What is social proof?
Social Proof is a series that shows how ambitious people create and grow their personal brand to inspire others. Social proof has two meanings. It can be used to’replicate the actions of others to achieve similar results’ or ‘to demonstrate the power of social media for growing a personal branding’. We want to share insights that will help you bring these meanings to your personal brand.
We interview Steph Smith, one of the most prominent examples of creating a personal brand for the second edition.
Steph Smith is a multihyphenate who has a career that spans ten years. As their podcast host, she recently joined Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), which is a venture capital company. She was also the Director of Marketing at Hubspot Creators, where she led Trends At The Hustle, a premium newsletter publication that was acquired by Hubspot.
Steph is involved in many side projects, including her book Doing Content Right as well as the podcast Sh*t You Didn’t Learn in School. Steph was naturally the best person to launch Social Proof. She has been creating content for her own brand since 2018 and is actively involved in creating it.
Steph tells us interesting stories throughout our conversation about how she built her Twitter following to over 118 000 followers. She started by sharing her progress learning code.
How can people with different interests and talents find the right thing for them? And how can they channel that into intentional online personal branding growth? We find out what Steph does in this interview.
This interview was edited and condensed to make it more concise.
Q: Steph, welcome and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! We wanted to begin by asking you how personal branding is defined.
Tim Ferriss once stated that everyone has their own personal brand, no matter how many followers you have. I agree. It is the perception others have of you. You could, for example, be associated with an industry or a level of intelligence.
Building a personal brand is fascinating to me because it allows you to grow as a person and your brand can also evolve. Sometimes, the way people view you and your goals can be disjointed. Other times, they align very well. It is always interesting to see how others view your brand and how you perceive yourself.
Q: This is a fascinating way to look at it. Everyone sees you in one way, but you don’t have control over that image. My next question is: How did you create your personal brand?
That’s why I like this question. Because I believe I was intentional in some ways. However, I believe that your personal brand can sometimes be out of reach. This is because I have built many things in the past few years and those inputs can be considered intentional. However, I cannot always control what people attach to.
One example of something people have taken to me that I did not expect, nor did I intend to seed, is my “content person” status. People might respond that people see you this way because you have a blog or a book. But I didn’t view myself that way. You will do things and you will work so hard that at times you are effectively shouting, “Hey! View me this way!” People won’t. Contrary to this, others will begin to attribute you to things and people you don’t do.
Question: What keywords would describe your personal brand?
If I were to label myself, I’d use the terms ‘curious’, ‘thoughtful/intentional,’ and ‘transparent.’
Curiosity : My curiosity drives everything I do. That’s why I think I do it more than most creators who test many things and then decide what works. Then they will double down on what is popular. While this is a lucrative route and can be more profitable, I prefer to pursue what interests me and has a market need. However, I have also managed to do so while keeping my full-time job and my creative pursuits separate.
Thoughtful/intentional: One thing I always hope comes through in my work is that it’s thoughtful. What I mean when I say thoughtful is that I create something because I want it. But I also try to do the best I can to make it more popular or sell more. My book, Doing Content Right, is an example. I have never advertised for it or promoted it in ways I consider sleazy.
Transparent – When I learn …, something, I share it. This is just like when I learned how to integrate with Google API. That was something I knew maybe a fraction of the world wanted. So I decided to take the time and write it up. I have done similar things hundreds of times, including building my open page. Because I view the space as positive-sum, I believe I am more transparent than the average creator.
Q. You mentioned experimentation as a method to develop a personal brand. Can you expand on this?
Look at those creators who have maintained their audiences for so many years. They’ve had to reinvent themselves numerous times. As strange as it may sound, putting enough of yourself out there means that there are more people who will grab onto something.
It’s almost like a start-up. Startups must keep iterating, trying new things, and constantly putting out different versions of their product. They can’t control what the market wants. They can make enough versions and run enough tests to have enough chances to find the right product-market fit.
Question: What are some moments in your professional life when you have to change or iterate on the vision of your personal brand?
Yes, I can recall many points on my journey. Because I received my chemical engineering degree, I was able to pivot when I first entered the workforce. The jobs that were available weren’t what I wanted, but they were mostly in oil and natural gas. That was my first evolution. Even though I considered myself an engineer and had put so much effort into my degree, I needed to try something else.
After I started my career in consulting, I had a clear plan of action. But then I decided I wanted to work remotely. I had to reinvent my self again. This led me to tech, and gave me an interesting point where I was asked to head a publication team. It’s not that I dislike being called a content person. But, I did it anyway and it was a wonderful decision.
I had to let myself be someone I never thought I could be. Steph Smith, host of the a16z podcast
Another example was when I had to accept myself as someone I hadn’t considered being. This is also when I began creating online content and coding. I was creating indie products using code. I thought that this would be my “thing”, a way to identify myself as a woman working in tech. I also started writing about it. Then I began writing about writing, writing about content.
