Be Your Own Unicorn: Building a Strong Personal Brand

Today we bring you a guest post from one of our Higher Education Innovation Faculty, Heather Tranen.

There is so much buzz (read: extremely annoying buzz words) around building a strong personal brand. How can you own the internet? How can you make sure you are the go-to person for your area of expertise? The jargon and the tools suffocate, and at times, choke your very essence to death. As a recovering higher ed professional myself, I’ll offer some straightforward ways to unlock your inner unicorn and make the biggest impact on your campus.

 But maybe don’t be a creepy unicorn like this.

But maybe don’t be a creepy unicorn like this.

Step 1: Be Yourself

The most important part of personal branding is simple, but perhaps the most difficult. Be yourself. Regardless of your audience, platform, or forum, knowing and understanding who you are and how you provide value is imperative.  

 Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

Step 2: Amplify Your Voice

Your voice is your power. Use it. Having knowledge is one thing, but sharing it (in the right way) is what sets you apart as a real thought leader and innovator. What’s the point of having knowledge if it isn’t going anywhere? There are a variety of ways to share knowledge and to connect with an audience. Don’t stay hidden on the internet trolling around what other experts are doing. Don’t attend a conference and not even raise your hand to share your point of view.

Step 3: Articulate Your Message

To build a strong personal brand, you want to make sure you are choosing the right platforms (these can be within the digital space such as social media or the real world like meetings and conferences). Also, think about your message—what do you want to say? What’s your expertise? What are your goals? Don’t try fitting a square into a circle by deciding you want to be an expert in something you’re not. Like, I want to be really good at discussing quantum physics, but I barely survived high school coursework.

Step 4: Get Digital

Let’s start talking about implementing your brand in the virtual space. It’s an easy way to share your expertise to a broad range of people. For introverts like me, it means you don’t need to talk out loud to humans. The first thing you need to do is choose a platform (or platforms if you’re ambitious) strategically based on your audience. Different platforms reach different demographics. It’s important to think strategically before launching into one.

Step 5: What’s your ROI?

Virtual ROI can be tough to measure. Don’t get caught up in vanity metrics like number of followers and lose sight on more actionable results like shares. Overall, keeping goals in mind such as: the number of people you draw to your website or an event can help you monitor how your communications strategy is going. There are tools that help easily guide you, and platforms also have great internal analytics, too.

Step 6: Get out there. In the real world. Yes, really.

For introverts like me, interacting digitally means I delightfully don’t need to talk out loud to humans. Unfortunately, a strong brand means you need to get out into the real world and talk to real humans.

 We promise human interaction isn’t too terrifying

We promise human interaction isn’t too terrifying

Go to conferences. Present at conferences. Invite people for coffee chats. Most importantly, track your contacts and conversations and consider what deliverables you are seeking from these conversations. Simple (and free!) CRMs like Hubspot or Zoho can help manage conversations and relationships. If things like that scare you off, a simple spreadsheet will do.  

Next Steps: Don’t just sit there.

Do some self reflection. Pick a platform. Talk to people. Stay accountable. Overall, before you do anything really consider who you are and what you’re trying to say. Most importantly, keep track of interactions (both virtually and in real life!) so you can have valuable, reportable metrics and measurable growth.

And of course, have fun with all of this! It’s a way to express your creativity, build meaningful relationships, create more visibility for yourself, be your own unicorn, and establish yourself as a true innovator in your field.


Heather is the founder of career consulting, professional development, and content strategy company, Schtick. She comes with over a decade of experience in higher education, professional development, and content management. Her diverse experience provides her with a deep understanding of what organizations want from employees, the roadblocks that prevent people from achieving their goals, and the strategic steps needed for companies and people to find their value and reach their potential. Follow Heather (@htranen) and Schtick (@schtickpro) on Twitter.

 Heather Tranen