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Today’s entrepreneurs are using their platforms and their voices to advocate for the issues that matter most to them. While being passionate and vocal is valuable, businesses need to remain viable, and the key to that is an irrefutable personal brand.
A well-constructed and strategic personal brand opens doors and creates a lasting sense of community. It provides a foundation for a shared voice and mission. Taking a stand for what you believe in helps build a strong brand that can help you make a meaningful difference in the world.
Accessing this kind of power starts with building a brand centered around your core values. Your core values are the critical set of values by which you live, communicate and make decisions: what is right, what is wrong? What is good, what is bad? When you align your values with your actions, your brand gains credibility and trust.
Related: The Only Way Out Is Through: How to Survive the Backlash Against Your Business
Therefore, considering the choice to take a high-profile, public position or position requires deciding how and when you align the messages you want to project with the values you hold dear. Ask yourself questions such as: Why do I feel compelled to speak? Am I the right person to publicly address these issues? Have I thought my position through? How can I protect myself from misinterpretation?
I’ve spent years teaching executives how to build strategic brands and speak their truth authentically. This is my best advice for leveraging your personal brand to address the issues that matter most to you.
1. Create context
In the age of social media, consumers want to know what the leaders and the companies they follow stand for. However, when a leader takes a position without a plan or proper consideration, it can communicate ignorance, or worse. How should an entrepreneur proceed?
There is a common misconception that the less you post about your beliefs, the lower the risk that what you say will be misunderstood or provoke backlash. In fact, sharing and posting consistent content that reflects your values and beliefs creates a context around all your future words and actions. This context protects you from misinterpretation and gives you an air of authenticity that is difficult to achieve on social media.
Start by identifying your core values and sharing what you care about on the platforms you use. As you communicate your ideas, positions, and beliefs, tie each to your values.
Strive for a narrower focus rather than a broad, overarching set of values. If you take a position on every trending topic or news headline, you could reduce the effect of what you stand for. Alexander Hamilton once said, “When you’re in love with nothing, you fall in love with anything.” In other words, if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. When we stretch our values too far, we run the risk of diluting them.
Related: Why Consistency Is Vital to Your Branding Efforts
2. Build a network of supporters
Spreading a message means finding the right people to share it with. A network of people who embrace your values will become your greatest asset.
The good news is that the context you’re creating with intentional content will do much of the heavy lifting for you. When you are clear and consistent about what you care about, you naturally attract others who share your beliefs, want to learn from you, and will help you advance your positions.
If you want to be more proactive about gaining exposure, find others whose brand mirrors the one you’re building. Share their posts, interact and cross-promote whenever possible to bring their network closer to yours. The name of the game here is still authenticity, to check your core values as you start to build up more followers.
Related: 3 Examples of How to Build a Strong Brand Community
3. Use your voice to advocate
Once you’ve established a consistent, authentic brand and an engaged audience, you have the opportunity to speak up when current events tug at your heartstrings and you can’t sit still.
Even when backed by a strong and authentic brand, be intentional and strategic about your engagement. Whenever you decide to speak publicly about an issue, make sure what you’re saying relates to your overall personal brand. Start with your values and find the connecting thread.
Take my defense of veterans as an example. I have no official direct connection to the military, but as an appreciative citizen, I wanted to bring a civilian voice to veteran advocacy. I found the common thread between the values I stand for as part of my brand (gratitude and generosity) and the issue I wanted to take a stand on. I brought up the context of gratitude and generosity in my posts about veterans, resulting in a more authentic and compelling message. When the issue aligns with my values and my brand, I make my voice heard.
Related: To build a powerful brand, start from the inside and work your way out
4. Avoid overreaching
Many online audiences are inundated with insincere messages from leaders and companies whose behavior does not match the values they profess. As a result, these audiences have become savvy at spotting inauthentic content and instantly lose trust in the poster. Worse, they may publicly expose the inconsistency, making others worry or upset as well.
That’s why sometimes it’s best to stay in your lane when you’re tempted to talk about a topic that’s off your brand. If you can’t find the thread that connects the topic you want to comment on with your values, you can choose not to comment publicly. This is especially true if your motivation for commenting or jumping into the conversation is to ride the wave of a trending topic in which you really have no personal stake or passionate opinion.
When you feel the urge to speak despite a missing thread, take a step back and be clear about your motivation. Are you involved out of genuine interest or concern or out of opportunistic desire? Understanding the outcome you want, whether it’s profit, social or political change, personal motivations or popularity, can give you clarity about how your participation can be received by your audience.
Related: How to form a clear voice and tone for your brand
5. Give yourself room to step back
In online spaces, there are cases where entrepreneurs and business leaders feel pressured by their audience to publicly comment on current events or topics. You may not be ready to join the conversation for a number of reasons. Maybe you haven’t fleshed out your views or reconciled your values and feelings. Or maybe the topic is turning you on in a real and personal way and you’re working on it first.
You shouldn’t feel compelled to publicly reconcile something that causes you deep-seated trauma or concerns. I think you can remain silent if you need to, as long as the issue is not critical to the reputation and position you have already publicly defended. In this case, communicating that you are processing how to respond may be a prudent move.
It is important to be clear about which values become a fundamental part of your brand. For example, if inclusion and diversity are your chosen guiding values, don’t be surprised when your audience expects you to comment on current events related to racial equity or gender discrimination, but they may not need to hear your thoughts on environmental changes.
Your personal brand can grow your audience, protect your image, drive your business and be a force for change. The process of building this brand is a rewarding one that offers limitless opportunities to ignite meaningful conversations and take bold stands.
Don’t be afraid to spread your authentic voice to a wider audience. Chances are, you’ll attract like-minded people along the way and empower them to support you in their own values and passions.