Social Proof is a collection chronicling how bold people deliberately craft and develop their private manufacturers to encourage anybody hoping to do the identical. Social Proof has a double which means — ‘to duplicate the actions of others to get comparable outcomes’ and ‘to showcase the ability of social media in rising a private model’. We hope to convey to gentle insights that may aid you convey each meanings to life in your private model.

For the second version of Social Proof, we interview one of many prime examples of crafting a private model — Steph Smith.

Steph Smith is a multi-hyphenate with a profession spanning ten years. She lately started a role at Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a enterprise capital agency, as their podcast host. She’s additionally led Trends at The Hustle, a premium e-newsletter publication acquired by Hubspot, and was additionally Director of Advertising for Hubspot Creators.

Steph has many aspect initiatives like her ebook Doing Content Right and podcast Sh*t You Didn’t Learn In School. So when excited about who can be nice to kick off Social Proof, Steph naturally got here up as she’s been actively creating content material for her private model since 2018.

All through our dialog, Steph shares fascinating tales about how she constructed a Twitter following of over 118 thousand followers from scratch, beginning by sharing her progress in studying methods to code.

So, how would possibly individuals with a number of pursuits and talents discover what works for them and channel that into intentional private model progress on-line? I am undecided, however we learn the way Steph is doing simply that on this interview.


This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

Q: Welcome Steph, and thanks for agreeing to this interview! So we wished to start out by having you outline how you concentrate on private branding.

Tim Ferriss as soon as mentioned that everybody has a private model, no matter whether or not you will have 10 followers or 10 million followers – and I agree. It’s the notion that folks have developed of you. For instance, you may be related to a sure degree of intelligence, an business, or private attributes like being humorous or reserved.

And I discover constructing a private model fascinating as a result of simply as you develop as an individual, your model additionally evolves. However generally, how individuals see you and the way you need to be seen can turn out to be disjointed – or generally, they’re aligned very nicely. It is all the time fascinating to listen to how individuals view your private model versus the way you understand your self.

Q: That’s an fascinating manner to consider it — everybody seeing you a technique and also you not with the ability to management that picture totally. This results in my subsequent query: Have you ever deliberately constructed your private model?

So I like that query. As a result of I believe I’ve been intentional in some methods. However I additionally suppose your private model is usually out of your individual attain. What I imply by that’s that I’ve constructed many issues during the last couple of years, and you may say that these inputs have a degree of intentionality. However I am unable to all the time management the issues that folks latch on to.

An instance of one thing individuals have latched on to that I did not anticipate – nor did I deliberately attempt to seed – is my being a “content material particular person”. And folks would possibly say, nicely, after all, individuals view you that manner, you will have a weblog, you wrote a ebook – however I by no means noticed myself that manner. There are issues that you’ll do and issues that you’ll attempt to work on so intensely and even at instances, you’re successfully screaming, “Hey, view me this manner!” And folks simply will not. Counter to that, there will likely be belongings you do and methods you do not see your self that different individuals will begin to ascribe to you.

Q: What key phrases would you utilize to explain your private model?

If I had been to label myself, I’d use the phrases ‘curious’, ‘considerate/intentional,’ and ‘clear.’

Curiosity: Every thing that I do is really pushed by my curiosities. And I believe I try this greater than the typical creator who will sometimes check a number of issues, determine what works, after which double down on what the market needs. This works nicely and might be a extra profitable path, however I want to pursue that which pursuits me, and by chance that’s had some market want alongside the best way. However I even have achieved so by disjointing my creative pursuits and my full-time job.

personal brand

Considerate/intentional: One factor I all the time hope comes by means of in my work is that it is considerate. And what I imply by considerate is that once I create one thing, it is as a result of I actually need to create it, however I additionally do it as greatest I can and don’t sacrifice parts of it to get extra of a following or extra gross sales. An instance is my ebook, Doing Content material Proper – I’ve by no means run adverts for it and by no means promoted it in ways in which I believe are sleazy.

