This week we’re talking about building and enhancing your personal brand. If you’ve never thought about your personal brand, you might not know where to start. The good news—or possibly bad news—is that you already have a personal brand, you just don’t know it yet.
If you’ve never done it before, try Googling yourself. You may see your Facebook account, your LinkedIn account, and your blog or Twitter (if you have one or both). You might find images of yourself, your friends and family, and of strangers with similar names. You’ll even see things you’ve posted to Pinterest, and liked on YouTube.
If your business is intimately connected with your personality, much of what comes up might already work to your advantage, but it’s unlikely that everything you’ve ever liked or done online fits with your ideal personal brand. The younger you were when you first got online, the more likely you are to find problematic associations. Taking down those digital traces that reflect poorly or otherwise don’t promote you is a good idea, however, avoiding the reality of your public image isn’t.
Forbes contributor Chereen Zaki, in her article Private Profiles Finish Last, points out that those who grew up online must “take into consideration that their parallel online lives will eventually catch up with their professional one if they don’t take the necessary precautions of enabling privacy settings.” She however cautions against that urge toward total privacy, saying that “no hint of personality in the black hole that is the World Wide Web can be unsettling for employers” and you can bet that your clients react the same way. If you’re a business person, cultivating your public image matters.
Developing your brand isn’t as daunting as it might seem. You don’t have to launch a PR campaign to start modifying the trails that you’re leaving. The almighty search engine is already promoting you. You’re already online, browsing, playing, learning, and connecting. All of these footprints in the digital sand are a part of your personal brand; you simply need to start deciding which ones to leave and which ones to sweep away. Consider taking the time to work through these three steps:
1. Think about your narrative and message.
Think about the image you want to present, thinking about it in terms of narrative. When humans look at related pieces of information, their brains naturally create a story to make sense of those pieces. Your digital footprints tell a story about who you are, so sit down and think through the story you want to tell.
Megan Marrs (in an article first published in The Muse and then again on Forbes) recommends starting with a mantra (not a mission statement). In other words, develop a brief, descriptive and emotion provoking phrase that sums up your brand. You can do as much or as little research into this concept as you like, but take some time to read that article and think through the emotions you want your mantra or narrative to evoke in your audience.
2. Get rid of that which doesn’t fit your brand.
Next examine your current digital presence with your brand in mind and identify those things that don’t belong on the public end of your life. It’s a good idea at this point to open up an “incognito” or “private” browser window. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a private browser window allows you to search without cookies, caching, and history, which means you can browse anonymously without logging out of all of your accounts. In the simplest of terms, this means that your search results will appear like they would for any random stranger. You’ll want to look at your search results from the perspective of someone with access to your private content and someone without, so use two browser windows. (Most browsers have a private browsing option. To figure out how to access that option on your preferred browser, do a quick Google search.)
Now, remove those unwanted traces. Some things, which don’t fit your brand might just be the result of personality quirks. Maybe you like B horror movies from the 1970s, and, as a result, posters featuring scantily clad, blood covered women show up in your Pintrest. If your business is about promoting physical health, mental health, and healthy ideas of beauty, you probably don’t want those pictures affiliated with your personal brand. You don’t have to efface those parts of your personality; you just probably don’t want them public.
In some cases, enabling privacy settings might be enough, but if the offending material is on your Facebook and your prospects are friends with you on Facebook, it’s probably not. Consider deleting that which you cannot make private, depending on the severity with which it clashes with your professional image. If you long for that part of your personality to stay connected online, consider making secondary accounts which don’t use your real name, and sharing them with your closest friends.
3. Consciously create new connections.
Now that you’ve developed a firm awareness of what kinds of things leave traces, you’re significantly better prepared to orchestrate positive associations. As I said before, you’re already online. You’re reading this online now! Change your browsing time from procrastination into productivity.
When you browse Pinterest, build boards based on those interests that relate to your business. When you blog or vlog in your own name, take time to check that you’re on message before hitting publish. When you read or watch something online that strikes a chord with you and with your narrative, like it or post a positive and thoughtful comment but make sure you do it with one of your official accounts so that those positive words reflect back on you.
On the other hand, any time you browse those things that peak your interest but that don’t fit with your branded narrative, consider browsing privately or browsing while logged in to your secondary accounts (if you decide to make some).
Take this a step further too. If you see anything coming up in your Google results that I haven’t mentioned here, look at it as a possible pathway for sharing your message. The connection already exists. You just need to bend it to serve you as a professional.
While not everyone you meet will Google you after meeting you, you’d better believe that some people will, and if they do, you want them to see the cultivated you. Getting started is easy, and there’s no better time than now. If all you do is simply keep your message, your story, your brand in mind for those parts of the day that you already browse the web, within a very short amount of time you can turn an embarrassing or lackluster public image into something to be proud of—a personal brand that lends you legitimacy every time you talk to someone new about your business.
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