How to be authentic when you are networking, according to a branding expert

When it comes to building a network, there’s only one right way to do it: authentically, both online and off.

Let me explain.

When you’ve built your brand correctly, it is a crystal clear reflection of who you are, what you’re about and what makes you valuable to the people you work with. It’s not a reinvention or a facade, it’s simply an organized, thoughtful communication of what makes you, you. Your brand is who you are every single day, just with a communication strategy behind it.

So what does this have to do with networking?

In a word: everything.

Traditionally, connecting with people has been done in person. But the laws of time and space limit who you can meet and when and where you can meet them (thanks a lot, physics). Enter social media, where one articulate post with a couple of strategic hashtags can connect you with hundreds, if not thousands of like-minded people around the world. Suddenly, your network’s potential has grown exponentially.

Building your brand online gives you the unique opportunity to reach anyone on your own terms. You get to share your story, unfiltered and in your own words. Speaking from experience, that’s a really f*cking powerful business tool.

A few years ago, I spent most of my time online talking about social media, particularly Snapchat. Before long, I had become known as a social media expert—literally. My online presence started generating in-person conversations. I was interviewed by the media as a specialist and I met people from outside my circle that pushed me to grow and expand as a businesswoman. This was one of the most transformative times in my life, as it’s the foundation upon which I built SimplyBe.

Talking about social media all day every day with my friends, in-person AND online, garnered me recognition and authority I wouldn’t have gotten by only permeating one or the other. With this understanding and a solid reputation as the go-to social media gal, my next steps were laid out for me. I knew I wanted my next venture to involve helping people do exactly what I had done — build their brand online to jumpstart their career offline. So I founded SimplyBe, a personal branding firm that does that, and then some.

I like to say that we turn people into magnets. We specialize in identifying our clients’ superpowers (because they all have one) and providing them with the tools and strategies to effectively share it with the world. And believe it or not, we practice what we preach. We’ve generated many of our clients directly from our online presence, which is all yellow and pineapples and high vibes; inspired by the app that sparked my interest in using social media to tout my expertise in the first place!

And here’s the thing. SimplyBe.’s website and office are indistinguishable. We have flowers and gemstones and pineapples everywhere in our HQ. I employ a team of young women who are experts at the top of their field and aren’t afraid to embrace their feminine side. And while some people have told me our website is “too this or too that” it’s true to who we are, and if you’re not about it, that’s totally fine.

You can’t be everything to everyone.

And that’s what’s incredible about growing your network online. It attracts the right people, not just the peripheral-connection-people or in-your-area-people. And we’ve definitely felt the effects of that. We’ve painted Chicago bright yellow, and we’re now breaking into new markets, most notably Austin, Texas where SimplyBe. is holding our Masterclass, AUTHENTICALLY AUSTIN in September. Our connections to the city, which are pretty much only digital, have allowed us to organize an all-day event, where we’ll be working with top influencers and entrepreneurs in the city — how full circle is that?? But that’s the true magic of personal branding and building your network: it never stops. Every online “friend” is waiting to be an in-person connection, who’s able to generate more online connections and so on. All you have to do is be yourself and share your message.

The most powerful and authentic connections will follow.

 Jessica Zweig is the CEO/Founder of SimplyBe, the only premier personal branding firm based in Chicago empowering some of the world’s biggest thought leaders.