MJFChat: How to Build Your Personal Brand

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat, recorded on September 28, is focused on building your personal brand. My special guest is Ant Pruitt, a photographer and podcast host, who has done an impressive job of building his own brand across a variety of channels.

Ant has lots of tips and tricks about building your brand via a variety of channels, including Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter and other social channels and more. He also has lots of thoughts on motivation, inspiration and community that have implications for tech professionals of all stripes.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, send me a note at [email protected] (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there….


Mary Jo Foley (00:01):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.Com’s MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, aka your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF Chat is going to be all about building your own brand. And my special guest today is someone who really excels at that task, in my opinion. It’s photographer and podcast host Ant Pruitt. Hi Ant. And thank you so much for doing this chat today.

Ant Pruitt (00:38):
Oh, Miss Mary Jo. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Mary Jo Foley (00:42):
No, I’m so excited. I think this is going to be great. So I think it’d be nice if you wouldn’t mind telling our listeners and readers a little bit about how you got into tech. So I’ll tell anybody who doesn’t know Ant. Ant’s Twitter bio says he’s 33% geek, 33% nerd, 33% dork, and 1% TBD.

Ant Pruitt (01:08):
Nailed it.

Mary Jo Foley (01:08):
I love it. I’m like, that’s the perfect bio, right there. So how did you end up in tech, like how did you get started?

Ant Pruitt (01:16):
Oh my goodness, the thing is when I tell this story, nobody believes it because it does come off as a little bit farfetched, but I decided to get into technology several years ago. It was well, over a decade ago. When I was pumping gasoline into my car, one day. I was leaving work and I’m sitting at the gas pump right next to the Charlotte airport and a plane flew over my head and I’m thinking, wow, it’s so cool to that this plane can fly over here and talk to the tower way over there and talk to the tower way down in Atlanta and just beautiful technology. And as I’m pumping gas, I look up at the attendee, off in the store talking back and forth to another person, pumping gas, sort of, you know, remotely. And I’m like, man, that’s another network. This stuff is all connected. And then I realized, you know what? Technology is everywhere. And quite frankly, I want a piece of that pie. And so I said, I’m going to go and get into technology. And that’s what I did.

Mary Jo Foley (02:18):
Wow. That’s amazing. Like, so you just made a decision and then you went and got your degree or learned on the job,

Ant Pruitt (02:23):
That’s it.

Mary Jo Foley (02:23):
Or, how did you do it?

Ant Pruitt (02:25):
That’s what I did. I got a degree, but most of the learning that I pretty much have up under my belt came from either on the job or just hitting Google. I learned so much doing Google queries and seeing all the different discussions because, you know, if you go to an online forum, a message board, people are pretty passionate about their way of doing technology. So I was able to get a lot of different points of view. And so it really did help when it came down to trying to attack things in my endeavors. I was originally a QA person, doing a lot of software testing, which I loved. And then I got into IT support and ended up managing IT support. And then I got into upper tier IT support, which I really loved because it was so behind the scenes and away from the front end of everything. And it just let me just stare at code and just try to pick the brains of my colleagues or just go through the code and just try to put the puzzle together. And it was, it’s just so much fun. I loved it.

Mary Jo Foley (03:30):
Very cool. So you, you share an area of expertise that many of our readers and listeners have as well. So that’s very cool. So the way I met you was through TWiT. I’m a cohost of a podcast called Windows Weekly, and you actually got to guest on our podcast one time. I’m curious, how did you end up at TWiT? Cause I know you just passed your one year anniversary of moving across country all the way to Petaluma to take the job there. So how did that come about?

Ant Pruitt (04:01):
Another crazy story. Well, I started writing for myself. I started writing a blog many years ago. Again, this is right along the IT careers time. I started writing a blog. So I started reading blogs and I started commenting on blogs and there were a couple of blogs that I read quite regularly. One that was started by Miss Gina Smith and John C. Dvorak. And then I also read TechRepublic all the time. And I’m one of those people that if I read a story from someone and it touches me one way or another, I will write a comment on it because I think that’s good for the person creating the content. And aNewDomain and Gina Smith saw that I was pretty much commenting on their stuff a lot and said, you know what? Your comments are nice. You can write, right? And I said, well, yeah.

Ant Pruitt (04:52):
And would you like to write for us? And it just, yeah. So I took the chance, wrote for them. Then later on a couple of years later, Tech Republic reached out, Mr. Jason Hiner, he was like, dude, yeah, you want to write? I said, sure. It just kept growing. And then TWiT saw one of my by-lines, it was for drone photography and they reached out for an interview and TWiT just apparently they really liked me because I came back a couple times for different segments in the future. And it was just, I just kept growing from there and having my little brand known to them and TWiT became interested in, and offered me the gig. And I said, well, heck yeah.

