Personal branding is an often underutilized, highly valuable investment that college students can make to get a head start on their career paths.
Starting to develop a personal brand while in college has a range of benefits like increased internship opportunities, networking with students and alumni, and ultimately generating career opportunities after graduation.
A strong personal brand is an asset that will benefit college students for the rest of their lives, as evidenced by entrepreneurs and business professionals who leverage their personal brands to promote their businesses, land jobs, make money, and expand their reach and influence.
To discover how to get started early in building your own personal brand as a college student, follow the personal branding tips.
Personal Branding Tips for College Students
Before you can start building your personal brand, you need to define what your personal branding goals are and the means with which you will accomplish them. This means identifying your target audience, the key messages you want to deliver to that audience, and the marketing channels you will use to deliver those key messages.
For a college student, these goals might include having a strong resume, finding internship opportunities, or getting a head start in networking with professionals in your future industry.
Using a personal brand framework can help you in this process, ensuring you are intentional about it and have a sound strategy as you seek to build your personal brand.
The basic components of a personal brand framework are:
For example, a college student who decided their personal brand goal is to find a job after college would define their personal brand niche audience as potential employers and recruiters. With that goal and target audience established, that college student might decide that their key message is showcasing their expertise in their new field, and they could select LinkedIn as the channel for showcasing that expertise.
Use these personal branding goals examples to inspire your own personal brand development.
Your personal brand is the culmination of multiple touch points that your audience has with you—your personal website, your social media accounts, public appearances at events, public presentations, and any other in-person or digital channel where someone might engage with you all influence your personal brand.
Taking care in the development of these channels is important for college students in order to maximize the benefit each one can yield.
Social Media Profiles for College Student Personal Branding
For example, a consistent presence on social media can lead to a large, engaged following that yields job opportunities, or serves as an audience representing potential customers when you choose to start a business or monetize your personal brand.
Having the same profile picture across channels like TikTok and Twitter, sharing content with consistent messaging, and filling in all profile fields are examples of steps you can take to make your personal brand strong across all social media channels that you use to develop it.
Websites for Student Personal Branding
A personal website is another valuable personal brand asset. Creating your own website can be a great homebase for gathering links to all of your personal brand channels, showcasing a portfolio of your projects to-date, and acting as a digital resume or calling card. When you go to apply to jobs, internships, or try to pitch a client, the link to your personal website can be a tool that demonstrates your credibility.
Designers, for example, could utilize their personal website as a design portfolio. Designers could include projects they’ve completed in school, projects they’ve done for clients, and any personal projects that showcase their design aesthetic. The same idea applies to writers, marketers, photographers, etc. as a personal website can be crafted to showcase just about any body of work.
If you do choose to create a website as you start working on your personal brand as a college student, take the time to ensure the messaging, visual branding, and other elements are high quality and consistent with your other channels like social media.
Read “Personal Branding Tips: 5 Things Every Professional Should Have to Build Their Brand” for a checklist of assets college students should have for personal branding
As mentioned above, social media channels are among the personal brand assets college students should invest time in and leverage to grow their brands. LinkedIn profiles stand out among those channels in terms of personal brand value, as a strong presence on LinkedIn is an asset for professionals in virtually any industry.
As a college student trying to get your foot in the door in your respective industry, aiming to start your own business as an entrepreneur, or hoping to land your dream job, LinkedIn is an invaluable personal brand channel.
LinkedIn profiles offer a plethora of opportunities for college students to showcase their growing skill sets and experience. For instance, listing your education level and the school you went to in the “education” section will show potential employers and peers your education level, and also help you to network with other college students and alumni, as it will link your profile to that school’s LinkedIn page.
Listing work experience such as current and previous jobs and internships is another important field to fill out. Then there are visual personal branding opportunities, like ensuring you have a current profile photo, writing a personal bio about yourself that explains who you are, your skills, and the value you offer to peers and employers in your network.
For your professional bio and headline—which is the one-sentence summary that goes below your name at the top of your LinkedIn profile—write these in a way that speaks to the value that YOU offer potential employers, not the other way around. For example, if you are an engineering student, don’t write “looking for a job in engineering” as your headline. That headline talks about your needs, not what you bring to the table for someone who is hiring engineers. Try something like “Ready to Help Build Social Media Platforms” —a headline structured like this leads with the benefit you offer to an employer, and will entice them to read more of your profile.
In addition to completing your LinkedIn profile, actively sharing content about your industry and desired profession, networking with people in your industry, and engaging with other people’s content are all ways you can leverage your new LinkedIn profile to get more exposure and start building a personal brand on the platform.
Get more tips for setting up your LinkedIn profile, and growing your personal brand on the platform in these articles:
Your personal brand should be personal. That means ensuring it is grounded in the story you tell about yourself as a college student and up and coming professional. Faking this will not only make your personal brand seem inauthentic, but you may also struggle with consistency. Being yourself is natural and easy. Pretending to be someone else takes work, and decreases your chances of staying consistent and building a strong brand.
Telling your story openly means sharing your experiences, your challenges, and your successes with your audience. By doing so, you can connect with your audience on a deeper level and build trust and credibility.
To do this, think about the unique experiences you are currently having and navigating in college. As a college student balancing schoolwork, side projects aligned toward your career path like internships and side hustles, and perhaps a part time job is a story with multiple facets that you can tell. For example, you could pick a day each week where you publish a Twitter thread documenting your wins and losses for the week. Or you could write a weekly LinkedIn post on Fridays documenting lessons learned in school or your internships. This same strategy could apply to TikTok, where you could post regular round-up videos recapping recent lessons and highlights from school and your other work.
