From the moment I started my career as a Social Media Associate, I had one eye on my Tweet Deck and the other on the Creative Department. That mysterious bunch, crowded in the corner, tattoos dancing in the glow of oversized Mac monitors. They always looked like they’d been styled for a photo shoot, doodling things, making stuff, creating. Magnetized, I wanted in. I wanted to be a Copywriter.

Because of that, I thought it smart to sit down with the Creative Director who hires the Copywriters—you know, find the common ground on which to schmooze, then go in for the kill with questions about what she looks for in an ideal candidate and how I might position myself for an inter-office transfer.

The meeting went far off script. So far, in fact, that instead of leaning into a hasty transition out of the world of social monitoring and status updates, I sat back with folded hands listening to her rattle off creative commandments through pursed lips.

  • Thou shalt have a degree from a copy portfolio school.
  • Thou shalt have three years experience at an ad agency.
  • Thou shalt have working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite software.
  • Thou shalt own at least two pairs of Warby Parker glasses, be an active member in a band, and always wear some expression of mint.
  • No exceptions.

    Awesome, I thought. I’ve got none of the above. Defeated, I went on feeling frustrated for weeks, dividing my time between pity partying and researching online copy schools. I pouted over price tags for a while and whined to friends and family for even longer—until finally, something one of my mentors, Ellen Curtis, said interrupted my periods of deep and meaningful brooding.

    “IRL vs. URL.”

    Translation: Who I was IRL (in real life) would never be admitted into the Creative Department. At that point in time, my Jansport was still in sight and I had absolutely zero postgraduate or relevant work experience. My only hope was vested in my newly minted diploma.

    But who I was about to become—online, that is—could make me a total shoe-in. Basically, I realized that I’d have to paint myself onto the internet’s canvas as the insightful, playful, sharp-witted writer I wanted to be seen as. Then, I could use that portrait to shape perceptions and influence impressions. I’d market myself as if I were a brand and manage my online reputation how I saw fit, ensuring that the iron-fisted dragon lady of a Creative Director would see my worth despite her valuable checklist.

    For the record, digitally dressing for the job I wanted (not the one I had) worked to my advantage, and six months later, I became a Copywriter in the Creative Department. Here’s how devoting time to my personal brand helped the train leave the station.

    Identify

    After this epiphany, I reflected on who I had been prior to salaried life, as well as who I wanted to be moving forward. I spent days probing and exploring my beliefs, skills, passions, and natural gifts.

    And I realized that, in college, I had never focused on one particular talent—I was well-rounded, and I liked that. A modern-day Renaissance woman, I loved baking, running, traveling, reading, making music, and beating jokes to their bitter ends with friends. Not a single one of those hobbies held more importance than another.

    But suddenly, I heard that same mentor’s voice in the back of my mind saying, “If you want to be known for everything, you’ll be known for nothing.” The switch flipped. I finally whittled away the philosophical funk that came with posing the “Who am I?” questions and arrived at a clear understanding of what makes me me. What I wanted to be known for wasn’t food or travel or music or social media. It was writing.

    Own

    Once I identified that my personal brand should be built around my writing, I defined my niche as a blogger and carved out a corner of the web for myself. Elbowing the mommy bloggers, fashion bloggers, art bloggers, food bloggers, and weird bloggers, I committed to the lifestyle lane and built my brand on this pillar of truth: In a competitive environment, only the fascinating succeed. I had to be interesting. I had to share content worth liking.

    So, whenever I attended an unusual event, like the Lavender Festival in Paso Robles or Kinfolk’s Honey Harvest Party in San Francisco, I’d recap the day’s wonder on my blog. But to make it more than a digital diary––I’d share playlists that I curated, recipes that I had shamelessly three-peated in a week, and all my travel stories. I wrote in vulnerable sincerity about my father’s death and the 10-day stint I spent in Israel, where I ran a 13.1 mile race and felt feelings deeper than faith. I let people in. Finally, I found a way to use that college well-roundedness: Combine it all in writing, and do it in a way that no one else could.

    Terrifying, yes. Intimidating, definitely. But getting that impassive Creative Director to give a damn about me and my work? That made it all worthwhile.

    Amplify

    A wise woman once told me that if you’re the smartest, most creative, most strategic person in the hemisphere, it doesn’t matter if nobody knows. So, I turned up the volume on my personal brand and shared my blog posts on three main social channels: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Tastefully evangelizing, as I like to call it, I made the world aware of my new content and kept a close eye on my blog’s analytics. And you know what? With every social blast, the line chart of my unique visitors mimicked the image of a plane climbing in altitude.

    It is worth mentioning that I struggled with the notion of narcissism—what if people think I’m in love with myself with all these me-related-posts? What if they get annoyed with how often I promote my own writing? But to my great and welcomed surprise, the opposite reaction dominated the poles. An overwhelming majority of friends and strangers positively responded to the links I sent through the ethers. Their reactions were humbling and energized me to keep writing. Keep producing. Keep creating.

    Over the course of six months, those steady waves of status updates, tweets, and email blasts built awareness around my personal brand. As my friends, acquaintances, and followers scanned their Facebook news feeds or Twitter streams, they’d see a post telling them that I had updated my blog. They’d know to go check it out. Soon, office friends started hitting the share button, which spread my blog to even more people in more networks. Eventually, this word-of-mouth social chatter transformed into word-of-mouth office convos.

    And bit by bit, I went from being “that girl in the Social Department” to Nicole, the writer. With co-workers talking about my word-girl talent, it was only a matter of time until someone of decision-making importance caught wind of it all and took a look at my unorthodox qualifications.

    And she did.

    Stay tuned: In Part 2 of this series, I’ll share more about how my personal brand paved the way for internal networking, propelling my transfer from Social Media Associate to Copywriter.

    Photo of Creative Department courtesy of Shutterstock.