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Personal Branding for Introverts

November 18, 2009, 11:18 am · 15 comments · Filed under: Business, Life, Marketing, Twitter

There’s never been a better time in human history to be an introvert. The intertubes give those of us of the less outgoing persuasion a powerful vehicle for exposure, on our own terms.

“My name is Andrew, and I’m an introvert.”

It’s like a dirty word. “Introvert.” Western societies tend to value life-of-the-party types over people like me. I love getting together with a couple of friends and getting all deep and meaningful. For me, flitting around a room filled with people I barely know falls just below “get waterboarded” on my list of to-dos.

If you are unsure for which team you bat, consider the following statements (from Wikipedia):

  1. I am the life of the party.
  2. I enjoy being the center of attention.
  3. I am skilled in handling social situations.
  4. I like to be where the action is.
  5. I make new friends easily.
  6. I am quiet around strangers.
  7. I don’t like to draw attention to myself.
  8. I don’t like to party on the weekends.
  9. I like to work independently.
  10. I often enjoy spending time by myself.

If most of 1-5 ring true for you and most of 6-10 don’t, you’re probably an extrovert. If the opposite is true, you’re probably an introvert. If you fall pretty evenly in both camps, you may be an ambivert. Kinky.

Me, a brand?

Yes, you, a brand. If, like me, you make your living as an independent contractor, freelancer, or consultant, your “brand” is your most valuable asset.

Even if you work in a large company, your brand can affect work assignments, promotions, etc. So, hey, you at IBM, keep reading!

Note: I’m about to spout off about what the term “brand” means. I’m not a marketing expert, so—if you are—please feel free to clarify and correct me in the comments.

In the simplest terms, a brand is what people associate with a person, company, or organization. So, a personal brand is basically what people think of when they think of you.

E.g., consider Anna Kournikova. What comes to mind? Sexy. Athletic. Pretty. Not the world’s greatest tennis player, but who really cares?

Now, consider Stephen Hawking. Big brained dude. Inventor of the black hole. World’s smartest person. Not who you’d choose to back you up in a bar fight, but your absolute top choice for the “phone a friend” lifeline on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

What do people think of when they think of you? That’s your personal brand.

Ate Bran Flakes for breakfast. Reading the newspaper. Cat has herpes.

At first blush, social networking would seem to favor the extrovert. People willing to share the minutae of their lives are, after all, the primary target audience for services like Twitter, right?

Yes and no. Sure, there are heaps of people tweeting the mundane, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one of them. It is possible to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to positively affect your personal brand.

I’m on Twitter. I’ve built up a reasonably high-value following there, even earning the label of “persona” according to Klout, a Twitter influence analysis site.

From my Klout summary:

You have built a personal brand around your identity. There is a good chance that you work in social media or marketing but you might even be famous in real life. Being a persona is not just about having a ton of followers, to make it to the top right corner you need to engage with your audience. Make no mistake about it though, when you talk people listen.

I didn’t set out to be a Twitter “persona.” I am neither famous, nor do I work in social media or marketing. What happened is that, as an introvert, I naturally tend not to tweet about every little detail of my day, preferring to tweet about stuff directly related to my work as a web developer as well as engaging with others of like mind. There is a bit of the personal in there, but by mostly keeping it focused, my tweet stream is more valuable.

The introvert advantage

What do you think? Is there more information out there than you have the ability to process? I thought so.

I love extroverts. Some of my best friends are extroverts. But, here’s the thing: extroverts tend to say whatever’s on their mind. Some go as far as to say seemingly everything that’s on their mind. When that gets amplified by social media, it’s overload.

Introverts tend to think about what they want to say before they say it. If it’s already been said by someone else, we don’t feel the need to say it again. If, after a discussion has run its course, there are important points left uncovered, we chime in. For that reason, when an introvert opens her mouth, people tend to pay attention.

Attention is valuable.

The social media race goes not to the swift of keystroke, but to those with the ability to say the most in the simplest terms.

I believe we, as introverts, have a unique ability to focus our attention on the most salient information, synthesize it into digestible concepts and express it in a modicum of words. In a world marketplace increasingly driven more by “word of text” than “word of mouth,” that gives us a powerful lever for shaping a personal brand.


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15 comments


Great post Andrew.

I’d add that (from my experience) introverts value smaller, closer social groups rather than the larger, more loosely connected social groups valued extroverts. As such, the introverts focus is much more about adding value to those relationships, rather than “broadcasting” to their followers.

This, it turns out is another thing that also adds value and increases the likelihood that they will gain influence within their chosen network/s.

Paul

Nice! It’s important to know introversion is a preference and not tied to a social ability. I am a big Myers-Briggs fan (INTJ). The “I” stands for introvert. Andrew have you done this test?

@Paul, great point!

