Recently a friend mentioned that by creating the Code Cop I built a strong brand. I was surprised. Surly I spent a lot of energy on my personal branding, but I had not considered it a brand, probably because there was never any business involved. We talked about some interesting ideas that he will work on in the future and asked me how to build a brand. This article is mainly for him. It might be interesting for others as well so I decided to publish it rather than create a long email. I will describe what I did to create my brand together with some things that I picked up on the way.
You are a brand
My journey for personal branding started when I read an article by Jeff Atwood, Your Personal Brand. But even back then I already had my brand which I had been awarded by my co-workers. It was "revealed" to me, I did not look for it. This is the most important point regarding your personal brand: You do not have a brand but you are a brand. You are not Coca-Cola, probably you are not even a company, just a developer. Personal branding is not about creating a fake perception of yourself, choosing a fancy title or bragging about your deeds. It is about honesty and focusing on being a great person. It is the mental image people have about you. If you are not authentic whatever you do will be shit!
Your personal brand is supported by your reputation. Reputation is the opinion people have about you. For knowledge workers it is related to how much you know and how much you help others as well as general social "metrics" like how you behave or if people trust you. Everything you do gives a perception of your brand. Every small interaction in the real or digital world builds or breaks your reputation and therefore strengthens or weakens your brand. Be serious but do not be too serious.
Brand Your Accounts
Today most of our communication is digital. The first step is to show yourself. Choose a good portrait of you or maybe an unique avatar and put it on your GitHub account. You have a GitHub account, don't you ;-) Seriously, put it on all your accounts. Same goes for name and motto. If you are not sure about the motto, leave it blank for now, but you are sure about your name, right ;-) When registering new accounts try to use the same user name that fits you or your main idea of your brand. Obviously that is not always possible unless you are a very early adopter like Rands in his virtual land grab for his user name. Still I try my standard list of user names, e.g. codecop, codecopkofler or my name until I hit something that is still available. The user name is not that important while the display name shows your name in a similar way. Note that some services like Twitter allow changing the user name without problems. By branding all your accounts in a similar way people will recognize you across application and social media boundaries.
I am not sure how anonymous accounts fit in because they are not linked to you personally. But used consistently I assume using a pseudonym for your name consistently will have the same effect. When getting famous you might need to keep up the masquerade and actually dress up like your profile picture. There are people successfully working under an obviously fake name, talking in public and still staying anonymous.
Define Your Motto
I briefly touched the issue of your motto. Your brand needs a motto and there is plenty opportunity to show it as most accounts offer a biography or about-me field. For example Twitter offers you 140 characters to describe yourself. While this may seem way too little space to explain your passion, idea or project, it is an excellent opportunity to focus your brand, prune it to its essential core, the motto. This pruning may take some time and it is not easy to come up with a succinct, yet powerful description of yourself. I started with a long story about me, like the one you can read here, then pruned and compressed it further and further until I got something I liked. In the end my shortest bio was 142 characters long. As additional benefit I ended with a set of bios, different in size, and I am able to choose one depending on the space that is available in my profile.
Working on your motto should get you started. There is much more I want to explain, but writing about it took more time than I had initially expected. I will publish this first part now, so you can read it while I continue writing about how to gain reputation by sharing content.