Are Nonsense Words Like “Influencer” Killing Your Personal Branding?

Personal branding isn’t a new concept. In business, it has always been important to build authority and find ways to stand out from the pack.

That’s where personal branding comes in. It’s about becoming memorable to others, in a positive way.

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. – Chris Ducker

We are naturally attracted to accomplished, intelligent individuals. But on the flip side, most of us also have a genuine aversion to what my dear father used to call “bullshit artists”.

That’s why it’s a VERY BAD idea to use nonsense words, like “influencer”, when trying to build your personal brand.

Nonsense words diminish you in the eyes of others

I recently made a Twitter list of titles that may make people roll their eyes:

Twitter post screenshot listing jargon people use in personal branding

The engagement rate on this post was VERY high! The comments and retweets went on for days.  And the list grew quickly, with folks adding on titles like:

  • Mompreneur
  • Influencer
  • Disruptor
  • Champion
  • Magician
  • Warrior
  • Sensei
  • Provoker
  • Futurist
  • Maven
  • Sherpa

I was shocked by how strong the negative reaction was to these nonsense words.

The whole thing got me thinking about how REALLY successful people describe themselves. So I did a little poking around on LinkedIn and here’s what I found:

Successful people stick to the facts

Bill Gates identifies himself as the “Co-chair” of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This is a screenshot of the LinkedIn profile page header for Bill Gates

Oprah Winfrey goes with “CEO, Producer, Publisher, Actress and Innovator”.

Screenshot of the LinkedIn profile header for Oprah Winfrey

I checked out Twitter too. And it became very clear that most REAL influencers don’t call themselves influencers!

Ashton Kutcher has 18M followers and his Twitter profile says “I build things, stories, companies, collaborations of thought, dreams, & believe in a future where we all have a right to pursue happiness.”

Screen shot of Twitter profile header for Ashton Kutcher

Arianna Huffington has 3M followers. She goes with “Mother. Sister. @HuffPost Founder. Founder & CEO of @Thrive Global whose mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic.”

Screen shot of Twitter header for Arianna Huffington

Keeping it simple makes you relatable

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few decades, you know who Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ashton Kutcher, and Arianna Huffington are.

These folks are certainly not struggling to be “memorable”.  But the principles they apply to their personal branding still apply to the rest of us.

They keep it simple. And they use clear, jargon-free language that makes them relatable.

I can’t relate to nonsense words like “visionary”. Truthfully, I don’t know what a visionary does? Do you?

Above all, personal branding is about making REAL connections with REAL people. To make those connections, you need to move away from the crazy titles. Instead, use words that clearly describe what you do and how you help others.

And if the idea of NOT describing yourself as a “disruptor” or “game changer” makes you nervous, it’s time to explore why you are leaning so heavily on these descriptors.

Are you hiding behind jargon?

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are. – Malcolm Forbes

It’s important to ask yourself why you have become dependent on nonsense words.

  • Do you think they make you sound more impressive?
  • Are you copying the personal branding jargon of your competitors?
  • Are your real skillsets and accomplishments “thin”?

At the end of the day, successful personal branding requires both confidence and competence.

As the reactions to my Twitter post clearly showed, NO ONE is impressed by jargon. In fact, the opposite is true.

To be taken seriously and earn genuine respect from your peers and from potential clients, you need to get real.

SHOW is way more impressive than TELL


Describe what you really do.  And add social proof whenever possible.

Social proof is the rocket fuel of marketing! And there are lots of different types of social proof you can use in personal branding, including things like:

  • Client testimonials
  • Case studies
  • Statistics
  • Awards
  • Books and/or Ebooks
  •  Podcasts
  • Publications/websites that have published your authority content

It’s not hard to learn more about “social proof”. Just google it! A good starting point is Neil Patel’s post: “Social Proof: Your Key to More Magnetic Marketing”.

Even the small spaces in social media profiles can accommodate some social proof. For example, here’s what I say about myself on Twitter:

“Digital Strategist, Content Designer, Speaker, Writer, Entrepreneur, 2019 Women Leaders in the Digital Economy Award winner.”

I tell people what I do and I throw in some social proof (award) to demonstrate that I do it well. No jargon!

Screen shot of Twitter profile header for Kim Scaravelli







What if you can’t SHOW anything?

This question speaks to the elephant in the room; the uncomfortable truth you may be trying to hide from others – and from yourself.

Are propping yourself up with jargon because your real skillsets and accomplishments are “thin”?

If so, you need to stop! Because this kind of “fake it ’til you make it” mindset is a BAD long-term plan.

First of all, most people see through it, so you are actually inspiring eye-rolls instead of confidence.

But even more troubling is the risk of internalizing your make-believe grandeur. The more frequently you refer to yourself using terms like “guru” (whatever THAT is), or “unicorn” (seriously?!?),  the more likely you will begin believing that you are one!

There is actually a name for this. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. There’s a great YouTube video called “Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing.

NOT implying that you are incompetent!

I didn’t title the video. I’m just saying that it’s worth watching!

So how do you get from “faking it” to genuine authority?

I recommend starting with a purge of all nonsense words. Look through your resume, LinkedIn profile, social media accounts, etc. Delete everything that sounds like something Kanye West might call himself.

Fill in the gaps with words that describe what you do and how you can help people. And add social proof whenever possible.

If you don’t feel like there is enough “substance” after you are done, it’s time to do an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.

I also recommend getting feedback from others, even though the idea may cause you to break out in stress hives! While this kind of conversation can be awkward (and perhaps a bit hard on the ego), it can provide valuable insights into how others perceive you.

And it can also be a positive experience. There may be attributes and skillsets others notice that you don’t give yourself enough credit for!

Once you have a clear, honest image of where you are NOW, you will be able to create a practical strategy to enhance your skills and build on your accomplishments.

For tips on building your brand online, check out “5 Ways To Fail At Building Your Brand Online – And One Surefire Way To Succeed.”

In summary: Personal branding must be based on ACTIONS not words

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. – Henry Ford

Nonsense words tell people nothing of value. At best, they are pointless, and in some cases they may actually damage your personal branding efforts.

Truly successful people focus less on buzzwords and more on the value they bring into their professional relationships. So if you want your personal brand to shine, you need to start talking about yourself using clear, simple language.

Choose words that define WHAT you do and HOW YOU HELP others.

You absolutely CAN become someone who is recognized for their expertise and wisdom. But personal branding is a process. It takes time and effort to build authority and respect.

You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. – Jeff Bezos

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