Yeah "personal brand" is a stupid assholish term, but it is what it is. Here's what I know. Listicle style, because I'm classy like that.
1. Figure out a name that says what you want to do, and use that same name for your Twitter and Tumblr.
If you are a writer or a performer or a personality, then sure, use your name. But if at all possible, think of a name that people will remember if you tell them at a party.
Do you want to do a food blog? OK, so look around online for inspiration, and when you've got it, Google it. Does it exist? Back to the drawing board. I find making a list of 10 off the top of your head works great, because usually one of the ideas is workable.
Maybe the name you come up with is "EatCheapBastard." I just Googled and the Tumblr and Twitter don't exist, and there is only 1 Google hit. So you're golden. A perfect Googlewhack. Register the name you come up with on these sites immediately. [Edit: I made a rookie mistake in this post originally and chose a name slightly too long to also fit on Twitter. "CheapBastardEats" unfortunately is 16 characters and not at Twitter's 15-character limit for handles. While Tumblr has no character limits, it's better to keep the name the same for both. I've edited the piece throughout with the new name.]
2. Come up with a mission statement or a little tagline, and make sure that this is the lens through which your posts are focused.
Like say, "xoJane.com is where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded." For my fake hypothetical site, it could be as simple as: "EatCheapBastard is where cheap bastards go to eat. We deserve great food just like everyone else."
Simpler is better. Always. This one-line statement will help you keep the focus on what your site is about.
3. Focused is better. Think about what you really want to do, and keep your site focused to this goal.
I say this as someone who used to do a blog that was all over the place. The focus, I realize now looking back, was to learn how to have fun writing again for pleasure and for myself, be funny, do personal memoir, and mostly: reclaim my voice and identity as a writer. Doing something that is all over the place (like xoJane) can be terrific, but it requires having a bit of a platform and visibility already. To break out from the fray, and especially if you're eventually trying to earn money or get media and TV spots: Focus On One Thing.
4. Put your brand everywhere -- from your sig file to customized T-shirts to free Vistaprint cards.
I've gotten several interviews just by virtue of emailing with people and them clicking on my blog and being intrigued. I used to put my Twitter address onto my New York Post sig file. Was it kosher? I doubt it. Would they allow it now? Probably not. Am I glad I did? Absolutely.
5. Demonstrate lots of value to people who you'd like to cultivate relationships with to promote your brand, and do your research.
I have a lot of people who write to me for advice and favors. That's fine, and I have no problem with people doing this. "It's all part of the game." -- "The Wire." But you know what gets my attention? People who write to me, and show how they're not just asking for a hook-up, they're also trying to help me with whatever hookups they might be able to offer. Even if it's just support. So the exchange is not greedy-grubby-grabby-takey (which, hey, I do all the time, too, it's part of existing as a human being), but demonstrating their value right up front.
Here's a magic phrase: "What can I do to help support you?" (Great for bosses, incidentally, and if you say a tweaking of this in job interviews, you will crush. As in: "I know that my job is to support you, in whatever way I can.")
So here's a note from my new hypothetical blogger at EatCheapBastard that might get my attention: "Hey, I've been tweeting and Facebooking your articles a lot lately, and here's a post I did promoting a piece you wrote on xoJane. I notice you don't do all that many food articles on the site, although I really loved Natalie's piece last week. I think I could do a great article on how I use my favorite dive eatery as a litmus test for all my first dates: what they order, how they eat it and if they make judgey comments. I even had one guy greasy-chicken-wing-shame me on a first date, no lie. Would you be interested? Here is my contact info, and thanks for considering regardless!"
A few things I like about this hypothetical: A. They're making themselves valuable to me as a supporter right from the get go, and it makes me want to help them -- hell, it even makes me feel a bit guilty if I don't (well played!). B. They've done their research. They know the site. Fuck, they even quote a piece from the site and compliment it specifically. Awesome. C. They pitch a specific piece rather than trying to make me do the work. D. They give all the contact info up front and don't make me work for it. E. They give me an out. Thanks regardless. Do I want to help them? Yes, I do.
How excited are you for Day Two of this tomorrow? How are excited are you that EatCheapBastard is still AVAILABLE? So excited, right? That is going to be the best xoJane parody site ever.
Any specific things you want me to address in Day Two? Have you already died in your sleep from too much personal-brand-induced vom? God I hope not. Because it's going to be AMAZE. EatCheapBastard is gonna blow the FUCK UP on Day Two, son.