The concept of personal branding was introduced to the world in 1997, back when branding was primarily applied to big companies and products on the grocery-store shelf. Thanks to the Fast Company cover story "The Brand Called You" by Tom Peters, the concept of personal branding was born.
When I started my business, Reach, back in 2001, there were only five of us offering personal-branding services and limited opportunities for building your brand. At that time, I focused mainly on CEOs and other senior executives.
It's been more than 10 years since the concept of personal branding was introduced, and the employment landscape looks very different. More and more professionals are thinking very differently about their careers and the value they deliver to their employers. They've started to use the principles of branding to align who they are with what they do and how they do it, so they can advance their careers and achieve their goals.
The ubiquity of social-media tools has made personal branding even more pervasive, powerful, and efficient. Personal branding has moved online. Many Web 2.0 tools designed for building community and fostering lively discussion—such as LinkedIn, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter—are ideal for career-minded professionals who seek to increase their visibility, demonstrate their unique promise of value, and stand out from their peers.
Here are the five steps to building your authentic personal brand online:
1. Be real before being virtual
Of course, to those of you who are starting to build your brands now, the Web seems like an easy place to gain instant visibility. But before building an online presence, you need to know who you are, what differentiates you from your peers, and what makes you compelling to the people who are making decisions about you.
Branding is based in authenticity. Just as Volvo knows that its promise of safety separates it from other automotive companies, you too need to know how to position yourself and ensure your virtual brand is in line with who you are in the real world.
Corporate-branding projects begin with research, and so must yours. Be clear about who you are and what you have to offer so you can deliver on your messaging consistently and constantly.
Get as much input as you can before building your personal brand online. To do that, ask those around you for feedback; review past performance evaluations; implement personal assessments, such as StrengthsFinder; and use tools such as 360Reach to uncover the brand that's you.
You must know your brand attributes—both the rational (those that make you credible) and the emotional (those personality characteristics that make you interesting and attractive to others)—before embarking on a virtual branding plan. Then you can write your personal-brand statement and post it somewhere where you will see it every day as a reminder of your unique promise of value.
2. Know your baseline
How do you show up on the World Wide Web? According to an ExecuNet study, 87% of executive recruiters use the Web to research candidates, and hiring managers at Fortune 500 companies are doing the same.
Managers google their employees. Clients google salespeople. Hopeful employees google their prospective managers. Today, if you don't show up in Google, you don't exist.
Understanding exactly how you show up right now will help you build the ideal plan to showcase your value. While researching what criteria people use to form opinions about those they google, we learned that volume and relevance are critical.
If someone googles you and there is a lot of content about you, that person assumes that you must have accomplished something and have some information to share. When that person looks further at the search results and sees that that content is relevant to and consistent with who they believe you to be, that person forms a favorable opinion.
Your goal, therefore, needs to be to create as much relevant and compelling content as possible. In fact, you want the first three pages of search results for your name to feature you prominently.
To start, assess your baseline with the Online ID Calculator (a tool from Reach) and make note of your current online ID. You will then be able to see the impact of your personal-branding efforts over time.
3. Start with the basics
You don't need to build your own website or blog to have a powerful and authentic online brand. But before you start, you must prepare your branded career marketing materials. They include a branded bio that describes you and only you (ensure that you write it in a style that showcases your emotional brand attributes), a professionally taken head shot (not the one your partner took of you during a recent vacation), and your list of keywords (words that connect to your area of thought leadership or expertise).
Also, you must...
- Buy your domain name (even if you aren't ready to have your own website). It costs about $9 per year. When you're ready to build your own place on the World Wide Web, you'll have the "property" on which to build it. You can buy your domain name at www.godaddy.com. (Search for "godaddy promo code" before purchasing, to get the latest discount offer.)
- Establish yourself on LinkedIn. You can use this as your pseudo website until you're ready to build one. Include a branded summary, your head shot, and your experience. Join all appropriate groups (professional associations, alumni, expertise areas, etc.). Once you are happy with your profile, you can start to invite your professional contacts. If possible, obtain recommendations from contacts as well.
- Establish a Google Alert for your name to stay on top of what is being said about you on the World Wide Web. This will help you as you continue to post new content and build your brand online.
- See what's out there. Use technorati.com to find bloggers who write about your area of expertise. Follow them for a time, and choose one or two blogs to subscribe to and read regularly. Provide comments when you have something relevant and valuable to add. Use your name and keywords in all your posts and link back to your blog, website, or LinkedIn profile so people can learn more about you.
4. Connect real with virtual
The Internet is like most other technological advances. Just as radio didn't replace newspapers and television didn't replace radio, the Web is no substitute for building relationships in the real world. You still need to show up at those networking functions and make sure people see you and the value you are delivering throughout the office. But the World Wide Web offers another route to enhance your brand.
In fact, you need to think about how to augment your real-world branding activities online. If, for example, you're delivering a presentation to your local American Marketing Association chapter—a great personal-branding activity on its own—you need to think of ways to deliver value to other colleagues and contacts who cannot be there in person.
You can get video clips of your talk and post them on YouTube; upload your slides to SlideRocket; use free press-release search engines to announce the event; and use Twitter to share updates before, during, and after the event.
5. Enhance and maintain
Once you have the basics and you're bolstering your real-world activities with corresponding virtual-world visibility, it's time to take it up a notch.
- Use other social-networking sites, such as Facebook, Ziggs, Naymz, and Ziki, to increase your visibility by posting versions of your bio and head shot (just be careful not to use the networking functions of all these sites, as that could take over your life).
- Create a focused blog about a topic that relates to your area of expertise. Use blogging software such WordPress or TypePad to build a static website if you feel you won't be able to post to your blog at least twice weekly.
- Post articles, whitepapers, and other materials to relevant third-party sites. Find websites that share your target audience and are looking for content. Then, provide materials along with a brief bio and head shot, and a link back to your website (or to your LinkedIn profile if you haven't built a site yet).
Even if you are virtually invisible now, you can have a stellar online profile just by following those five steps. And remember to continue to monitor your online ID—and subscribe to Google Alerts for your name. Google results change more frequently than New England weather, so stay on top of what others are learning about you.