@Shaun, many moons ago, I used to present on MBTI. I’m consistently an INTP according to that instrument. You make a good point, while a person might have a natural preference, it is possible to develop the other side of each of the aspects of personality. E.g., while the stereotype of introverts is nerdy, bookish, and anti-social, many introverts do fine at things like public speaking, networking, etc.

People that know me well laugh when I tell them that in all the psycho-metric tests I always turn up as an introvert, but its true! While I may be confident and outgoing once you know me, certainly I take my time to suss people out before I am comfortable around them. People I don’t suss out think I’m a snob. I’m fine with that, I think they are dodgy or I don’t like them so don’t interact with them.

But I have always been told that introverts are the best ones for a job. They just get on and do it while the extraverts tell everyone about it.

Stacey Childs. Proudly flying the Introvert banner for all to see.

So many times people make the mistake of equating introversion with being anti-social. I like the reminder that what introverts crave more than anything is depth and meaning in our relationships and communications. And the volume of communication (measured in both quantity and decibels) by extroverts can be physically a mentally taxing to us introverts.

Great post and advice Andrew. Personally I think we have to take care in describing people as one or the other. While you’ve shown both characteristics have real positive aspects it seems to me that some people find some pleasure in naming others extroverts but then equating that to them being self-centred and shallow. In the same way the outwardly extroverted may label an introvert as anti-social. Neither is the truth, hopefully your post will go a way to showing extroverts the intelligent reasons behind why introverts are the way they are.

Welcome, everyone coming to the post via Y Combinator.

In the comments there, a couple of people expressed some level of offense taken at being “pigeonholed” or labeled. Please know that’s not my intention here. When I claim that “extroverts say whatever’s on their mind,” that’s just a quippy way of saying that extroverts tend to process externally, something the research predicts and that rings true for me from my experience as a former administrator of the MBTI.

I look at inventories such as Myers-Briggs as tools for helping understand personality tendencies and certainly not as a hard-and-fast predictor of behavior. It’s an attempt to quantify what we all see every day: some people are energized by crowds, some drained. Some people are happy to tell you about their personal lives, some people it takes a crowbar to get it out of them.

I’m not passing judgment one way or the other. Each has its strengths. The point of the article is that, while on the face of it, social media may seem to play to the strengths of extroverts, introverts can benefit from it just as much and may even have a natural advantage with respect to using it to build a personal brand.

Great stuff Andrew. Really well articulated and original.

It’s interesting to see that following on from your point, all of the comments contain actual content ! Ie: there’s no ‘Awesome’, or similar one word comment spam. I guess that denotes the absence of the extroverts here…

Great post Andrew. In a large group I can be the outgoing one, useful for training. In some respects it is bravado. By nature I have always preferred to do one for one or small group discussion. I never really though about it before in the context of brand, its just something you get on with. Your point about the advantage is great, some restraint goes along way. I hope to provide some thing useful or entertaining to friends. Not just fill the space between topics. Problem is when you know too many introverts you end up being the extrovert in the group!

Great insight at the end

also here is a link you may be interested in

Hi Andrew, Thank you for writing this post.

Two topics people ask me about all the time are 1. Networking for Introverts, and 2. How to use Social Media in an authentic, useful way.

I have already forwarded this to several people and will link to it in the next post I write about networking.

You are right on about Personal Branding by the way. Brand is about how you behave, and what others see. This goes for companies too.

Thanks, Patty

Great post! Stumbled across you researching for my series on MBTI and entrepreneurs.

Why knowing your Meyers-Briggs is Essential for a Small Business Owner

May be linking to you soon. If you’d like to consider a guest post, please email me.

I am 70 and only late in my working life did I discover that I was an INTP from a number of tests that I did at work and by myself.

My dictum now is “Know Thyself” which wasn’t originated by Socrates or the Oracle Of Delphi but by the Ancient Egyptians. Theirs was “Man, know thyself.”

Andrew, great idea for a post. You managed to combine what I predict will remain two of the hottest topics in 2010 - personal branding and the introvert advantage.

I like your description of introvert advantages in social media. It resonates for me.

In my coaching/consulting work, I have decided to specialize in working with introverts because they seem to feel the most stressed about promoting themselves, yet they have some definite advantages that I enjoy uncovering with them.

It’s interesting to hear that Patty Azzarello has noticed the same theme in her business coaching.

Andrew, you are so right about how introversion has a negative connotation in Western culture. Even introverts are hard on themselves and try to hide it or change it. I say to explore it and embrace it!

I’m exactly like Stacey, and, again, you wouldn’t think so. Every test I do has me down as an I for introvert, and it is a good thing. I always think that the friendships we make are genuine and solid, and with people we can count on when we ask something of them. We are not fleeting with those relationships. It makes us more dependable, and even the extroverts can’t help but to seek us out.

I love the ‘some of my best friends are extroverts’ bit, which is totally innocent here, but I’ve seen many a blog post where ‘extroverts’ is replaced by someone’s race or religion … the comments get pretty nasty after that!

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