Mary Jo Foley (05:39):
So I think, I think you’re hitting on a point that I make to people all the time, which is don’t underestimate weighing in, in the comments and sending emails to the authors and responding to videos because I’ve discovered many writers and really smart people that way, because even if they were afraid to contact me that way and they do, then I start watching for them and looking at their comments. And then I’m like, Hey, you’re actually good at this. Like you want to do something more? And I think people get scared, but if you try this, you know, maybe the host or maybe the author won’t care, but maybe they will. Right?

Ant Pruitt (06:19):
Well, you know, I lucked out with it, you know because I know when I write my, when I was writing on my blog, it always made my day to see someone commented on it with something thoughtful, you know, not just a nice read or nice article or a great photo, you know, but something thoughtful that meant they spent some time with it. So I said, I wanted to pay that forward with any content that I read, and this just happened to lead to bigger and better things for me. And I’m so grateful for it.

Mary Jo Foley (06:53):
What kind of blog did you do right off the gate?

Ant Pruitt (06:56):
Oh, it was just totally random because I wanted to just put myself in the practice of writing. Because I’ve always liked creating content one way or another, and I wanted to get better as a writer. And I said, the only way to get better is to write. So whatever crossed my mind, whether it was topical, comical, or sad, or just, you know I tried to do a couple reviews here and there because I knew I wanted to focus on the technology side, the consumer technology side. And I just kept putting stuff out there. Some of it was pretty bad when I look back at it now, but I was still writing, you know? And that’s, that’s how you get that muscle memory down.

Mary Jo Foley (07:37):
It is, it is, Oh, I was going to ask you, if you had to say, what’s the number one priority somebody should have if they’re thinking about establishing their own brand you’re kind of addressing some of that now in talking about starting your own blog. Right? But do you think that’s the best way for somebody to start or do you think they should start with social media and like which social media channels do they pick? What would you say if somebody came up to you and said, okay, how do I do it? How do I build my brand?

Ant Pruitt (08:08):
I always start with, get yourself a website because you own it. It’s yours. You can put whatever you want out there because it’s your message. It’s your brand. And if the internet goes down, then yeah, your website goes down, but you’re not going to see the internet go down, but you will see Facebook go down, you will see YouTube go down. So I always tell people, get yourself a domain, register it and just stick it out to the side. And when you’re ready to write, write. When you’re ready to shoot video, shoot video, when you’re ready to shoot photography, do it. And just don’t hesitate. Put it out there. Don’t worry about people seeing it right out the gate, because nobody’s going to see it right out the gate. Cause you’re brand new, but just get into the habit of creating, right from the get go.

Mary Jo Foley (08:58):
Then, okay, you create, you build this blog. You’ve started your road towards having a public profile. What do you do to get people to see it?

Ant Pruitt (09:08):
Well, that’s when social media comes into play and I will go ahead and tell you firsthand, I am not, I don’t particularly care for social media because of what it’s turned into, but it is a tool. And I use the tools for my work. That’s exactly how I approach it. I try not to take things personal on it, but it is a tool. So you dive into the likes of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, because those are really, really popular and YouTube as well. Youtube is the second largest search engine on the planet. So you dive into that and you establish what you’re trying to present and you stick to it. Even if it’s going to take two months, ride it out because you have to establish your brand and you have to honor your brand yourself before anybody else decides to honor it.

Ant Pruitt (10:01):
If you’re going to be someone that’s just going to do quick tips and tricks, do it and stick to it. If you want to be someone that’s going to be more long form and journalistic do it and stick to it and people will start to recognize, Oh, that’s that person that likes to write long form fantasy stories. Or that’s that person that likes to make sure I get a good laugh to start my Monday every week. You know, whatever it may be, that’s part of building your brand. A lot of people confuse building a brand with building a logo. It’s not the same. You know, your brand is your message. Your brand is your mission. For me, my brand is to create and dominate. And that has confused some people over time, because they assume that I’m thinking go out there and just be all cutthroat and just dominate the opposition.

Ant Pruitt (10:53):
And I don’t mean it that way. When I say dominate, I mean to dominate whatever it is in front of me, that’s going to try to keep me from creating content that day, or just getting my tasks done. Because some days you know this, you will wake up and get ready to write and Windows will decide to just be weird that day.

