Weekly Editorial

Personal Branding and Online Presence: Keys To Networking Success

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • January 22, 2024

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As a kid who grew up in a conservative Midwest community, I’ve always found self-promotion difficult. I dumped my Facebook account a few years ago (one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a while) and while I occasionally post on LinkedIn and might drop a photo on Instagram if I’m traveling, I’m rarely on social media.

Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t invest a lot of time and money promoting myself on Twitter (now called X), though a lot of people and companies did. I’m also glad I didn’t get overly excited about apps that cropped up during the pandemic like Clubhouse (I literally had to search “app where people were virtually called on stage” because I couldn’t remember what it was called).

Still, there is incredible value in building a personal brand. And if you are a true expert in something, you owe it to the world to explain that expertise with others. It can be frustrating to wade through social media only to find so many so-called “experts” who really aren’t. These folks often shout the loudest on social media. Fortunately, the fakes are fairly easy to spot. I’m definitely not against social media, but as the Kendrick Lamar song so aptly puts it: “Sit down, be humble.”

It is difficult to straddle the line between highly effective personal branding on one end of the spectrum and P.T. Barnum-style showmanship on the other side.

Luckily, our industry has a number of people who do a great job on social media providing important information and leading conversations about our industry. Since LinkedIn is the most professional of social media sites and one that I actually know, I’m going to stick to the people I follow on that platform.

Let’s start with Ryan Anderson, vice president of global research and insights at MillerKnoll. If you don’t follow him on LinkedIn, take a moment to do so now. Anderson has done fantastic work posting articles, podcasts and other information about the hybrid workplace, sometimes tackling topics that are a bit controversial in our industry. But they are always topics that deserve discussing.

Kay Sargent definitely deserves a spot on this list. The senior principal and director of WorkPlace at HOK presents some of the best industry knowledge out there to her social media followers. She has become a true industry leader.

If you want a glimpse at the day-to-day life of an executive in our industry, I recommend following Jason McCann, chief executive officer of Vari. McCann does a great job of posting photos that show the vibrant company culture at Vari with just the right dash of personal, fun photos of his paintings. It is a great example of how to show the professional and personal.

I first met furniture designer Ayse Birsel when Herman Miller launched her Resolve system. She now helps design more lives than she does furniture. Birsel’s social media presence is fun, inspiring and informational. It makes you want to be her friend.

Martin Flaherty, president of Pencilbox, a communication and strategy company, has the type of biting humor and honest opinions that I find compelling. He consistently posts information that gets me thinking, often with examples of successful branding (and occasionally, branding gone wrong).

The “Where’s Waldo” social media award definitely goes to Jeff Carlson of My Resource Library. Carlson consistently posts pictures of himself and his customers, often during his visits to their headquarters. It is a nice way of recognizing his customers while showing that he cares about them enough to go out and see them in person. It’s always fun to see who he is visiting this week.

Here’s a shout out to a couple other magazine publishers who do a great job on social media. I really like the posts by Stephen Searer, founder of Office Snapshots. It would be easy for Searer to over-share the company’s incredible library of world-class offices on social media, but he doesn’t. Instead, he presents a curated collection of the best loved and most inspirational shots on his site. Mark Eltringham publishes Works Magazine in the U.K. and leads incredible conversations about workplace issues on social media. He doesn’t pull punches either, which I appreciate.

Of course, you have to have something important to say to be relevant on social media. The best way to promote your personal brand is to find your own set of influencers and emulate (not copy) what they are doing. Share information that will help your customers (not just sell to them). Lead conversations. Put yourself out there. Be the expert you deserve to be.

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