Looking at the plethora of articles on building your personal brand it takes more than just a good looking LinkedIn page. With exciting titles like “3 steps to an authentic personal brand” and “Be Authentic: the secret to personal branding” it is obvious that a key goal of building a personal brand is authenticity. But is it really possible to be authentic when “creating” your personal brand and what does it even mean?

Creating a personal brand is done by taking a human being (in this case, yourself) and turning it into a brand, but when over 50% of people “don’t trust brands”, human beings are intrinsically more trustworthy than brands. If authenticity is your goal, becoming a brand is the wrong way to go about it.

What is a personal brand?

What was once simply called your reputation has now been transformed by the saturation of social media and the information stored online. Your personal brand includes everything someone can learn about you online. Almost everyone has one, whether they know it or not. As a record of your actions and interactions online, it is actually quite an authentic representation of who you naturally are. It is only once you try to build or create that brand that you manipulate this information. This is known as self-promotion. While most articles on personal brand focus on how to make yourself look better, few look at the more difficult step of actually being better. To create a more authentic personal brand, become a more authentic person.

Is being an authentic brand is the same as being an authentic person?

Apparently being authentic is also a great way to be likeable – so it is not bad advice in itself, but is being an authentic brand the same as being an authentic person. Your personal brand would certainly be more authentic if it listed all of your failures along with your successes, though I doubt many Personal Brand Coaches (yes, it’s a thing!) would advise you to do that.

Be Yourself

One of the most common pieces of advice on personal branding is “Be Yourself”. While this sounds like good advice, if not somewhat obvious, it is given rather flippantly considering what is involved. In order to “be yourself” online, you need to work out who you are and then convey that message succinctly to people you don’t know. This requires a bit of soul searching. Actually exploring and articulate the answer to “Who am I?” might be taking this advice to the extreme, it is the only way to have an impact while remaining authentic. Let people know what makes you different, what makes you tick and why do you do what you do.

Actions speak louder than words.

Once you work out your “why” writing it down is a really helpful exercise, but won’t inspire instant respect amongst the general internet community. Describing yourself as a thought leader or industry expert in your LinkedIn profile will probably lead to exactly zero people giving a damn. You need to prove yourself. By adding valuable advice in online forums, publishing thought-provoking papers, answering questions and mentoring others in your field, you are actually adding value to the conversation. This way you will be building a personal brand without giving up on authenticity because you’re helping people. It isn’t self-promotion because it isn’t all about you.

You are what you create

Have you ever looked at an Instagram account with tens of thousands of followers and think ‘those photos are rubbish”? Marketers like to talk about “social proof”, a way of saying that if lots of other people like it then it must be good – but first and foremost it has to actually BE good. As Beatriz Helena Ramos said in the article Why Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Waste Time On Personal Branding “No number of fans or followers is going to make a mediocre artist into a great one.” By creating great things, whatever those things are, you’re building a personal brand. Not by following a checklist or packaging yourself better, but by putting something great into the world. If you create something truly inspiring that is seen by ten people, it will do more for your personal brand than something average seen by a thousand.

By focusing on being more authentic and adding value wherever you can, rather than promoting yourself, your personal brand will blossom. Can a personal brand really be authentic? Yes, but only if you’re not trying too hard.