Instagram and Self-Branding: A Guide You Never Knew You Needed

As a college student, I have found myself stuck in the middle of numerous conversations about internships, job opportunities, career fairs, and yes, the infamous, LinkedIn *cue dramatic sound effect*. Although it always felt like I was being attacked for not having the grandest internship, the most impressive LinkedIn profile or even a blog I could brag about, I kept in mind that those “threats” were nothing but mere challenges I had to face - and so I did, in the most creative way possible, through Instagram.

I learned from one of my Public Relations professors that the best thing you can do for yourself in college is to brand yourself online and leave a digital footprint. Now, you may not have the slightest idea of what he meant, but don’t worry because, at that moment, I didn’t either.

An award-winning creative agency called 36Creative explained that self-branding is “a form of marketing yourself to create a uniformed public image that showcases your values and reputation.” Think of it as your Instagram account, but with more filters for a professional setting.

Leaving a digital footprint is vital to the elevation one’s career. In fact, a 2016 career builder survey emphasized the importance and revealed that 60% of employers use social media platforms to screen potential employees. Basically, employers are professional stalkers that want to see if you would be a good employee for the company.

Don’t panic! To help you, I’ve gathered some tips that show you how to effectively brand yourself online.

Let’s get started!

To help you get started with this whole self-branding thing, you should really ask yourself the most dreaded question any college student ever wants to hear:” Who are you? What makes you special? What makes you, you?”

Get to know yourself more and by that, I don’t mean go soul searching for the sake of rebranding your Instagram account – although I am not against that idea. What I mean is that you should observe what makes you unique. Find something that will give you an advantage from other people in the industry you wish to work in and reflect this in your online persona.

It’s all about the image.

Of course, using Instagram means taking aesthetically pleasing photos, but in this conversation, they must also be photos appropriate for work. Since employers like browsing through your social media accounts, you wouldn’t want them to see any foul language being promoted, or worse, a photo of you at your first frat party of freshman year.  

The images you post should resonate with your personality and no, making a private account won’t help hide your past. It just gives the employer and people in general, the impression that you’re not socially active or updated with technology.

Looking at what brand ambassadors post will help you get a sense of what employers want to see, but it would be more beneficial to look at female fashion bloggers. This is because they have their own ways of promoting their brand, other brands and sharing their personal life at the same time while always keeping it professional.

To broaden this understanding, I read through an original study by Liu and Suh. Based on their data, proper execution of Instagram photos all boils down to three main categories: the type of image, the style of the influencer and the mode of documentation.

First, the type of image. This category will vary depending on your daily activities, but you want to make sure that how you brand yourself to other people, is reflected in how you brand yourself online. If you brand yourself as a person who values other people, then your feed should reflect on how you spend your time with family and friends.

Photo via Chiara Ferragni on Instagram

Photo via Aimee Song on Instagram

Second, your style.This is something that will always vary depending on an individual’s taste and style preference, but the main thing to point out about this is that your style will reflect how other people see you. It’s a self-branding tactic that carries itself outside the realms of social media. If you present yourself as a business casual kind of person online, you should try your best to harness this quality of yours in person.

Photos via Aimee Song on Instagram (left) and Emma Leger on Instagram (right)

Third, the mode of documentation. Because Instagram has various features that let you share not only photos but also videos, vlogs, tutorials and linked blogs, choosing which mode of documentation to use is going to be your best friend.

Photo via Julia Engel on Instagram (left) and Chriselle Lim on Instagram (right)

Sticking to photos will be the easiest option for anyone trying to build their personal brand, but if one of your key characteristics is outgoing, try to incorporate some vlogs or videos that showcase how outgoing you really are. Perhaps you also describe yourself as a photographer, then you could post some of your work or even a tutorial on how to edit photos. This will not only market you as having artistic skills showcase how a person with a good work ethic and technical competency.

Values-driven marketing

In the study I read about the top female fashion bloggers and how they brand themselves on Instagram, it was found that most of the bloggers took to account their beliefs and values when it came to be branding themselves. The most marketed advocacies in the previous year were women empowerment, anti-animal testing, and LGBTQ+.

This self-branding tactic created a safe space for bloggers to amass more attention by their participation in such movements and empowerment advocacies. Doing so, they were able to build this entirely different image of theirs from a fashion blogger to a real social media influencer. It’s part of their brand that they influence other people around the world, but adding that they influence for a good cause makes them more reputable than before.

When marketing yourself online, remember to include your own values. Marketing yourself as an advocate for social change will not be effective compared to when you market yourself as an advocate for social change and actually present yourself as someone who does.

Consistency and Authenticity

After figuring out how you want to brand yourself online, if you really understand how self-branding works, then you must keep in mind consistency and authenticity.

In self-branding, being consistent works co-dependently with being authentic. If you want to effectively brand yourself, you must be sure that everything from your offline persona to your online persona, is consistent. If you wear certain clothes online, show people that you’re the same person offline. The same goes for what you stand by. If you believe in women empowerment offline, then incorporate that in some way through your Instagram account. This gives people, and most importantly, the employer, the idea that you’re very consistent and authentic – something that a lot of employers look for in the hiring process.

This role of consistency also applies to other online platforms because to be consistent in self-branding, you have to carry a common “look” or aesthetic to what you’re trying to come off as. For example, I like to use a consistent color palette in all my media platforms, and I like to carry a very modern, chic kind of style in my photos. This helps my personal brand carry consistency and authenticity because this is also how I present myself offline.

Because of the digital age we have become accustomed to, we know, and employers know that consistency and authenticity is difficult to achieve online. But I mean, who wants to be broadcast as one of the fakest people one has ever met?

Your online persona is what gives people a glimpse of your personality. Just like when we first hear about someone, we Google them or look their Instagram up to see how they are as a person. We use social media as a basis for someone’s personality and the same idea goes for employers. Imagine if an employer saw your name in a list of recommendations and they looked up your Instagram account. What do you want them to see? What do you want to come off as?