Mary Jo Foley (11:13):
Yep, many days.

Ant Pruitt (11:13):
And it’s nothing, you did, but it’s just something beyond your control. But you have to find a way to fight through that and dominate that opposition at that time because you still have your content to get out. And so that’s it for me, I’m just going to create and just keep dominating.

Mary Jo Foley (11:30):
So you came up with that as your slogan, basically, right? Create and dominate. And I know you even have t-shirts right? Like you have merchandise, like you really went all out with the slogan, which I love.

Ant Pruitt (11:44):
That’s the thing. I own it. I say it every single day. There’s even a little banner in here in my home when I wake up in the morning and go downstairs to let the dog out or whatever, just to get my day started. I have three little signs on my wall and I slap them as I walk down the stairs. And one of them says, how are you going to dominate today? Because you have to live it. You have to believe it. You know, there’s a lot of people that are out there to come up with these slogans and things of that nature. But how much do they believe in that? You know, if you look at the successful brands out there, start with Nike, Just Do It. And everything is, when you hear that, nobody confuses that phrase with anybody else because Nike, that’s what they do. They just do it. You know.

Mary Jo Foley (12:33):
What are your other two signs? Or do you not want to say that you tap on your way down?

Ant Pruitt (12:36):
If you’re not,

Mary Jo Foley (12:40):
You don’t have to say.

Ant Pruitt (12:40):
I’m trying to, see now I’m trying to remember. One of them I’m drawing a blank on all of a sudden, but I know the second one is if you’re, if you’re not, gosh, I just drew a blank

Mary Jo Foley (12:52):
Now. Cause I put you right on the spot.

Ant Pruitt (12:53):
Yeah. Oh my gosh. But I believe it’s something along the lines of starting the problem. If you’re not helping to solve the problem, you, are the problem. It’s something along those lines, basically telling myself to, you know what, dude, stop complaining, get to work and fix the problem, you know, that’s it.

Mary Jo Foley (13:11):
Yeah, that’s good. Okay. Video. I want to talk to you about video because when we started out talking, you said, you know, you can create, you can write words, which to me is the easiest of the things you described. Or you could take photos or you could do videos. So to me doing video is very intimidating and,

Ant Pruitt (13:27):
It is.

Mary Jo Foley (13:29):
I feel like, you know, people are like, yeah, you just put on a camera and you start talking. Well, there’s a lot more involved than that, right? I mean, you’ve got two shows on TWiT that I believe you have helped create and carve out. One is called Hands-On Photography. One is called Hands-On Wellness. I mean, how do you even start approaching something when you have an idea like that and turn it into your video brand?

Ant Pruitt (13:52):
Oh, it’s, I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard Miss Mary Jo. It’s hard because again, I’m an introvert. And I know when I stepped onto a video camera, that’s a whole different world being opened up,

Mary Jo Foley (14:04):
I hear you.

Ant Pruitt (14:04):
And a lot of different eyeballs. But you just have to, again, it comes down to just owning it. And when TWiT gave me the opportunity to come out here and say, you know what we’d like for you to create a show, they gave me that freedom to say, you know what, create the show, how you want to create it. So I figured if they’re going to give me this opportunity, I need to just go all in with it and don’t hold back. And it was going to be a little uncomfortable to start with. And it was, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it now. And I still battle each and every week, when it’s time to turn on the camera,

Mary Jo Foley (14:40):
You seem really natural. I’m surprised to hear you say you battle.

Ant Pruitt (14:44):
Oh, thank you. Thank you. It’s still a battle. Because again, I’m just sort of personal and private. Like most technology people are, sort of in our own world. We like things in our own little structure and this is just how we are, but it’s something where I just look at it and say, you have to do this. And there’s no other choice about it. Just you have to do it and just go forward. And of course, you’re going to screw up. There’s a conversation between our continuity administration team, which handles all of our ads and things like that. There’s a conversation between them where I joke with them about how bad my ad reads are, because I have to retake and retake and retake and the editors, I’m sure the editor is pulling his hair out because of just how bad I am with it. But again, it all comes with a lot of practice and just make the most of it and have some fun with it. It’s scary, but try to have some fun with it and it’ll make it a lot easier.

