Building Your Online Brand
I belong to and manage/moderate several online groups; this includes groups on Yahoo!, LinkedIn, and Facebook. I have been *asked* to help with several of them because of my fairly consistent presence and the fact that I try to keep up the integrity of discussion groups by barring and being vigilant about spam. Beyond that, I have intentionally created a very definitive, multi-faceted online presence.
My brand tends to revolve in two different main categories: recruiting/HR and career management, and writing/publishing. Being a well-known recruiter in Seattle and other markets is a byproduct of my career choices. I would like to state, for the record, that I did not “choose” recruiting; it chose me. Before I got into recruiting, I did a lot of content management (via content management systems and databases) and prior to that mostly I worked in administrative or customer service roles. My career was not planned, it was accidental and the result of me taking chances, seizing opportunities, and learning as much and as quickly as I could to build a diversified skill set. So the content management piece is truly the bedrock of my online presence, coupled with my 10 years in recruiting/HR. I’ve been writing since just before I got into recruiting, so they are somewhat synonymous.
So let’s define a couple of concepts: “online” and “brand”.
When I talk “online” I mean it all: social media, pictures, articles and research papers, your high school yearbook, the synagogue directory that publishes your cell phone number, the online petition you signed in 1992 banning xyz in your community. Yes, that’s right. There are things online that you may not even be aware of. I am an expert researcher when it comes to finding people. I was once challenged with finding contact information from a friend for a mutual favorite actor. An hour later, I had his cell phone number and called it. His daughter answered (I asked for someone ridiculous and she said “no, this is X”). It was on a tennis club directory in his hometown. My point is, there is a lot more than you think online with your name on it. You cannot control everything, but you can consciously create a professional brand in the areas you want to be recognized as an expert, and when you have enough of an online footprint, some of the more esoteric items fall far away as less important.
Now for your brand. Very simply this is an image, concept, profession, or “persona” (if you will) that you want to be recognized as. You can deliberately manage this, or you can let it evolve organically. If you choose not to manage your brand, be aware that it can be the subject of negative influence from others.
This piece is about deliberately managing your brand, and doing so online. How are some ways you can create a recognizable, strong positive brand?
-Decide on how you want to be recognized. By your profession? Are you trying to use your name or another sort of persona to define your brand? A unique concept? Your hobby? Keep in mind that two things are going to be the easiest to manage: either your name (unless you have a common name like “Joe Smith”) or a strong, singular concept, possibly including a nickname. Use it for you social media profiles like your Twitter handle, Pinterest identity, and make sure it’s part of your LinkedIn profile and your blog.
-What is your “angle” as an expert? In my case, my blog melds my experience as a recruiter and writer in a no-nonsense series of articles about job hunting from the hiring side of the equation. I had a career-advice column on the Seattle Times, I’m well-known in the local recruiting and tech communities, and this is how I have concentrated my own brand. One of my professional colleagues is a Talent Sourcer, and her brand is “Research Goddess” (and yes, she is.) Even my volunteer work involves recruiting and onboarding for the local chapter of an international non-profit. To create a strong “brand” you need to have a consistent message and voice, if you will. You don’t want to be just one more widget maker from New York. What makes YOU the best, most knowledgable widgeteer in the Big Apple?! (Notice the self-created title and referring to New York City by its casual moniker? That is branding.)
-Share information. This means building community with your peers/colleagues, and anyone else you might want to “know” you! Tweet articles of interest; comment on blogs (and write one!); if you disagree with something written, professionally state *why* you don’t and support it with your expertise. Thoughtfully disagreeing with something online is a great way to create an intricate reputation as someone that is “in the know”. Join LinkedIn groups relevant to your brand, and answer questions. Ask them if appropriate (but see my blog on “LinkedIn for Professional Writers” on how not to use LinkedIn.) Start a Pinterest board that has to do with your online brand and persona, and share the pins with your Facebook and Twitter followers and friends.
-Be a “curator”. Nowadays, content is king; but what if you don’t know how or don’t have enough time to create a stellar amount of content (highly unlikely given the rise of Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook images)? Become a “curator”, which means you create a centralized repository of information. In the old days (you know, the 20th century) this concept would have been akin to a portal. Here is a great primer. Curation is about you creating and maintaining (that is a key concept) a repository of online content grouped around a specific theme. You create a destination for people of like minds/interests to your own.
