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A Note On Online Personal Branding

Lynn Altman said it best in her book “Brand It Yourself” when she summarized the process of establishing a brand, saying “Rule number one: get your product (or service) out there ahead of the competition, and get it quickly differentiated from the pack.” With that golden rule in mind and based on the summary of Altman’s arguments throughout the book, I’ve put together a list of the top 5 tips to establishing an online identity, one of the most important steps for any professional in today’s highly competitive global market.

Before jumping right in, I’d like to point out that establishing a personal online brand is an ongoing process, not something you can sit down and knock out in one day. With a task as big as transforming your work experience in real life into a new virtual world, it’s easy to procrastinate, but like anything in life according to Altman “the more time we’ve invested to reach a certain goal, the more importance it takes on, and the more dependent we become on its success.” Don’t get caught up in the pressure of creating the perfect brand over night; the important thing is to sit down and start the process.

After all, online personal branding is no longer the tool of the overachieving narcissist: it’s a necessity for anyone trying to stay competitive in today’s unstable economy. You can’t control every element of your job search or professional career but what you can control is the message that you want to send to potential clients, coworkers and employers. With over 350 Million people on Facebook, chances are you have a profile. I might also venture to guess that you have either thought about or have already started another online profile on another social media engine, be it a blog site, a twitter account, or a online portfolio type webpage.

Like any other company hoping to spread its message, you need to create an image, a brand that will blow people away. The proper use of social media and online communication tools and a consistent brand will propel you to achieve the success and exposure that will take you to the next level in your professional life.

The following is my list of the top 5 tips for establishing an online brand:

#1 – Define Your Purpose

Before jumping in and opening a kazillion accounts on a billion different networking sites, think about why you feel the need to create an online identity in the first place. Ask yourself the following questions:

–  If you were a company, how would your mission statement read?

–  What do you hope to gain from social media tools?

–  What do you know about social media?

–   What social media tools are you currently using?

–   How will I keep track of my social media profiles?

–   Who is my audience for each page?

Defining your purpose will help you keep stay focused and on top of your social media profiles. It’s easy to lose track especially when you have profiles on different sites or if you use different sites for different audiences. You might not necessarily want to tell potentially employers how drunk you got last night (that’s what a private Facebook profile is for), which is far too easy to do if you lose track of your audience and your tools. You wouldn’t use a screw driver to pound in a nail, so why use facebook to communicate with potential employers when you could be using LinkedIn? Think of social media profiles as segments of your personality. It’s important to be able to put that suit and tie on and be professional on one website and it’s just as important to relax and feel comfortable on another.

#2 Identify Your Values and Passions

What do you love to do? I had a teacher my freshmen year of high school who gave me some great advice: “Take something you really enjoy and find a way to make money at it.” Her words couldn’t be more true when it comes to communicating your interests to friends or potential employers. The more passionate you are about something, the higher the chances are that it will shine through in your brand and in the way that you communicate with others, so figure out what you really enjoy and make a list. This will serve as a critical piece in the foundation of your online identity.

#3 Get Started! Establish an Online Identity

Now that you have defined your purpose and established some of your values and passions, get out there and open some profiles! This can be the most frustrating and exciting piece of the social media identity process. It often takes a little bit of research to figure out how you will use each tool.  A site called mashables.com is a great resource for researching uses for different tools but as a general rule, here are a few suggestions for getting started:

Facebook: Friends

LinkedIn.com: former bosses, professional networking

Visualcv.com: Online portfolio/writing samples, resume

WordPress: Have some funny stories or some advice? Are you a thought leader in a unique subject? Start a blog!

Twitter: Build a larger audience and follow them on tweetdeck

With these 5 profiles established you will be able to monitor other people’s profiles, get information on jobs and other interests and communicate a solid brand. Some people like to link their profiles, like their twitter and Facebook updates. I would recommend that you keep everything separate to avoid communicating the wrong things to the wrong people. As a general rule, drinking + social media = unsuccessful online branding campaign.

#4 Use Different Tools for Different Objectives

Once you get going, it will be easier to see how you can use different tools for different goals. One great thing about social media is that there are plenty of examples that newbies can follow when they’re just getting started. Get on each website and look around. Check out what more established users are doing to communicate their brand. As a general rule, use the following tools for the following goals.

Facebook –Interesting in making some friends, catching up with old ones or stalking people you see around town? Use Facebook as your personal online relationship and social tool.

Linkedin – Looking for a job or something to fill up space on a business card? Use LinkedIn to communicate with your professional contacts. Statistics are now showing that the majority of companies are now turning to LinkedIn before more traditional tools when seeking new employees.

Twitter – Want to share information about events, projects, article or media? Use twitter to share some of the things that you discover throughout the week (But don’t overwhelm!)

#Keep Profile Data Fresh

DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR PROFILES! Think about your brand as if it were a newborn baby: it needs to be fed, clothed and taken care of. You can’t expect positive results or an explosive online identity if you don’t put in the work to maintain it. Today’s audiences expect information instantly. While it would be impossible for you to update your profile every minute of every day, you should set aside at least an hour a day to monitor and maintain. There are 24 hours in a day; You can set aside one to maintain your brand.

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