A Personal Brand On It’s Own Isn’t Enough — You Need Social Capital

Given how much we talk about the power of personal branding, you’d almost think that’s the *only* thing that’s needed to “succeed” professionally. Well…not quite.

Yes, personal branding is important, but it’s actually part of a much bigger equation that creates something we don’t talk about often enough: social capital.

Social capital is defined as the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively. Now, you may be wondering — so, how is that different from having a network?

The thing is, you can have a network without having social capital. Anyone can easily add a bunch of people on Linkedin and exchange business cards at an event and then say they have a “network”. However, the strategic act of building and cultivating relationships is what allows you to create social capital. That social capital then becomes a valuable form of social currency that you can use towards “transactions” for yourself or, even better, other people. You know when a referral you make on someone’s behalf leads to a valuable opportunity? That’s a social capital transaction in action.

Throughout my professional journey, I’ve come to learn that social capital is made up of four important things. Some may have their own understanding of what social capital is, but I’d like to think that some aspect of each of these four things remain consistent:

Authentic personal branding

It’s very easy to tell if your personal branding efforts aren’t genuine. I don’t know about you, but there’s just this icky feeling that you get when I come across someone’s Linkedin post that just feels so fake. When you’re branding yourself, it has to reflect exactly who you are. You shouldn’t try to be anyone else, regardless of how much exposure or success that person seems to be having.

Additionally, when your personal brand is centered in authenticity, this allows you to pivot, if needed, in a way that makes sense to your audience. I recently read an interview in Entrepreneur Magazine with Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers, David and Goliath, etc.), where he admitted that he doesn’t actually consider himself to have a personal brand. He believes it’s actually a little restrictive and we need to think of ourselves as ever-adaptable — open to opportunities wherever they comes. He writes, speaks and creates things on what he genuinely enjoys and then shares that with the world. In fact, he considers himself to be in the “surprise and delight” business. However, whatever he does, it’s always well-received from his audience because he’s authentic.

I recently made a pivot with my personal brand over the last year. What started as me speaking on personal branding and style has evolved to include professional development, diversity and inclusion and social impact. Admittedly, I was a little nervous to begin incorporating these narratives into my content but I’d like to think that because you can see how truly passionate I am about making the world a more inclusive place, my personal brand’s evolution makes sense. That’s why Malcolm Gladwell’s sentiments really resonated with me. I mean, if I convinced myself that I’m not able to evolve my brand to include social impact because people already know me as the “girl who writes about personal branding and fashion”, I wouldn’t have created theConfidence Through Conferences initiative which continues to impact so many women.

Intentional networking

It’s so easy to get caught up in the networking hype. I mean, we literally have our pick of events to attend every single day and in a world that glorifies networking like never before, it’s easy to believe that attending as many events as possible is the key to success.

Networking has to be intentional which means you have to put in a little more effort than just buying your ticket. This means you have to research the event ahead of time to see if it aligns with your goals. You have to look at the speakers, attendees and the organizers to see if they will offer the value you’re looking for. In fact, this is especially important, if you’re looking to invest in an expensive conference.

Don’t get me wrong, you will make a lot of mistakes when it comes to picking events. I’ve done that a few times and I don’t feel bad to walk right out if it’s not a fit for me. For every networking event or conference you attend, you need to have a plan and a clear idea of what a return on investment will look like for you. This is the only way you’ll be able to build and cultivate the relationships that will become valuable for you and the people in your network.


You have to become your own biggest advocate. A strong personal brand and network is nothing, unless you’re able to speak up and let the world know about the incredible work you do. You have to be able to seek out opportunities for yourself (in other words, be your own PR person), whether that’s getting a seat at the table for an exclusive event or being nominated for an award. I know, talking about yourself can feel a little uncomfortable sometimes but think about it this way: you’ve done all this great work, doesn’t it make sense to let people know about it?

Here’s a little secret: I’ve nominated myself for almost every award recognition I have. We often look up to people that get all these fancy awards and wonder how in the world they did that, but you know what, a lot of people step up and advocate for themselves. Once I realized that, I went on a self-nomination spree. You should try it, it’s actually kind of fun. Why wait around for someone to recognize your work when you know the value of your work and how awesome you are better than anyone else? Research also shows that women are less likely to nominate themselves than men. Come on, ladies, we gotta change this.

I remember a time when Michelle Obama was coming to Toronto and I saw that the tickets were outrageously expensive (I love me some Michelle but a girl’s got a mortgage to pay), I didn’t let that stop me from trying to get in the room. I emailed a bunch of people and made my case. Now, of course, unfortunately my efforts didn’t work that time (and trust me, you’d know if it did because if I got a picture with her, it would be my social media header and profile photo until the end of time) but it has worked for other events, conferences and products. The thing is, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. If you want an award, nominate yourself. If you want to attend an event, ask for a seat. It’s simple. And, if you get a No, remember that doesn’t really mean “no”, it means “not yet”.


Last, but certainly not least, generosity is the cherry on top of the social capital equation. There’s no better quote that captures the essence of generosity (in the context of building social capital) than this: you can make room for others while taking up enough space for yourself. It may often seem like an extremely competitive world out there but there are more than enough opportunities to go around. You have to lead with generosity when you’re building and cultivating your relationships. How can you authentically provide value to the people in your network?

As illustrated in the book, Give and Take by Adam Grant, there are 3 types of people in the world:

I’m a giver because I was raised by givers. It’s just in my DNA. However, giving and ‘being nice’ aren’t particularly associated with “success.” In fact, I remember a conversation I had with someone who didn’t really understand why I spend so much effort sharing free resources and giving away free tickets. I can tell you, for a fact, that when I chose to amplify my giving efforts, everything else in my life began to improve for the better. Spending time giving to others won’t take away from your professional success.

The saying, “your network is your net worth” is true — to an extent but without personal branding, self-advocacy and generosity, your network isn’t worth that much at all.

Originally published at www.dowelldresswell.com on October 25, 2018.

Career Writer • TEDx Speaker • Certified Career & Brand Strategist • Visit my career blog: www.dowelldresswell.com

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