Boost Your Career Online: Personal Branding Opportunities via Social Media

Written by  Jonas Bergholm

The personal branding idea was first used to target leaders in different areas and celebrities, but have evolved to become an important tool for the populace (Labrecque, Ereni, & George, 2010).

There is an abundance of articles and models on how to work directly with social media to build a personal branding identity online. Many of them are based on traditional branding theories that actually seem to work effectively. In comparison, there is little research and studies on indirect personal branding. We have to be aware that recruiters most likely will observe our personal identities online, regardless of whether we actively try to optimize them or not. Furthermore, existing models and theories for personal brand optimization are complex and involve many-step procedures which are impracticable to use on a daily basis or targeted at established leaders rather than the general public. For example the models Rampersad (2008) use in his article.  This paper will thereby contribute a simplified framework that the general public can use to create a wholesome personal brand through social media.


When talking about marketing and branding a multitude of scientific language and traditional models are used in the present research field. There is brand equity, brand positioning, brand personality and brand identity just to name a few (Aaker, 1996). Many of these classic brand theories are also used in contemporary research on personal branding. There is Personal SWOT analysis (Rampersad, 2008), Brand Identity and Brand Positioning (Labrecque, Ereni, & George, 2010). Shepherd (2005) goes back to core marketing principles to explain how a consumer-oriented approach can have a big impact in personal branding.

Due to the emergence of social media there have been a power shift to consumer within the marketing world (Barwise & Meehan 2010) but have of course a great impact in many other areas as well. Barwise and Meehan (2010) contend that it is even more important for companies now to handle their basic marketing in the new social media era. There are four critical pillars within an organization’s branding through social media according: customer promise, building trust, continual improvement and innovation. 


Ashforth and Mael (1989) argue that individual identities are based upon perceptions of inter alia group belongings. There are identities within an organization, often embodied within organizational culture and/or values, and there is an individual identity for each employee (Alvesson & Willmott, 2002). Today a person’s career and work is something vital, something to identify himself or herself with (Liar, Sullivan & Cheney, 2005). The authors argue that people in general do not see their jobs as “just a job” but more of a strong symbol for identity recognition.

Web 2.0

There is a broad range of viewpoints on how to define this particular topic (Getting, 2007; Fuchs, Hofkirchner, Schafranek, Raffl, Sandoval & Bichler, 2010). To avoid any confusion I will use Fuchs at al. (2010) definition: “…Web 2.0 as a medium for human communication”. (Since today’s online recruitment process takes place within the Web 2.0 concept I will exclude Web 1.0 and Web 3.0.)


Two different sources of empiric data will be used to discuss the topic. There is quantitative data from Jobvite (2012) who conducted a Social Recruitment Survey and there is qualitative data from Labrecque, Ereni, and George (2010) who constructed digital brand audits with twelve participants, conducted detailed interviews and used HR professionals to evaluate the results.

Quantitative data

The survey includes a lot of interesting data that has to do with social media recruitment. Based on the survey 73 percent of the approached organizations use some kind of social media in the recruitment process and 19 percent plan to use social media in the near future. The most popular social media to use for recruitment is LinkedIn followed by Facebook and Twitter. 89 percent of the total hiring through social media so far has been via LinkedIn. The probability for a recruiter to look at different social profiles is 86 percent (Jobvite, 2012).

There are some common specific characteristics that recruiters look for. They have a positive attitude towards volunteering work and earlier professional membership within some organizations. Whilst social remarks concerning illegal drugs, sexual allusions, profanity, misspelling and alcohol are more viewed in negative light (Jobvite, 2012).

Qualitative data

Research done by Labercque, Ereni & George (2010) shows that recruiters form judgments from examining candidates’ social media profiles and gives some interesting insights into how they do so.

Participant “Brian”: 25 years old, single, graphic designer, almost 1000 friends and 2000+ photos on Facebook, and run two blogs.

“Artistic, creative... Photos are sophomoric, pornographic and sarcastic. Funny but mean at the same time.If I were seeking creative, plugged inpeople, I would certainly consider him for design jobs. As a professional person in a mainstream company I would be concerned about his hip/hop references that are not politically correct.”

Participant “Charlotte”: 28 years old, divorced, organizer/artist, 37 friends and 29 photos on Facebook, one blog.

“Artistic, images indicate interest in culture references. Sexual overtones in thissome photos suggestive as well as a post, I'm feeling horny.Her mother has posted a message hereappears to be a very open person.”

Participant “Milo”: 27 years old, divorced, IT manager, 25 friends and 116 photos on Facebook, no other activity.

“Very interesting person. I would like to meet him, although I feel I would have a tough time relating. Good valuesimpression based on his quotes about becoming a person of value and the other being a vegetarian. Has self-knowledge and comfortable sharing his storySelf-proclaimed GEEK, expect him to be smart and articulate.”


I think all these classic research approaches are utterly important when talking about personal branding. These research articles and concepts form the foundation for further discussions of personal branding. It is also these theories and models on which I base my framework, The Quadruple-A Model, which will be used to discuss and conclude the research within this paper.

The 4-A Framework

The Quadruple-A Model is based on four simple keywords that ordinary individuals should bare in mind when approaching their personal branding via social media for recruitment purposes. To start with there is Ambition, which is answering where you want to go in your career. Awareness encompasses many different aspects that you need to think about in the process, including what key knowledge companies are looking for or what values and culture these companies have. Then there is Attachment which stands for hard work and consistency and Availability which means that you must be present online and easy for the recruiters to find.


It is important to know where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Are there any particular achievements you want to fulfil? There might be some potential gaps to overcome in order to realize your ambitions. For example, Ashforth and Mael (1989) suggests that an identity could be based on a sense of belonging to a group. Maybe you need to fill this “identity gap”; or maybe you need to update your knowledge in some professional areas.

When you know your career ambitions you can confidently move along with your personal branding process.


This is a broad topic that spread over several categories. In this stage you need to think about your brand identity, who am I? But also your personal brand position, what is my unique selling point, how can I highlight myself, and how can I differentiate myself from others?

But you also need to see from the recruiter’s point of view. What is the organisation looking for in terms of knowledge and what values does the organisational culture hold? And even more importantly, what are the recruiters looking for when scanning hundreds of social media profiles? You need to be aware that inappropriate pictures and posts can cost you an interview. Maybe it would be good for “Brian” to know that his posts about Hip Hop were politically incorrect and had a negative reception. Similarly, for “Charlotte” to know that she had used an offending phrase on her Facebook.


Your devotion to this work must be authentic. Based on theories and data I will say that posting some image boosting posts now and then will do wonders for your future career. Keep yourself updated on organisational values and search for knowledge. Remember that Barwise & Meehan (2010) emphasize that it is the customers who have the power and you who have to please.


If you are hiding on the Internet it is impossible for recruiters to find you, and can therefore miss a great opportunity. Today, LinkedIn is by far the most frequently used social media for recruitment purposes, followed by Facebook and Twitter. Hashtags and SEOs are also ways to increase exposure and opportunities.


In today’s world, creating and managing a personal brand online has become essential, both for direct recruitment through recruitment sites, or via indirect background research. If you are not careful with your social profiles you can easily miss an opportunity.

This article has summarised existing theories and data on the growing prevalence of online personal marketing, and has consequently developed a simplified framework that individuals can keep in mind when managing their own personal brands. The Quadruple-A Model captures the main ideas within four keywords: Ambition, Awareness, Attachment, and Availability. These concepts aim to help individuals manage their personal branding successfully and with more ease than previous models and theories.


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