How to Become an Icon - Icon Week


By Lisa Autz

Illustration by Gerd Altmann.

In a digital age of frenetic branding it seems that new icons are created as quickly as the next new cat video gets uploaded to YouTube.

As a member of the human race swimming in an ever-expanding pool of media, becoming an icon on the internet may seem daunting and competitive. But that should not discourage us from the thousands of technological platforms that could help us get our work out to over two billion internet users–chances are, you’ll probably appeal to some of them.

Though there is no guaranteed formula to ensure success, there are some basic steps to take in crafting an iconic power online.

So, what is an icon?

The term “iconic” is used loosely and often with concern, especially in moments involving Miley Cyrus. It describes someone or something that has become a timeless figure of literal and symbolic representation. It usually translates into a simplistic, compelling message that speaks to our values as human beings.

Truthfully, you don’t have to make courageous acts of sainthood–or racy television dance appearances–to be deemed iconic today.

BTR investigates some ways that interested individuals can become internet icons.


First step: focus.

Through committed research and consideration, you must unveil your own special expertise to offer the public. Discover what your specialty is before you present yourself online.

That advice comes from Dan Schawbel, the managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.

“There are so many people who have blogs, YouTube videos, Twitter, [or] Facebook. So getting online is not enough,” Schawbel tells BTR. “Discovery is the first piece to figuring out who you are, what you are good at, and your niche that you want to focus your time on.”

After discovering your specialty–whether it’s writing, tutoring, playing music, or whatever you deem best–you should write about it on your site, announcing it as an element of a personal narrative. Also, describe how you will provide this unique service to the public. Speaking in branding and marketing terms, this approach encompasses your company’s core values that should focus in on a target audience.

Choose Your Channel

After your purpose and target are determined, it’s time to choose what medium to act upon. Schawbel explains that setting up your choice of medium is essential in getting noticed.

Podcasts, blogging, vlogging, and SoundCloud are all commonly used platforms, and each provide a unique context for what you wish to pursue.

These channels are then dictated by the amount of invested time and commitment put into the production.

Schawbel suggests going full force with your endeavors. To build a website, for instance, he suggests not going for free versions of WordPress, but rather, using polished, proficient platforms and producing content on a daily basis.

“For the most part, if your [website] design isn’t professional, people aren’t going to take you seriously from the beginning,” he says.

Your professional vehicle not only holds content, but also your potential iconic image. It is important to create a simple, compelling visual symbol to match your online persona. A memorable simplicity opens an image to a broad series of associations that resonate with your audience.

Once an image is produced, consistency is key. Josh Belhumeur, the executive vice president at Brink, a digital marketing agency, stresses the importance on a steady aesthetic style.

“You’ll see evidence a lot of times of a small company or starting company [constantly] changing,” Belhumeur says. “But you need to establish a brand by repeating the same style over and over again so that way you are known by more than just a name to help paint a picture of who you are.”

Unique style and delivery allows you to differentiate from competitors. However, they won’t get you pivotal status unless you link up with those within your niche community.

Networking & Monitoring

Networking is a given. The more you connect with people that are producing relevant content, the better chances you have at finding a stake in the market as an icon.

Digital marketing and branding agencies are able to help individuals discover the target influences to reach out to and how to evolve your content with them.

“Communicating online what is important is to have your audience own the brand for you,” Belhumeur says. “Establishing a map of influencers within your audience and reaching out to them will help evangelize your content.”

These people will also want to give you advice and help you monitor the efficiency of your content output. Keren Toledano, a digital and social media strategist at the agency Brooklyn United, says that online metrics are useful tools to monitor content. She encourages people to be “agile” when reviewing information.

“Just as important as the creative process is monitoring and reassessing what is and is not working with your brand,” she says.

Specifically, Click-Through Rate or View-Through Conversions are metric platforms that can analyze page visits, clicks on the page, and other parameters.

Helping Others to Help Yourself

The ultimate secret to iconic fame hood, as Schawbel sees it, is helping others before yourself.

“Promote someone else’s content,” he suggests. “When helping others out, people will want to help you.”

There are ways to effectively reach out to others instead of just making marginal retweets. For instance, if someone’s successful, chances are they’re incredibly busy. To help them out, you could offer to set up their interviews or promote their content. That way, you add value to their work, which will entice them to help you in return.

Schawbel speaks upon his own experience. When he began his work in 2006, he did all he could to campaign for others and eventually got connected to the right people. Now, Schawbel is an icon for personal branding, along with a New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author.

Of course, success depends on countless factors, and takes patience.

“You could do all of this right and still fail,” Schawbel admits. “So many things must be aligned in order for it to work and the true reality is that you really have to be in for the long run or else you have no chance.”