What Is the Difference Between Social Selling and Personal Branding?

Social selling and personal branding are terms that are often used interchangeably.1

Are these buzzwords that ultimately mean the same thing?

Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which these terms are often popularly merged together, what they actually mean, and how they have different strategic uses.

What is Social Selling by Definition?

Social selling is the use of digital channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter by sales professionals to connect with prospects. With the ability to research an organization and even a contact with precision and reach out directly, this sales method has gained tremendous popularity and is the leading tactic employed in today’s dynamically changing landscape. Over 76% of buyers feel ready to have a social media conversation.2 Social selling usually entails:

  • Prospect research
  • Building a direct relationship with a contact through outreach
  • Engaging in virtual interactions with current or potential buyers
  • Growing a network
  • Sharing valuable content with your target audience

It is even safe to say that social selling has replaced the notorious practice of cold calling (to everyone’s delight).

The discipline of social selling serves as a paradigm shift from the more typical, traditional, persuasive techniques to the value-first, customer-first approach to capture a prospect’s attention.

The famous copywriter Ray Edwards framed the need for change best by saying: “Stop selling and start serving!”

And the new philosophy is widely embraced for a simple reason: it works! Seventy-eight per cent of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who are not.3

The goal is to build meaningful relationships and trust by providing value and connection, so that you can become the first person or brand ambassador a person will think of for a service or product.

Now, let’s stop for a second here to think: Isn’t this the exact definition of personal branding?

Your Personal Brand — A Picture of You

Even though personal branding also relies heavily on social media to build trust and connection, it comes with a slightly different spin.

While social selling is more focused on the active search for prospects, personal branding goes in another direction. It’s more about the inbound technique of attracting an audience towards you based on your content and the profile you share publicly.

Personal branding helps to transform you into a thought leader that others want to get to know. They want you as a connection in their social network. Personal branding allows you to build the entire “picture” of how you want to be perceived and to demonstrate who you are as a professional. When your personal brand is aligned with your company goals, you will attract new opportunities.

Why should you work on building this picture? Because if you don’t, someone else might. A simple Google search of your name will tell a story about you, and perhaps not the one you want out there. This is precisely what happened when I undertook this same self-assessment years ago, and realized that I was not controlling the dialogue around my name. It motivated me to begin a deliberate personal branding strategy, which ultimately evolved into our popular Digital Executive Social Program.

Don’t Forget, People Buy from People

As a marketing tactic, personal branding grew out of the psychology thesis that people buy from people, not from brands. “Your personal brand is how you promote yourself. It is the unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that you want the world to see in you. It is the telling of your story, and how it reflects your conduct, behavior, spoken and unspoken words, and attitudes. You use your branding to differentiate yourself from other people. Done well, you can tie your branding in with your business in ways no corporate branding can succeed.” – Influencer Marketing Hub4

Read: How to Lead with Authenticity on LinkedIn: A Personal Branding Blueprint

So, Are the Two Different or Alike?

There is a difference in the types of users of both techniques, as well as in their audiences:

  • Social selling is a modern tactic used by sales professionals that uses personalized research to get in front of and connect with ideal prospects.
  • Personal branding is a thought leadership technique that any organizational leader can use to become recognized as an authority in their field. Thought leaders attract new leads, industry peers, partners, competitors and more.

The two support each other. A strong personal brand helps increase the results of your social selling efforts. This is the reason why the terms “social selling” and “personal branding” often overlap. The real power comes when the two concepts are used together to help you build a community of business connections.

Individuals who simultaneously use both techniques – develop and build personal brands while engaging in social selling tactics – are likely to have higher overall success in generating new opportunities.