Mary Jo Foley (15:46):
That’s good. Good advice. So I know you say you’re not all that into social media channels, but I do follow you on Twitter and I’ve seen you tweeting a lot about things that some people wouldn’t say are on brand. I think that’s up for debate, but I’ve seen you tweet a lot about Black Lives Matter issues, seen you tweet about whiskey. Hey, and I’m a craft beer person. So I’m not against it. But I’m curious how you decide, you know, what you should and shouldn’t do for your brand. Cause some people think, you know, when you’re a brand quote, unquote, there’s certain things that you should just stay focused on. Like you’re a tech guy, you should only blog about tech and only tweet about tech. Like for me, people say you should never ever tweet about politics. That’s not why I follow you. Right. So I’m guessing you’re in my camp, which is you’re the whole person. So you get the whole person when somebody follows you. Right. But how, how do you decide what is appropriate and what isn’t

Ant Pruitt (16:46):
Well, and I agree to an extent to those that say, you know what, you’re a tech person. You should only be sharing out tech content. And that’s helpful when it comes to algorithms, it does help because the algorithm will pick up, okay, this person has in their description that they talk about tech, okay, what are they sending out on our platform? Is this tech related? Okay. 90% of the stuff they send out is tech-related, let’s keep promoting that to other tech minded viewers. And that does help. But at the same time, regular people are also using these platforms, not just tech minded people, there’s people that are just into art. There are people that are just into food or people into comedy. And those people deserve your content too, right? At least that’s how I look at it.

Ant Pruitt (17:39):
So I have to try to humanize it. And yes, I enjoy shooting photography. Yes. I enjoy talking consumer technology, but I also look forward to whiskey Friday. I love a single malt scotch, and I’m not gonna shy away from that because I’m human, you know, and then being a black man ideally I don’t necessarily get into politics and all of the social injustice stuff, but now I feel the need to do that because number one, I’m sick and tired of it. And number two, I now have a larger platform and a larger audience, and I need to take advantage of that because quite personally, I never felt like my voice mattered because it was so small in air quotes, so small, but I now feel like my voice is a little bit larger. So take advantage of it because it could be helpful to some people to either educate them or just give them a way of saying, you know what I can relate to you and just, just draw another connection in and continue to grow your community, which is a key part of branding. Branding’s all have some sort of community behind them too.

Mary Jo Foley (18:48):
Right? Totally. You just gave me the perfect segue to my next question.

Ant Pruitt (18:54):
Oh, I’m not that good.

Mary Jo Foley (18:56):
You’re good, you’re good. My next question was about community and how important to you is it to engage with the communities in which you participate and how do you think the best way to do that is

Ant Pruitt (19:12):
That’s something that’s going to be a preference because you have folks that don’t particularly like to deal with social media and the interaction back and forth on that because you have private messages or direct messages and things like that. And that can, that could really bog you down. I recently had to turn my direct messages off.

Mary Jo Foley (19:33):
Oh no.

Ant Pruitt (19:33):
Yeah, because it wasn’t a lot of mess coming in there or anything, but I’m human. There’s only 24 hours in a day. And I have to make sure other things outside of my craft is being taken care of. And it just, it was too much. So I’m aware of that and know that my personal wellness matters. So some things you have to sacrifice and in private messages, I had to sacrifice that. So I’ll just catch them through the regular notifications or through the email inbox or through our online community forum because people have different preferences.

Ant Pruitt (20:07):
So I decided not to just stick only to social media. I try to go through those three different platforms, but you have to, if you’re building your brand, you have to understand that it takes a community for your brand to grow. It doesn’t take followers. It takes a community. There’s a big, big difference. If I look at my Twitter page, I have 4,000 something followers, which in this day and age isn’t considered a lot, but I have loyal followers, loyal community followers that they engage with me every single day. One way or another, whether they’re poking fun at something I said or stumbled on or, giving me a compliment, but I love that and they know my brand and they can, you know relate to my brand. So they reach out and I just, that’s what’s going to help your brand is to build that community up with your small group of people or large group of people. But don’t think about it as followers, think about it as your community. It’s a big difference.

Mary Jo Foley (21:15):
I could not agree more with you about that because in our world, you know, like so many people are focused on followers and like, Oh, you have this many. And I have this many, but to me, I feel like our community. And the part I engage in is the Microsoft community. And they’re really, there’s a big group of people, but there are only a limited number who are very engaged and the people who take the trouble and the time to interact, I try to engage with.

Ant Pruitt (21:43):
Right. Right. And that’s exactly how I am. And the more I engage, the more, the better I feel actually, because it just, it’s a warm feeling of knowing you’re talking to someone and they’re talking back to you and it’s just good vibes. You know, I really do love doing it because there’s so much mess and that’s the best way I can put it going on all of our airways, whether it’s the television or social media or some online video. There’s so much of that bad stuff out there. And being able to have some interesting, funny, or thought provoking conversations with people that I’ve never met in person is quite refreshing. You know?