Creating content like this has a plethora of benefits ranging from the opportunity to improve your skills as you practice writing and networking, increasing your reach and exposure as your content engagement fuels audience growth, and the development of a strong narrative that you can share across other channels.
5. Be Consistent Across Personal Brand Channels
Speaking of other channels, to build a strong personal brand, you need to be consistent across any marketing channel you are active on. This means using the same messaging, tone, and visual elements across all of your marketing channels, from your personal brand website to social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter to your email and offline communications. Just like corporate brands maintain consistent branding across their marketing channels, individuals with strong personal brands do the same.
For example, one of the elements that makes Gary Vaynerchuk’s brand so strong is that regardless of which channel you see him on, his visual branding and messaging are always the same. This makes his channels immediately recognizable to fans. Strive for this same effect in your own personal branding.
Get more personal branding tips in this blog post: 7 Personal Branding Tips to Help Grow Your Audience and Influence
An integral part of making your story a part of your personal brand is being transparent. By being transparent, you demonstrate to your audience that you are open and honest. But most importantly, you make yourself relatable. Social media profiles that are too glossy in terms of being filled with nothing but success and painting a perfect picture are unrealistic, for example.
You will see many of the leading personal brands on platforms like Twitter and Instagram tell their stories in a way that includes the negative chapters, or showcases their vulnerability. This type of content is important to include alongside your wins as a key component of the “hero journey” that your audience will relate to. This includes not only sharing successes and advice, but also sharing failures and asking questions.
For example, share situations where a project went badly and the lessons you learned from it. Or ask your audience for tips on a situation you find intimidating, like dealing with imposter syndrome. Content like this unites people who have had similar experiences, and will actually increase the respect people have for you vs. having the opposite effect, because owning up to failures and admitting that everyone faces challenges takes guts.
This is one of the reasons the “building in public” trend has taken off on social media platforms like Twitter for entrepreneurs. Building in public is the idea that company founders, entrepreneurs, and professionals working on their own projects and side businesses document their process publicly. Twitter is a channel where this trend has taken off, with people posting regular updates for their followers on their endeavors—both positive updates, as well as challenges.
An example of this strategy being applied on Twitter went viral when Yehong Zhu, founder of Zette, posted a Twitter thread that offered a behind the scenes look at what her day is usually like as a startup founder in Silicon Valley. This content idea was well received, as her peers were able to relate, and other members of her audience were able to learn about what it’s like having that job role.
As an up and coming company founder, Zhu wasn’t intimidated by letting herself be vulnerable, or worrying about being judged by more experienced founders for facing challenges. Rather, she put herself out there with transparency, and the result was a ton of positive feedback and recognition. You can apply this same openness and vulnerability in your own personal brand storytelling as a college student in order to build a persona that feels human and relatable.
Learn more about building a personal brand on Twitter with this blog post: 10 Content Ideas For Building Your Personal Brand On Twitter
One challenge all professionals face on social media is determining what to share with their audiences. The content someone would like to share with friends and family likely differs from content they would like to share with their professional network. This is especially true as a college student, as the content you’d share with friends and family is likely of a more casual nature and tone than content you would share with a future employer.
Segmenting these personal brand audiences can help you to be measured in determining what to share with each one. For example, you could decide that LinkedIn and Twitter will be public profiles where you share content designed to be a part of your personal brand strategy, and Facebook and TikTok are private channels where you engage with friends and family. You may share occasional personal life updates on your professional channels to keep them personal and lighten things up, and you may share some professional updates with friends and family.
This is a natural balance that you will need to discover for yourself. Some of the best personal brands manage to find a balance where a certain percentage of the content they share on their professional channels is personal in nature—life updates, foodie photos, etc. This is unique for each individual as you determine how much crossover content pertaining to your personal life will have with your professional channels and vice versa.
One thing to keep in mind is that regardless of your intention to keep these channels and audiences from crossing over, there is a chance they do. So it’s a good rule of thumb to not share anything on social media that you would regret your professional audience discovering in the future.
A mistake professionals focused on personal brand growth sometimes make is focusing so much on what they are publishing that they forget their original goal to build an engaged audience. Once you have your personal brand channels up and running and full of your beautiful content and messaging, you want to use them to facilitate two way conversation.
This means responding to comments on content that you share, as well as looking for opportunities to engage with content shared by people in your network. Try setting a cadence and quota for yourself in terms of engagement. For example, if you are working on building your personal brand on Twitter, make it your goal to comment on two Tweets per day. Or if Instagram is your personal brand channel of choice, comment on two photos per day from other users.
Showing appreciation for other people’s content and engaging in thoughtful discussion with peers in your industry will not only help with networking, but it will also expose your profile to more users—two benefits that will help to grow your personal brand.
As a college student aiming to build a network, you should pay special attention to the school alumni segment of your personal brand’s audience. Networking with alumni can lead to tons of opportunities, with future job opportunities being one of them. Alumni tend to feel obliged to help people from their school in their careers because they can relate to being in that same position. This makes alumni a valuable audience segment to build connections with. Try connecting with alumni on LinkedIn, follow them on other social platforms, engage with their content, and reach out in direct messages to introduce yourself and ask for tips and advice.
For more opportunities to grow your personal brand, check out the best social media platforms for college students.
Personal branding is a powerful strategy that college students can utilize to support their network growth and lay the foundation for future employment and business opportunities. By following these tips, you can build a strong personal brand that will help you differentiate yourself from your peers, increase credibility in the eyes of employers, and build an asset that will serve you for the rest of your life.
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