Identifying Your Personal Brand: A Chat with Josie Ahlquist

By Christina Ferrari

“When it comes to branding, no one wants to think they’re just a ‘thing’ or just a ‘niche’. It seems limiting, but it is actually the opposite of that. Developing a personal brand credits you. It puts me in control of my story.”

When I first learned about the concept of “personal branding” I cringed a little bit. I’m not Pepsi, FUBU, or Apple—I’m not a product, I’m a person.  As a recent graduate and new professional, I was told time and time again that I have to discover what I am interested in and seek out opportunities to learn more and share insights with the field. That’s great but I’m someone with a lot of interests (leadership, civic engagement, women’s development, technology, interfaith and spiritual diversity to name a few). Those who have read my other posts know I’m more than just a student affairs professional—I’m also an actor, traveler, and a dancer. So, I struggled with thinking of what my “brand” would be. Can I really consolidate all of my passions and who I am professionally into a neat little package? How do I make others “get” me on a personal and professional level? Let’s face it, I’m a complex person. We all are.

This was before I chatted with Josie Ahlquist, doctoral student at California Lutheran University who studies social media and leadership in students, student affairs professionals, and higher education leaders such as university presidents and SSAOs.  Social media is a powerful force in Josie’s life. Not only does it influence her research, but her partner Lloyd is a YouTube entertainer and he has created a brand for himself as a rapper, @theepiclloyd. In a world of YouTube videos, he identifies himself as someone who can offer unique entertainment like rap battles of famous figures in history and culture (i.e. Stephen King vs. Edgar Allan Poe).
Over the course of my conversation with Josie, I realized that personal branding is about telling your story—who you are, what your talents and passions are, and how you want to be remembered in the world. Blogs, vlogs, videos, tweets, and check-ins, and Instagram pictures are just ways to communicate with others who you are and what you offer that no one else can.
In February 2013, Josie started an experiment where she blogged for 50 days straight. Blogging was a way for Josie to find her voice; she used social media as the platform to develop her personal brand. She shared about her personal life as a wife and as a doctoral student. She reached out to folks she identifies as “doers”—the go-getters and achievers in her life and interviewed them to feature on her blog. As her blog evolved, so did her self perception and how she wanted to share herself with followers. Her blog influences her brand and visa versa.  “When it comes to branding,” says Josie, “no one wants to think they’re just a ‘thing’ or just a ‘niche’. It seems limiting, but it is actually the opposite of that. Developing a personal brand credits you. It puts me in control of my story. My thoughts, my opinions directly from me.” As Josie pointed out during our talk, perceptions of each and every one of us is already out there. By developing a personal brand and using online tools to communicate your brand, you take control of what is important to you. 

So, how does one start to develop a personal brand? “Take it in baby steps” Josie advises. For her, it was consistently blogging. Think about building your own website or starting a Twitter account. One thing Josie stresses is that it takes time, “brands evolve, as do people. Take [building your brand] in baby steps, get feedback from those you trust, redesign your blog, make it more professional as you continue to find your professional voice.” For example, on Josie’s website,, she thought about her “About Me” page for weeks. What did she want to share online? What information did she want to keep private? What you share and how you share it are decisions only you can make. Just remember that once it’s out there, others can and will see it.

“Blogging and social media can be great reflection tools,” Josie says. She recommends that you read and follow closely professionals that resonate with you or have similar interests. Work toward making your Twitter and Instagram look the same and feel like it’s all coming from one voice. Insert yourself in Twitter conversations, read about K-12 education, participate in #SAChat each week and remember it’s always a work in progress. There are a lot of social media tools and avenues out there, so how do you avoid getting overwhelmed? “If it’s not fulfilling to you, you don’t need to do it” Josie claims. Start small and commit to consistency.
Finally, Josie suggests to harmonize your online presence with your offline self. How do you want to be known and what do you want to be known for? Ultimately, I’ve come to understand personal branding as not your cute catchphrase or consolidating yourself into a tangible, sellable product with a target market and marketing strategy. Rather, it’s about authentically sharing yourself so people can understand what you bring to the table.

I’m so grateful to Josie for her time and for allowing me to share some of her lessons learned with you all. As I build my own brand and think about who I am professionally, it’s been inspiring to see how others in the field have carved out a niche for themselves and shared it with the world. I encourage you to learn more about Josie by visiting her website,, and follow her on Twitter: @josieahlquist.

Have a comment about this post or a topic you want me to blog about? Let me know! Tweet me at @cm_ferrari3 or shoot me an email,

Til next time,


Student Affairs - the First Years

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