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If you’re struggling with how to build your personal brand online, you may find inspiration in this expert’s branding story.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2014

Building your brand can feel like an uphill battle at times. Anyone with a clever idea and the guts to try it can do so on social media’s global platform—and there are a whole lot of people out there with clever ideas.

How do you set yourself apart when there are thousands of people trying to do the same, in the same spaces? Once you get people to visit your social profiles, how do you keep them coming back?

My solution: socks. No, it’s not an acronym. It doesn’t come from an obscure definition buried deep in some dusty reference book, either. I’m talking about the cotton things you wear between your shoes and your feet.

Still not with me? Read on.

Building a Brand From the Feet Up

The “sock thing” started as a happy coincidence, more or less, but it ultimately confirmed much of what I believe about marketing. I’ve long enjoyed wearing wild, vibrant socks, and I would show my latest pair off at speaking engagements on occasion or simply sit with my feet up where people could see them.

After one such engagement a few years ago, Sandy Jenney, a blogger friend whom I like and respect, asked to take a photo of me and my socks, and I was happy to oblige. She posted the photo to Twitter, as did I, then went about my business.

When I returned to Twitter, my feed was jumping—people loved the socks, especially the bloggers attending the conference and those following the conference via social media. They were sending me pictures of their crazy socks. They asked where I found mine and offered sock-shopping tips for when I visited their city. The next day rolled around, and my socks were still a hot topic. Yesterday’s socks were great, but what pair is Ted wearing today?

These days, my social connections get a little worried when I haven’t posted a sock picture in a few days (#tedsockie), and I’m as likely to be asked about my socks by a CMO or CEO as I am by an online acquaintance. Most people are willing, or even anxious, to join in on a sock photo—my socked feet next to theirs—and let me share it with the sock-loving public.


Defining Your Brand

More than ever, your brand is what your consumer thinks your brand is, and your social presence informs the consumer’s opinion in a major way. That’s true for both personal and business brands. I’ve long believed that effective marketing is all about building relationships—connect with people on a meaningful level, and the possibilities are limitless.

The trick is finding a way to engage people, including those who connect vicariously by following your stuff closely without necessarily jumping into the conversation. I’m often approached at conferences or speaking engagements by people who know me, even though we’ve never met. The cool thing is, they’re totally comfortable asking me about vacation pictures, socks and anything else I’ve shared on social channels.

Still … socks?


You might never have guessed that socks could be a great relationship-building tool, but that’s the point. I enjoyed my funky socks long before they became a daily topic of conversation on social. The fun that I have with the whole thing comes from a genuine place. People are able to sense that and engage on a personal level.

Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Show people what you do best and enjoy most, and they will enjoy it with you. Even if they don’t share your interest in a particular topic or hobby, they’ll be drawn to your passion for it.

In a world of carefully scrubbed corporate tweets, simply showing your creative, human side has serious value. After that, building relationships and growing your brand comes naturally. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to pick out tomorrow’s pair of socks.

Photos: Courtesy of Ted Rubin

Originally posted SEP 29, 2014 American Express OPEN Forum blog

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