Clear: Once I be taught one thing …, I’ll most probably share it, whether or not it is by means of tweeting or writing articles or podcasting … like once I was studying to code and discovered a brand new method to combine with the Google API. I knew that was one thing that perhaps some fraction of the world wished to know. And so I’d take the time to write down that up and have achieved one thing comparable tons of of instances now, together with how I constructed my open page. I believe I am extra clear relative to a minimum of the typical creator, as a result of I see the area as positive-sum.

Q: One thing fascinating you talked about is experimentation as a method to evolve a private model — are you able to elaborate on that?

In case you have a look at the creators which have sustained their audiences over time, they’ve needed to reinvent many instances over. Placing sufficient variations of your self on the market, as unusual because it sounds, means there are extra possibilities individuals will latch onto one thing.

It is virtually like a startup. A startup should proceed iterating, experimenting, and placing totally different variations of its product on the market. And what they can not management is finally what the market needs. However they’ll create sufficient variations or run sufficient assessments to provide themselves sufficient alternatives to search out product-market match.

Q: Persevering with with this theme of experimentation, what are moments in your skilled journey while you’ve needed to evolve or iterate on what you thought your private model was going to be?

Yeah, I can name out a number of factors alongside [my journey]. Once I began within the workforce, I needed to pivot as a result of I did my diploma in chemical engineering. However then, the accessible jobs weren’t those I wished to do; most had been in oil and gasoline. In order that was the primary evolution – despite the fact that I seen myself as an engineer and put all this work into this diploma, I needed to do one thing new.

I went into consulting and had a transparent path of motion there, however then I wished to be distant. So I needed to reinvent myself once more, which fortunately led me into tech and created an fascinating inflection level, the place I used to be requested to guide a publications staff. And it is not a lot that I do not like being branded as a content material particular person, however I had this response of “I do not lead publications groups… that is not what I do.” However I ended up doing it, and it was an awesome determination.

I needed to enable myself to turn out to be somebody I had by no means thought-about being. – Steph Smith, a16z Podcast Host

That was one other instance the place I needed to enable myself to turn out to be somebody that I by no means thought-about being. That interval is once I began coding and creating content material on-line. I used to be creating indie merchandise by means of code, which I assumed can be my “factor” – an identification as a girl in tech, and I even began writing about that. However then I began writing about writing; writing about content material.

There have been many evolutions the place I’ve needed to, you may say from an out of doors perspective, rebrand myself. However internally, as corny because it sounds, it was nearly following what I used to be concerned about on the time and what alternatives fell on my plate.

Now, I’ve tried to dissociate extra from my identification and the way I view myself, and as an alternative deal with what pursuits me on the time as a result of now, turning into a full-time podcaster, I may have by no means predicted that. That was one more section change, the place I needed to shed what I used to be earlier than to start out one thing new … I believe now it is come extra simply as a result of I simply view myself as a multi-hyphenate.

Q: So, as a multi-hyphenate, you’ve achieved quite a lot of work in podcast internet hosting, coding, and writing. A typical thread is how a lot ardour and energy shine by means of in every venture. Do you see your initiatives as a automobile for rising your private model? And the way do you join these efforts to one another to craft the picture individuals have of you?

Sure, every part I do will relate to my private model, some greater than others. I can’t assist that. There are issues that attain many individuals and will likely be most impactful. However each little bit contributes, so I attempt to do my greatest irrespective of the state of affairs, whether or not I’m starring on somebody’s podcast or releasing a ebook or one thing a lot “smaller”.

Every thing I do, whether or not I prefer it or not, pertains to my private model and is a automobile for it. However finally, what drives that automobile, good or dangerous, is how I carry out in each a type of circumstances. And hopefully, it is extra constructive than adverse.

Once more, you’ll be able to’t all the time management what individuals take into consideration your work, however you’ll be able to sway the best way individuals see your private model by means of the initiatives you pursue and the way you pursue them. That is why I believe many creators discover themselves on the slippery slope I discussed earlier. If the standard of your work doesn’t match your viewers’s expectations and looks as if a cash seize, you’ve harmed your private model and that belief is difficult to win again.

Q: I’d prefer to dive into one thing that’s a vital a part of this collection — the place of social media in growing a private model. You’re tremendous energetic on Twitter — would you say that’s the principle platform you’ve used to develop your on-line presence?

