What do people who make their personal brand stand out have in common?  What makes leaders in the social media realm make a difference? This week, George B. Thomas broke it all down for an audience at the Dream Bank in Madison.

George is an interesting guy. In fact, he shared a lot of the defining moments of his life that made him who he was. He was a high school dropout who ducked death on a Navy ship and experienced a motorcycle accident that taught him what humility meant. George’s vulnerabilities and willingness to expose his own faults underlie his philosophy that who you are is your honest brand, flaws and all.

But as with many social media marketing workshops that are geared for for-profit companies, I had to do what I always do: translate the basics in my head to apply to nonprofit communications work. Sometimes it’s hard. Truth: I had to google what “inbound marketing” meant. It’s sales jargon, but it essentially means drawing people in, explaining who you are and what you’re worth, and enticing them to engage with you. It’s what nonprofit communications folks do every day, even if we don’t think of ourselves as inbound specialists.

Here’s what I took away from George’s talk on building a successful personal brand:

-       Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable – you’re putting yourself out there each day you tweet or post or snap. And even if you aren’t an expert at what you do, it’s ok. You learn as you go. You can share what you are learning with others and they will learn from you.

In the nonprofit communications world, that might mean not waiting for perfection and a mastery of a social media platform to use it. Experiment! Maybe your first Facebook live post looks really bad. But keep trying. Learn and adapt.  

It might also mean revisiting your organization’s crisis communications plan. The best examples of crisis responses are when organizations (or companies and public figures) own up to their mistakes and take quick action to make it better. In case you missed the recent post on the Nonprofit Quarterly blog about how White House spokesman Sean Spicer is an example of what NOT to do, it’s tongue-in-cheek but true.

-       Your Executive Directors have a brand too (whether they like it or not) – In the same way vanguard companies have Captains who steer their ships (Bill! Mark and Sheryl! Steve!), your executive director and your most public-facing staff also have a brand. Their brand can matter, if they choose to use it.

It’s the communications staffers’ jobs to put their leaders’ opinions and perspectives out there in a way that makes a difference. Whether you work on environmental issues or child welfare and public schools or the arts… your director’s opinion about the root causes of social problems or lack of access to resources or the reasons for injustice can influence the public debate. Help them think about their brand and how they can use their influence.

-       All of our community’s social media influencers have these things in common – From being vulnerable enough to experiment and make mistakes, to learning as they go and teaching others, to collaborating and supporting each other (even with a friendly retweet or like), the things George outlined are all things our community’s leaders have in common. I follow Josh from Reverbal Communications @ReverbalC, Chelsey from designCraft Advertising @ChelseyHelen, Andrew @andrewfoxwell and Gracie @GracieFoxwell of Foxwell Digital, Don Stanley @3rhinomedia and Spencer X Smith @spencerXsays who are just a handful of people in Madison who are leading the social media marketing community. 

Who are the Madisonians who you follow for social media marketing inspiration? Tweet your suggestions @UnstuckComm. Good nonprofit communications influencers is a whole other blog post for the future. 

George's full presentation is now available on AmFam's Dreambank website.

Check it out and let me know what you learned! Tweet me @unstuckcomm and be sure to tag George at @GeorgeBThomas. 

The talk on Tuesday at American Family’s DreamBank was a part of the company’s business accelerator program. Worth a look, especially for anyone who is a solopreneur or a small business owner. Learn more about Hubspot accredited trainer George B. Thomas on his website or @GeorgeBThomas on Twitter.