where People and Brands were alternative to each other, so this question sounds to me a little like asking “How do you become a heavenly devil?” but he didn’t quite buy it, until I had to concede that yes, people have a Reputation and therefore, a Brand, according to the principle that the main content of a Brand is its attached Reputation.

In fact the synecdoche is even more valid in this digital age where anyone can run a background check on anyone else in a matter of seconds. Of course, when you – like Jon – avoid Social Media, or bear a name like “John Smith” you will be buried in the best place to hide a dead body, which essentially means you don’t give a rat’s ass about what people think of you.

But imagine this is not the case. Imagine you care.

First of all, remember that your online reputation – like the one IRL – takes a long time to build. Or change. There is unfortunately no real shortcut for this, and “long” is measured in years rather than months.

A good way to look at this problem is to divide it in two blocks, Organic and Social even though – as we will see – the two are interlinked.


Since the Google juice accrues over a long time, it is best to set aside a little time every day, rather than a mad rush followed by months of inactivity; in this sense organic performance (a more elegant denomination of GJ) is nothing but the digital reflection of the fact that reputations are not created at the flip of a switch. Technically speaking, you will need incoming links and fresh content, and all that will need to be housed on a performing platform.

Since organic represents the answer to someone saying “Who the heck is this guy Gianni Catalfamo? Let me check him out…” I have thought of using my own situation as a case study: this way I can criticize without offending anyone;-) The image below represents my online reputation as of August 20th, @7:32PM (you can click on the image to see the live version, but I doubt it would be much different).

Things I like:Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 19.18.26

  • I own my First Page – everything that appears there I either own or have contributed to. Not being a controversial figure, I am not at risk of hate pages, but a solid control of the first page is also the best defensive strategy.
  • The first two links are LinkedIn and my own website which reflects correctly my priorities; the latter was achieved using WordPress as a CMS, which accrues also the great performance of WP; celebrities should instead have Wikipedia either as #1 or #2; showbiz celebs should have their IMDB page on the podium
  • Not overly Social populated, meaning I have done other things in life than loitering on Social Networks.
  • All the preview images are correct.

Things I don’t like:

  • My YouTube page is only on page 2. It’s true that I am not very active on YT, and essentially most of the videos I post there are either family-related or conference speeches but if you are a visual artist, this could be a problem;
  • There is at least one link that I know for sure is dormant: the reason I don’t like this is that to score so well organically despite the inactivity, the authors must have used a few SEO tricks, something I am philosophically opposed to…
  • I would like for my Amazon page to be on page 1, but being the author of only two books that nobody read, I guess this is to be expected;
  • My Facebook profile is nowhere to be found (which may be a consequence of my FB privacy settings and the network’s notorious imperviousness to search); not so much of a problem, as I never post really important stuff ONLY on Facebook, but it might give the impression I avoid it, which of course I don’t.

Your Personal Brand should never be a fake persona, but truly reflect the person you are and the achievements under your belt: try not to be too dependent on your employer (unless it is yourself, in which case it is OK) and offer a balanced mix representing your interests and role(s).

If you decide you want to write a blog, choose a platform with very good organic performance like Typepad, WordPress or Blogger (I’d add Tumblr to the list, but I have mixed feelings about the onslaught of porn that plagues it). A blog is a great way to share what you have to say, but in the context of organic performance you must remember to be persistent (like, years, not months), to  have focus (pick a few subjects you like and stick to them), and to post frequently (at least once per week). Also remember that, contrarily to what the abuse of sharing lead us to believe, re-blogging hardly counts: Write. Your. Own. Stuff.


Your choice of Social Networks should represent the main purpose you want to use your Personal Brand for. In this sense, a lot of teen-agers may repent in the future the stuff they are doing now and hope Social Networks universally introduce a “Delete Account” button.

Remember that even if you delete an old account, its content will linger for a long time on Akamai and other cache services: the picture of you vomiting on the shoes of a friend (or of the swastika you tattoed on your back) which got so many “Likes” when you were 17, will haunt you longer that you would like.

In the more general sense, however, the Networks that “float” the best are LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook is spotty In part due to privacy settings and in part due to it not getting along well with Google. Pinterest and Instagram also perform well for images (especially, sadly, those NSFW).

In the context of Personal Branding, it’s best to use the same pic across all SN: true, you is you but you may have noticed Nike is pretty fastidious about the swoosh being exactly like it is – it’s another case of sticking to whatever you have chosen to be.

Don’t get too emotional about that funky tweet or the odd off-the-cuff comment on a friend’s wall, as they are rather difficult to find, after a few minutes; Google does not index them and the resident search functions of both Twitter and Facebook are very poor. However, never-ever cross the line of the slanderous or criminal: “rather difficult” does not mean “impossible”, especially if the searching party is a professional.

Of course your followers or friends will – in principle – see everything you write, so be mindful of who your connections are, which brings me to the Social Graph, which is perhaps the thing that potentially says the most of who you are, not so much its dimension (provided it’s not ridiculous) but it’s quality. Here is an area you should be deliberate about: have a policy, make it clear and stick to it. I have explained elsewhere what my policy is, and it’s not the same across networks.

By far and away, your profile page on any Social Network will get the most crawler visits, so please be careful about what you put there, but put something! (and replace the damn egg on Twitter with your mug).

Social Networks are also a great way to promote your blog posts (every platform comes with handy features to cross post): in general I think it is smart to put the stuff you create on platforms that make it easy to find it at a later time: a good sequence is to write on a blog platform then reference it on Social Networks, either by copying & pasting or by linking: the second method has the advantage your content exists in only one version, but you add a click between viewing and reading, something that may cost you visits.


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