Mary Jo Foley (22:28):
It is, it is. My challenge, and this may be a challenge for you as well is figuring out how not to engage sometimes or how to stay out of a conversation. Right. Because you get pulled in and like mentioned, and then suddenly this conversation is spiraling out of control. And you’re like, wait, I don’t even want to be part of this conversation.

Ant Pruitt (22:47):
Yep. Yep. Been there. Boy, have I been there. And, and the thing is it’s easier for people like us that are introverted to just hit that mute button. It’s so easy to do that, you know, but I challenge people.

Mary Jo Foley (23:05):
Yeah, I felt bad. I did it to someone recently and I felt bad about it, but I’m like, you know what, we both have our views and they’re never going to converge. And we’re both going to get uglier as we talk. So let’s just stop the talking right here.

Ant Pruitt (23:18):
That’s it, and it keeps the peace whether they know it or not, it does keep the peace, but you can hit that mute. And if it gets really bad, you can hit block or whatever, but it’s a lot easier for people like us that are introverted. But I also challenged the people that are not so introverted to take a minute. And just, if you don’t want to block them, just mute the conversation. Because again, you have to worry about your own mental health as well. There’s so many people that are battling with all of these tools that we have access to, and they don’t have to battle the way that they are. You know, people are going into serious depression because they don’t get enough likes or going into depression because they’re being attacked by people that don’t like their product, or didn’t like what they wrote. Didn’t like what they videoed or photographed or whatever. And that’s the world we live in today. Everybody’s voice is amplified to an extent. So you’re going to get it all, but you do have some control and say, you know what, I can fix this scene and just hit mute and have a better rest of my day. It’s something as small as that, you know?

Mary Jo Foley (24:33):
Yep. So we’re almost out of time here. So I wanted to ask if you have any other tips or tricks that you would feel like mentioning for people who are interested in growing their own brands, anything we didn’t cover that you’re like, you know, I want to make sure you mentioned this.

Ant Pruitt (24:48):
Sure, sure, sure. Well, a lot of people think that building a personal brand is a cookie cutter way of going, and it’s not people will tell you, you need to get a Facebook account, get a Facebook account, get a Facebook account. And Facebook does help, but it doesn’t help everybody. I don’t have a Facebook account. I gave Facebook a try three times. And of those three times nothing happened from an engagement standpoint and there was no type of growth with it. So I let it go. So I took a look at my data and figured out where are my people that are engaging with me the most. And it turned out to be at one time Google+, long live Google+, but it turned out to be Twitter and Instagram. So figure out where your people are, figure out where your community is and just go full bore with it, don’t think that you have to deal with a particular platform because it’s the most popular.

Ant Pruitt (25:47):
It may not be the most popular, even if it’s Reddit, even if it’s Flickr or what have you, just find where your people are. But you won’t know where they are, if you’re not putting any content out there. And far as like getting into photography, which is my expertise, photography and video. Your audience can tend to find it to be an easy field, to get into. Most photographers I know have a tech background some way or another. I can name two popular concert photographers right now. The dedicated Comic-Con photographer, he’s a former tech guy that actually was trying to move to Redmond at one point, that’s how deep he was with it. He’s a security guy and there’s another guy that’s MCSE certified. They know all of this stuff, but their bread and butter now is going out, shooting these awesome concerts that we used to have.

Mary Jo Foley (26:52):
Exactly, in the dld days.

Ant Pruitt (26:53):
Yeah. You know, but again, there’s a lot of a lot of tech people dealing with cameras. So your audience, if they’re interested in getting into photography or video, I highly recommend it because it’s a lot of, even though it’s an art form, but there’s still a lot of technical things dealing with the camera that just seems to make our minds just so happy, with changing shutter speeds and changing apertures and seeing why this does that. And, you know, so I say just give it a try because we tech folks, we love our tech, but there’s another little thing that makes us tick too. And that could be art.

Mary Jo Foley (27:32):
That’s great. Well, thank you so much Ant. This has been great. Really learned a lot and enjoyed it. So I appreciate your time.

Ant Pruitt (27:40):
Oh, thank you Miss Mary Jo. It’s an honor to be on this, man, I love this.

Mary Jo Foley (27:45):
Aw, thanks. And for everybody else listening right now or reading this chat because we post all the transcripts, I’ll be posting more information soon on Petri.com about who my next guest is going to be. And once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter for the guests. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these MJF Chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.