By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

The ‘Father of Personal Branding’ Reveals 6 Tips for Building a Compelling Digital Brand

  • The idea of personal brands has been around for quite some time. But in today’s digital-first world — where first impressions are made through LinkedIn profiles, Google search results and social media channels — they’re more important now than ever.
  • “Every single person has this unique ingredient to offer the world,” says William Arruda, who’s referred to as father of personal branding. “When they’re willing to do that and just put it out there, they’re going to be happier, and the world’s going to benefit from that.”
  • One key to a successful personal brand? When you make the leap to the digital world — from “flesh and bones to bytes and bits,” as Wiliam describes it — you have to undergo the “translation process.”

The idea of personal branding has been around for quite some time.

William Arruda, commonly referred to as the “father of personal branding,” has been a champion of the concept since 1997.

Back then — before LinkedIn and even Google — personal brands looked a lot different. Your brand was strongly tied to your personality and the way you presented yourself in a room full of people.

Today, in our digital-first world, your brand largely exists online. Think about it: First impressions are commonly made through LinkedIn profiles, Google search results and social media channels.

Although PR professionals and marketers understand the importance of first impressions, many still have room to embrace and improve their personal brands.

On a recent episode of The PR Maven® podcast, I spoke with William, who now has more than two decades of experience in personal branding. He created 360Reach, a personal branding survey more than two million professionals have used to expand their careers and businesses. He also established the Reach Personal Branding Certification Program, which has been completed by more than 1,000 professionals.

William joined the show to talk about the importance of establishing a strong digital brand and shared his expert tips for PR professionals and marketers.

First impressions: The importance of building your brand digitally

By now, you know the importance of a good first impression. You’ve got one chance to hook a new reader, customer, follower or fan, and that’s where having a strong, compelling online personal brand comes into play.

“People are meeting you first online, and if that first impression is lackluster, then that’s it,” William says. “If you have a lackluster profile that really doesn’t explain your differentiator, then I’m not going to get too excited about you. That’s who I’m going to believe you are. Forever. That’s why it’s really important to instantly capture people online.”

Even if you’re not a business owner or entrepreneur, your personal brand plays an important role in your career. Think about it. When a new employee joins your team, you probably Google their name before you stop by their cubicle.

“You need to build your brand right away online so you can start attracting people the same way you would in the real world, because everything has moved online,” William says.

The ‘Father of Personal Branding’ Reveals 6 Tips for Building a Compelling Digital BrandDefining and building your digital brand: 6 expert tips

We’ve established that building your digital brand is important, but how exactly do you do that?

William has delivered well over a thousand keynotes and workshops on this topic to big brands, including BP, Disney, Google and Target. He shared his expert tips with me:

1. Stop trying to do too much

When you start building your personal brand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of digital platforms at your disposal. You’ve got Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and even newer platforms, like TikTok.

But don’t feel like you need to be everywhere at once. If you’re just getting started, here’s William’s advice for PR pros: Focus on LinkedIn.

Why? LinkedIn is a powerful, authoritative platform, and it contains a lot of “Google juice” as I like to call it. That means if you have a LinkedIn profile and someone Googles you, your profile will likely show up in one of the top three spots, and people will click.

“So if you want to influence people, it’s not like you have to be on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube,” William says. “Just make sure you’re at least on LinkedIn and that you’ve built a stellar profile that’s credible and likable.”

2. Flaunt your ‘unique ingredient’

Truth be told, there are plenty of PR professionals and marketers who do what you do. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll want to identify your differentiator — or what William calls your “unique ingredient.”

“Every single person has this unique ingredient to offer the world,” William says. “When they’re willing to do that and just put it out there, they’re going to be happier, and the world’s going to benefit from that.”

This might be where imposter syndrome starts to seep in, but don’t let it. William reminds us: “You don’t have to be the most amazing person in the world with 8,852 accomplishments and a magna cum laude degree from Harvard or any of that kind of stuff.”

Instead, focus on flaunting your unique ingredient.

3. Match up your ‘flesh and bones’ brand to your ‘bytes and bits’ brand

One of the most difficult parts about building your brand is figuring out how to translate it from the real world to the virtual world. When you meet and interact with someone in person, it’s easier for them to understand your personality, your sense of humor and the way you work.

When you make the leap to the digital world — from “flesh and bones to bytes and bits,” as Wiliam describes it — you have to undergo what he calls the translation process.

Because more people meet you online than in person nowadays, your online brand needs to authentically reflect who you are in the real world. People who meet you online shouldn’t feel surprised when they meet you in person.

“I think the people who get it right are the people who don’t build their brand separately online,” William says. “First, they figure out their real-world brand and engage in that translation process, from who they are in the real world to demonstrating that in the virtual world.”

4. Don’t forget to track your metrics

As you build your personal brand, track your achievements. William says this is something many people forget to do.

To determine what metrics you want to track, think about your goals. Do you want to grow your network? Then you might track your LinkedIn connections. Do you want to build your influence within a community? Look at your engagements. Are you hoping to become an expert or thought leader in a particular space? Make note each time you’re quoted on a website or in a magazine.

This is a great way to take a look at some of your goals then see what’s working and what isn’t and help you tweak your branding strategy along the way.

5. Ask yourself: Is this an ego thing, or is this actually valuable?

When I asked William how he built his network of fans and followers, his response was simple: By giving value.

Before he submits his monthly columns to Forbes, uploads a video to his YouTube channel or posts to LinkedIn, William asks himself: “Is this valuable to my target audience?”

If it ever feels like a personal ego thing — like, “Hey, look how I do this and how great it is!” — he’ll scrap the content.

“If you get in the habit of serving your audience — What do they need? What do I have that I can offer them? How can I deliver that to them in a way they can receive it and use it or benefit from it? — and if you take that approach, then all of the sudden, people will start to pay attention,” he says.

If you follow this approach, the followers will come. And don’t forget to keep the conversation going. If someone takes the time to comment on your post, for example, then interact with them. “That’s how relationships are built,” he says.

6. Don’t be afraid to repel people (it’s inevitable)

William’s final piece of advice? Be your authentic self, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You may feel fearful that not everyone will like you, but that’s OK. Not everyone should like you.

“Often strong brands repel as many people as they attract because they have a point of view,” William says. “It’s not enough to be an expert on a topic, but you really need to have your own take.”

“As soon as you take that position, there are other people who won’t agree, but that’s OK because if you try not to anger anyone, you’re pretty bland, and you’re not going to excite anyone.”

So don’t be fearful. Be your authentic self, and showcase your unique ingredient to the world.


This is based on an episode of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.