The world is becoming smaller and smaller as people become more connected, and this creates an even stronger need for leaders to invest in building a brand that positions them as industry authorities and trusted resources for their audience.

Thankfully, personal branding has evolved into thought leadership, which means more companies are embracing it and making solid investments in it. And because leaders are putting more spend behind it, it's important to take note of the trends that will affect it. Here are six of the biggest trends that will shape branding in 2017:

1. Emerging platforms will make gaining a following much easier.

Social media platforms can save you time and help you build a following around your brand, and two of the biggest platforms for doing that so far have been LinkedIn and Medium. Platforms like these make it easy for individual employees to share long-form content, build their brands, and grow communities of followers.

I'm not 100 percent sure whether these exact platforms will continue to be the dominant ones. What I do know is that the early successes experienced by Medium and LinkedIn's publishing platform mean that competing platforms will emerge to further encourage individuals to build their brands and followings.

2. Leaders will finally invest in their employees' personal brands.

Years ago, leaders would have thought it was crazy to invest in their employees' personal brands. While experts like William Arruda have been encouraging companies to invest since the early 2000s, many businesses have been slow to embrace it. What if these key employees leave? What if it goes to their heads? There are plenty of excuses to not invest, but the digital world is continuously evolving, and you'll miss out on some substantial gains if you ignore how valuable your employees' brands can be. Not only do they help humanize your company brand, but they also act as brand amplifiers, communicate your messages, and grow your network.

That's not to say that the excuses aren't valid, but putting it off because you're afraid your employees will leave will only keep you from securing those opportunities -- and it opens the door for competitors to lead the way instead. I've seen it happen countless times: A company goes into panic mode as soon as it sees a competitor's leader shining in the industry spotlight. Don't wait until that moment to start investing. Be proactive, and become the company that others want to follow.

3. Networking with other influencers will become more important than it's ever been.

Trends in PR have changed the way most of us practice it; because of that, I now see more influencers circulating than journalists. These influencers aren't typically looking to work with total strangers; they're attracted to other individuals with some influence of their own. The stronger your personal brand (and your employees' brands), the better your chance of finding and working with the right influencers. With a solid brand and a strategy for networking and interacting with influencers, you'll create brand advocates with authority who could be open to writing about you, sharing your content, and participating in cross-marketing opportunities.

4. Personal brand ROI will be measurable.

The tagging and tracking functionalities of most CRMs have made it a lot easier for companies to see more detailed steps of the buyer's journey, from submitting contact info after a keynote address by your CEO to reading an article in a publication and following employees' social profiles and clicking through to your site.

Whether you're able to identify leads directly or pinpoint more general opportunities for awards or partnerships, it's much easier to track and measure the benefits that come from high-quality branding efforts. At Influence & Co., the investment in my personal brand -- and those of other key employees -- has delivered quantitative and qualitative ROI. We can now track how various opportunities come to us and assign values to them, and that makes it much easier to invest in individual brands without worrying about a lack of return.

5. LinkedIn will get rid of its résumé format.

You can't deny most audiences' preference for instant gratification and interactivity, and leaders can leverage those same ideas in branding. Instead of static images or lists and résumés, we're seeing an increase in live representation of content, awards, and accomplishments -- all things that help build a brand. Wouldn't it make sense to ditch the traditional résumé format and offer a more interactive experience to engage your audience and build a following? Experience graphs, which LinkedIn could replace its résumé format with, and live content profiles, similar to what my team offers to employees and clients, will help make that interactive branding possible.

6. Authenticity and relatablity will differentiate your brand.

Differentiation is one of the biggest factors contributing to a strong and successful personal brand, and the core of finding what differentiates your brand is typically embracing something unique about yourself. For example, Jason Miller, a content marketing leader at LinkedIn, embraces his love for rock 'n' roll, which has influenced his brand positioning and added some flavor to his content and speeches.

Personally, I've never really been able to pull off the buttoned-up and overly professional persona. Instead, I stay true to myself, maintaining a casual and easygoing vibe and building my brand around that. I use personal examples that include my family and friends and goofy stories that are important to my life to communicate my message and help my audience connect with me. Sometimes, people feel the need to put on a front to attract an audience, but in reality, being buttoned-up can be bad for business and branding when it's not true to who you are. Audiences are drawn to real, authentic people, not make-believe characters, so embrace it to differentiate your brand.

Personal branding isn't an ego play, and it's not a waste of resources -- it's an increasingly effective way to differentiate yourself, connect with your audience on a human level, and grow a valuable network. It's time to invest in building your personal brand and the brands of your employees, and preparing for these trends will help set you up for success.