I once overheard a woman talking with an acquaintance about how she was careful about what she posted to Facebook because she wanted to protect her ‘brand’. At the time, I only used Facebook for social purposes and considered the comment to be sort of snotty. I mean, who did she think she was, Kelloggs? Certainly she wasn’t talking about herself personally, because 1985 called and they want that hairstyle back.
But after one small business venture and a foray into becoming an independent contractor, I know see the value of ‘protecting your brand’.
What usually comes to mind is taking down all your Instagrams of you and your girls in Mexico with those guys and too many margaritas. Or the Facebook rant about abortion. Those are important to police if you want to support a professional persona online, yes, but protecting and maintaining your personal brand is much more than tidying up a few pictures and posts.
Your brand encompasses all your online influences. That includes your social networks to public documents like journals you have written for or projects you have worked on. Some of this information cannot be controlled and remains public domain. That is why it is important to know what kind of impact you are making and how it translates to your online persona.
One good way to get a picture of who you are online is to Google yourself. We all know that Google drives SEO, so the first page you find about yourself is likely the oldest and most content heavy influence of yours.
Mine was LinkedIn. Slate posted an article recently about the validity of LinkedIn as a recruiting tool, and while I reserve judgement in that regard, it is undeniable that it is a thriving social networking and recruiting site.
If you are reading this, you likely have a LinkedIn profile, or you are in a job that predates the site and have no need for it in your current position. So the information there matters, whether you like it or not.
Twitter and Facebook matter, too, but not how you think. Because of the format that Twitter has, it can be used as a free marketing tool. This is excellent for the small business owner, if used correctly. Facebook has its place as well. Facebook has really upped the ante with their advertisement formatting and business pages.
So those heavy hitters directly affect your brand. Whatever you have circulating among them, that is what the internet thinks you are selling.
Then we have Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ that can all add to your online presence and promote your brand. Of course, writing your own blog and/or starting your own website is crucial to defining your brand because it can serve as a landing page for all your internet links. You can also define your brand without constraints. If you are a photographer, you can showcase your work, provide rates, links to work, business contact information, etc. Your blog or website should become the hub of your internet persona. It’s a great way to collect all of that data out there and make it available in one place.
It is also important to remember, though, that the only thing worse than having bad information representing your brand is having no information. So after you have cleaned up all of your social networking sites make sure you do have enough information to make you searchable. Again a blog is great for this. But make sure you are commenting on forums and websites that are in your industry. Write articles and post to ezines. Actively engage people and businesses on Twitter to leverage your business and brand and expand your network.
Whatever you chose to do, make sure you are present on the web somewhere and keep up to date information out there. This kind of brand building is not only helpful, but almost essential to the modern business model.