There have been many changes in my life that required me to rebrand myself. It was, however, a matter of following my passions and taking advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves.
I have tried to separate myself from my identity and how it views me. Instead, I try to focus on what I am interested in at the moment. I couldn’t have predicted becoming a podcaster full-time. This was another major phase shift. I had to let go of what I knew in order to start something new. I think it has been easier now that I view myself as a multihyphenate.
Q: As a multi-hyphenate, have you done a lot in podcast hosting, programming, and writing? One thing that unites all of these projects is the passion and effort they put into them. Are you looking at your projects as a way to grow your personal brand? How can you link these efforts together to create the image you want people to remember you?
Yes, I will be able to relate to my personal brand in every thing that I do. It’s a fact that I cannot help but notice. It is the things that have the greatest impact on many people that are most important. Every little bit counts, so I do my best to make a difference, no matter what the situation.
Every thing I do is related to my personal brand. It’s a vehicle for that brand. However, ultimately, the driving force behind that vehicle is my performance in all those situations. It’s hopefully more positive than it is negative.
You can’t control what people think of your work. But you can influence how people view your brand by the projects you pursue, and the manner in which you pursue them. Many creators fall on the slippery slope that I described earlier. If your work isn’t up to your audience’s standards and appears like a money grab then you have damaged your personal brand. It’s hard to regain that trust.
Q: I would like to learn more about the role of social media in building a personal brand. You are very active on Twitter. Would you say that Twitter is the most important platform you have used to increase your online presence.
Twitter is my main platform to grow my online presence. The “why” is simple: Twitter is where I spend the most time and it’s easier than other platforms to create content.
Because I am so focused on Twitter, I would love to explore other platforms. However, I have to think about a simple content marketing question: “Where is my audience?” If I am talking about technology, TikTok has a lot of information. That’s one example of a platform I am considering exploring.
Question: How has growing your online presence, especially on Twitter, helped you in your career?
In 2018, when I started learning to code, I wasn’t active on Twitter so I deleted my account and began with zero followers. Nobody knew me or why I was interesting.
From where I stand today, I can confidently state that many of my roles in recent years have been supported (or at the very least, were heavily supported) by my presence on social media and my personal projects. Not my official resume. This is one example: how I joined The Hustle. Sam, founder of The Hustle, saw an article I wrote and shared it with a prominent VC. At that point, I had maybe three thousand followers. He discovered my work and subsequently, he bought The Hustle from HubSpot.
A: You have had the experience of starting over on a new social media platform. What would you suggest people with a low to no presence use to help build a personal brand?
If I were just starting out, I would find out what interests me most and then double down. That way, I could share what I learn and be known as someone who is truly interested in the subject. Once you’ve built a bit of a following you can start to focus on other things.
Although this may seem counterintuitive to what I have said about evolution and experimentation as a way of growing your personal brand, it is essential that you start with one seed and nurture it.
Q. Before we close, do you still have any thoughts?
Millions of people create content. It’s important to find a niche that people will be interested in and provide them with a reason for following you. This can be done by choosing the topics that you discuss.
A second way that many people overlook, but can be just as powerful, is how you talk on a topic. There are many people who write daily about technology, for example. There are some influencers who do it better, and many of them are younger. They may be more funnier, more contrarian or more visually oriented. It’s not about how much time you spend on a game, but also how it is done.
These are just a few of the ways Steph can help you build your personal brand for your journey.
- Build your personal brand. No matter what you do to build your brand and online reputation, bring your best self. Make sure you are prepared for speaking engagements and create quality content. Treat every project as an extension to yourself. Transparency is an excellent way to be intentional about your goals. Steph gained a lot of knowledge with both transparency and authenticity as she shared her coding journey and indie project experiences on Twitter. This article will give you some ideas on how to be transparent and stay in control.
- Be open to new ideas: Experimentation has been a major theme in Steph’s life. You can experiment with different content formats and tackle new topics. The small businesses mentioned in this article know how to try new things.
- Focus on one area. When you are just beginning to create content for your personal brand it is important to be known for something. This will help you establish credibility and expertise, and give your audience something to relate to. It is important to balance the art of trying new things without taking on too many tasks at once. This can be difficult – at the risk that it may sound repetitive – but time is not as important as how you do your work. You can inspire people to be curious by taking a different approach to your chosen topic or field. This article contains some great TikTok creators to inspire you.
- Be open for new experiences:Steph said she was hesitant about taking on the role of head of publications as she had never done it before, but decided to go ahead. It’s crucial to be open to taking on new challenges if you want to increase the growth of your personal brand. Although it can seem scary to put yourself out there, it can also be very rewarding. This article will show you how to open new opportunities for yourself through your online presence.
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