Twitter has been the principle platform for rising my on-line presence, and the “why” behind that’s fairly easy – that is the place I take pleasure in spending probably the most time, and creating content material there’s simpler for me than creating content material on different platforms.

I do need to discover extra platforms as a result of I’m fairly targeting Twitter. However I even have to contemplate a easy content material advertising and marketing query, “The place’s my viewers?” If I am speaking about know-how, there’s quite a lot of content material round that on TikTok, in order that’s an instance of a platform that I am debating venturing into.

Q: Has rising a web-based presence utilizing social media, particularly Twitter, helped your profession?

Once I discovered to code in 2018, I used to be not energetic on Twitter, so I ended up wiping my account and beginning with zero followers. Nobody knew who I used to be nor why I is perhaps fascinating.

And from the place I’m right this moment, I can confidently say that a number of of my current roles have come by means of (or a minimum of been closely supported by) my presence on social media or my private initiatives, not my official resume. One instance of that is how I joined The Hustle. Sam, the founder, noticed an article that I had written, which went viral on Hacker Information and was shared by a well-known VC. By that time, I believe I perhaps had about three thousand followers. That is how he found my work, which led me to The Hustle, which was later acquired by HubSpot.

Q: Since you will have expertise cleansing the slate and beginning anew on a social media platform, what would you suggest that folks with zero to minimal presence on social media do when excited about methods to use theirs to develop a private model?

If I used to be simply beginning out, I’d determine what I am most concerned about proper now and double down on that. I’d share every part I am studying in that capability and turn out to be often called somebody uniquely concerned about that area. After which, when you construct a bit of little bit of a following, you will have the liberty to diversify and deal with different issues, as I’ve achieved.

This can be counterintuitive to every part I’ve mentioned about experimentation and evolution as a method to develop your private model, nevertheless it’s important in the beginning of your journey to plant one seed and nurture it.

Q: Earlier than we wrap up, do you will have any remaining ideas to share?

Thousands and thousands of individuals create content material, so it’s important that you simply discover a area of interest and provides individuals a cause to observe you among the many sea of others. One key method to strategy that is by means of the subjects you discuss.

how to build a personal brand

One other manner many individuals miss, which will be simply as efficient, is the way you discuss a subject. For instance, there are tons of people that write about know-how day by day. However there are particular influencers, many who’re newer, that do it higher. They is perhaps funnier, extra contrarian, extra visible, and so forth. So it is not nearly time within the sport but in addition the way you’re doing it.


Listed below are some methods to implement Steph’s private brand-building ways in your journey:

  • Be intentional about constructing your private model: It doesn’t matter what you select to do to develop your model and on-line presence, all the time convey your greatest self. Put together for talking engagements, create high quality content material, and deal with each venture as an extension of you. Transparency is an effective way to remain intentional about your objectives, and Steph has quite a lot of expertise with each as she grew her Twitter by sharing her coding journey and indie initiatives. Try this article for concepts of methods to follow transparency as a method to keep intentional.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment: A giant theme of Steph’s journey has been experimentation. Attempt totally different content material codecs, sort out new subjects, and create for various platforms to search out what works greatest for you. In terms of making an attempt new issues, the small businesses in this article have their technique down pat.
  • Double down on one space: While you’re simply beginning out creating content material in your private model, it’s vital to turn out to be identified for one thing. This helps you construct experience and credibility, and provides your potential viewers one thing to latch on to. To determine the balancing act of experimenting with out tackling too many issues without delay – and on the threat of sounding repetitive – time within the sport is much less vital than the way you’re doing all of your work. In case you take a brand new strategy to your chosen subject or matter, you’ll be able to win individuals over or a minimum of make them curious. For some inspiration, take a look at this text on interesting TikTok creators.
  • Be open to new experiences: Steph talked about being cautious about taking up a task as head of publications as a result of she’d by no means achieved it earlier than however selected to forge forward anyway. If you wish to speed up the expansion of your private model, it’s vital to be open to new challenges after they come. Placing your self and your work on the market can really feel scary, however it may be very rewarding. Try this article for methods you’ll be able to open up new experiences for your self utilizing your on-line presence.

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