A personal brand is nothing more than a collection of relationships.
While responding to emails yesterday I would open one, craft my response, hit send, and head back to my inbox only to see a new email — this went on for over an hour.
This wasn’t what (by any standard) would be considered ‘fan mail’. These were creatively articulated responses from intelligent people — people like you.
What struck me was that not a single email was topical, saying “I like this” or “thanks for sharing.” They were all highly personalized and referencial to prior conversations.
They were all indicative of relationships we’ve built in the last 36 days.
This realization was catalyzed by a challenge Daniel A. posed:
By the nature of a newsletter you’re going to get a mixed audience (especially if you stray into side topics with regularity) but fundamentally you’ve got to question who you are trying to reach and to what end. That should narrow the ‘stage of life’ issue you raise and mean that, at least for those who matter (your intended audience), you are on-point.
Impassioned by his prompt I responded:
That’s the thing, there is no goal. The audience is me. I, like everyone, am at a different stage in different things — the common element is me.I will be at the same stage in my career as Bob… but a completely different stage in family life. That doesn’t mean I can’t talk to Bob about family life, I just have a different perspective. Whoever “connects” with every email is likely to be my twin, my clone, my stalker, or my soulmate.
While I aspire to have better, more authentic communication, I’m not trying to please anyone any more than within a conversation. I recognize most people will only check in from time to time and that’s awesome. If I get one reply a week with a connection as authentic as the ones I’ve had with you… it’s (to me) worth the time to write and send.
This, right here with you, is all that matters.
While I met Daniel A. as a CouchSurfer some years ago, this series has prompted a menagerie of conversations for reconnection. Madi T. was a complete stranger and has become a close confidant. King M. and Alon S. have both prompted as much reflection in me as they say I have in them and we’re meeting up in SoCal soon.
This isn’t an email list, it’s a collection of meaningful relationships.
Aziz Anzari prompts an interesting reflection, “When you look at your phone, you don’t always see another person — you often see a little bubble with text in it.”
Remember that behind those little bubbles is a human, just like you.
As Scott Stratten once said in a keynote, “I got to 350K followers on Twitter because I treated the first like the only one I would ever have.” — Invest in relationships.
Whether you’re seeking to build a personal brand or a corporate one, remember that any form of ‘audience’ is just a collection of relationships that you build with people.
My favorite response to receive is also one of the most telling.
‘I didn’t expect a reply.’ — how sad is the landscape for social connection that the expected response is no response at all?! The bar is astoundingly low, step over it.
Likes, comments, shares, leads, or sales — whatever you call them — are people.
If you want to build anything, start by building relationships.
P.S. I’ve done my best to express it in the personal responses I’ve sent over the last month, but I can’t say it enough — I love every single one of you. Thank you for the prompts, inspiration, encouragement, and (when needed) punches in the face.