-Let the “real you” shine through in some places. These days everyone connects with their online personas, and if you are all business all the time, you come across as shallow or insincere. So don’t be afraid to put a little bit of personality into your online branding. An example would be my twitter account. I post a few things every now and then about books, travel, favorite bands, and hobbies that are not going to be considered in poor taste. I retweet and “favorite” certain amusing tweets just because they appeal to me, and follow public celebrities, but I am mindful not to do so with things that could be considered slanderous or highly controversial. An occasional picture of your dog, or a video from your vacation in Disneyland add a bit of personality to your online social persona. On Facebook, I often will post “Dear…(Candidate, Hiring Manager, Colleague)” amusing anecdotal “rants”. (A recent example: “Dear Colleagues: I know this may come as a total shock to you, but we in recruiting use your Outlook calendar to schedule interviews and meetings. This means we assume your calendar is up to date. As Nike says: JUST DO IT. Lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on mine. Ciao.”)
-Keep your truly private life and your public persona separate. When Facebook recently changed their policies about searchability, I changed my private account by using a nickname for my display name, and I opened a new public account under my full name (including my middle initial and a different email address.) My private wall is where I share my views on politics, social issues, and details about my family life. I don’t want my friends and family to have *their* information revealed via a search for me and my views on things such as women’s rights or religion. As a recruiter, I am highly visible just because I’m posting jobs regularly.
-Create some sort of portfolio. Most people think you have to be in some sort of “creative” career to have a portfolio, but that isn’t true. If you are a software engineer, it will be coding samples. If you are a mechanic, it can be photos of work you have done (before/after shots) and discuss technique. A stock broker can have graphic representations of his successful wealth management strategies. A real estate agent should obviously have photos of the houses she has sold. An attorney can have a list of cases won and any articles or briefs published that are public record. A retail associate can take photos of products and outfits created/sold. It’s about merchandizing *yourself* in ways that are going to make sense to other people.
-Become well enough established in your local community that people ask you to speak on panels and deliver keynote addresses or teach seminars/classes. Record these sessions and then create a Youtube channel/podcast station, then cross-promote your expertise on all your social media channels. Put your presentation decks on Slideshare (keep them password protected and view-only to protect your intellectual property.) Create a reputation for yourself in the community as someone willing to chat and share knowledge. Be open and offer to conduct informational interviews to your local careercenters at colleges and the unemployment office. Volunteer for SCORE. Make the acquaintance of independent reporters, and be quoted in news media articles of interest in your profession.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas, but it should be enough for anyone to get a start. If you are job hunting or have thrown out your own shingle, this sort of activity is *crucial* to you to stand out from the competition. And as any recent college graduate or over-50 unemployed executive can tell you, it’s a jungle out there.
Morgan G.: Re: - Building Your Online Brand
To your point on Facebook's privacy settings. I find the chatter of the last year on this point interesting, because it is not necessary to change your name to a nickname in order to avoid being searched on Facebook. It is still possible to have security settings such that you cannot be sought without permission. As the only person with my name on the internet (quite literally, as I regularly protect my online brand), it is important to me to keep up the wall between my private and professional lives. Your other tips are very on point, I just don't agree that one must use a nickname on Facebook instead of their actual name. Of course, this comes with additional diligence of not posting comments in groups or events that are open to the public. That may be too limiting for many, which then leads to the next "best practice" of using a nickname.
Edie S: Re: - Building Your Online Brand
Morgan, what Kristen said was that she uses a nickname for her PERSONAL Facebook page and keeps a separate account for her professional image with her real name. Yes, you can set your privacy settings so that you aren't "found" on Facebook, to some degree, but if you are a publicly known figure it might be better to have a separate account. There is very little, if any, truly "private" information online. This is just a strategy to protect your "brand".
Great information Kristen! Thank you.
Rachel Y: Re: - Building Your Online Brand
Thank you Kristen, this is extremely helpful! As someone who is relatively young in the working world, I want to make sure that I am establishing a personal brand that accurately reflects my talents, interests, and qualifications. Thank you for your wise advice and no-nonsense perspective. This is exactly what I needed!
Kristen Fife: Re: - Building Your Online Brand
Glad I'm able to help. Morgan, I have two FB pages under different email addresses and names. The personal one is where I "like" pages, people etc. and join a wide variety of groups that might be detrimental to my professional life.
Kristen Fife: Re: - Building Your Online Brand
This article just came out on LinkedIn today, and it is relevant to this post so I am including a link here:
Marketing Yourself on LinkedIn.