Creating an Online Brand: How?

So, in my last post, we talked about the importance of having an online brand. The gist is: it shows what you are interested in, and the depth of your interest. It shows you have an opinion, and can articulate that opinion – it shows how serious you really are (yes, I notice the self fulfilling irony of writing this on a blog!)

But how, how can you go from zero to hero, amateur to titan? Well I don’t know about titan, but I think I can help take you to above average.

The Basics of an Online Brand

First things first, we will start with the very basic. Think of your online brand as an unkempt garden – if you are online, chances are you have a brand; you just haven’t put any effort into moulding it into what you want it to be. It’s grown on its own, out of control and without direction. Our goal here is to first get the garden under control, and then grow it in the style and direction we want, focusing on what we want.

I am going to assume two things for the purpose of this article: you have a LinkedIn account and a Facebook account. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, go get one now!

Start with the easy wins:

LinkedIn

  • Get a custom LinkedIn landing URL (this is the text that appears at the end of the URL when people get to your profile, for example, mine is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/blairhlivingston). Chances are your name won’t be available (even mine wasn’t) so I put my initial in the middle. Play around with it until you get something that in some way contains your name.
  • Clean up your LinkedIn profile. First, start with a good picture. This isn’t a dating site, so pick one that just shows you – not you on a beach. Cater to your industry too, if you’re in finance, dress professionally, if you’re in marketing, maybe something more relaxed.
  • Summary section: it always astonishes me when people write this in 3rd person (did you hire someone to write your LinkedIn introduction?) You can write it either factually, or in first person. Also, avoid the generic verb usage (“successfully this, managed that, created this, implemented that) It’s a summary, that’s all. Short and sweet is good.
  • Make sure each job you have held has 2-3 lines (or more, depending) on what you did there. Give people some kind of explanation. Important note: don’t be one of those people who get caught tweaking their resume, to a point where it drastically differs from their LinkedIn profile. That’s a no-no.

Facebook

  • Do the same for Facebook (when were done, you will actually want people to find your Facebook – it’s better than not being found), mine is, for example, http://www.facebook.com/blairlivingston
  • Next step, make those facebook photos private. If you really need to have your friends able to view your latest vacation pictures, then at least make it as secure as possible. Go to the ‘view your profile’ button under settings and look what your profile looks like to someone who isn’t your friend – what can they see? Use the Wall Street Journal Test. If any of these things (that are visible to non-friends) were published on the cover of the WSJ along with your name, would you be embarrassed? It’s cool if one of your interests is “Fist pumping with JS” or “100 things people says while on E”, but the general public doesn’t have to know. If it doesn’t pass the WSJ acid test, take it down.
  • The second is the positive side – do your interests accurately convey what you truly are interested in? Why not share the bright spots in your productivity with people who might be looking? Interested in social media? Share it. Interested in underground music? