Don’t Do That! 3 Personal Branding Mistakes to Avoid

Visualize yourself not falling off the wall © andrewgenn -
Photo Credit: Andrew Genn via


by Katherine Kotaw 

Your personal brand is like Humpty Dumpty — it may not survive a great fall.  But even lesser missteps damage your reputation and may give the king’s horses more repair work than they can handle.

Don’t count on nursery rhyme characters to protect your image.  Here are 3 tips to keep you from falling off the wall in social media:


1.  Don’t Adopt a Ho-Hum Attitude about HOAs.

Google Hangouts on Air are the Internet equivalent of live television.  Live TV terrifies veteran news anchors and actors.  Mistakes can’t be fixed and reviews can be harsh.

In December, 2013, Carrie Underwood’s portrayal of Maria in a live TV version of the “Sound of Music” was harshly criticized.  The New York Times said Underwood  “delivered her spoken lines with all the inflection and spontaneity of an in-flight safety video.”

Underwood had previous live TV and stage performance experience and the show was produced by Broadway veterans who prepared the country singer and “American Idol” champion for the show.  Still the production was noted for Underwood’s “bloodless performance.”

Google makes it easy — and free — for anyone to deliver a bloodless or bloody awful performance on her HOA platform.  Public opinion may make it hard — and expensive — to live down major on-air blunders.

Don’t produce or accept guest spots on a HOA without considering the long-term consequences of your appearance.  People will probably forgive you — and may even like you better — if you occasionally stumble over words or develop a brain freeze in the middle of a sentence.

But, if you’re appearing on a Google Hangout as a professional, act professionally.  Don’t make crude jokes, sexist statements or announce to the world that you’ve just passed gas.  Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your boss, customers, investors or grandchildren to hear.


2.  Don’t choose your social media profile picture yourself.

You have very poor judgment when it comes to choosing a flattering photo.  I don’t know why this is true, only that it is.

If a client has six photos to choose from, she will invariably choose the worst one, the one that makes her look snobby, silly or as if she had bad hair and a bad headache on the same day.  She’ll completely dismiss the photo that showed the world she was smart, friendly and credible.

So I don’t give clients choices — or I limit them to two that I know will work well.  When you’re choosing a profile picture without the help of a personal branding coach, seek the opinions of professional people whose opinions about visual branding you trust.

Ask them, “What photo best represents the professional image I want to portray to clients?”

Choose the one that garners the most votes even if it’s not your personal favorite.  Put the one you like best in your wallet or living room.  Display on social media the photo your review panel selected.


3.  Don’t be Forgettable.

Social media is a crowded place, and it’s much easier to get lost than discovered there.  Generic profiles, uninspired posts and lame “great article” comments paint your personal brand beige.

Add color.

Coffee is a much-loved beverage.  Using your Twitter profile to announce your affection for it is a waste of characters.  It does nothing to distinguish you.  If your coffee-drinking habits are deeply connected to your personal brand, include them in your profile, but narrow your reference.  Tell the world you can’t start your day without a triple shot of espresso or that you’d rather have a Starbucks gift card than a diamond ring — make your connection to caffeine memorable.

Imprint your brand when you share other people’s work, too.  Make it clear that you’ve read the article (this alone makes you stand out) and that it meant something to you.

If I were sharing Caroline Frenette’s “5 Easy Steps to Slow Down and Get More Done,” I’d quote this line,Delegate everything that is not in your zone of genius.”  Because this is an issue I struggled with for years as an entrepreneur until I realized that I’m happier — and more productive — when I stick to what I do best.

I fell off the personal branding wall myself a few times before I figured this out.  Now I don’t get on the wall when I’m feeling wobbly.

Protect yourself against a Humpty Dumpty style fall.  Brand yourself as a smart egg.




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2 Replies to “Don’t Do That! 3 Personal Branding Mistakes to Avoid”

  1. Katherine Kotaw

    So happy you enjoyed it, Suzanna! I’m excited to be contributing to the She Owns It community and hope to see more of you here.

  2. Suzanna Keith

    Fun and helpful piece!

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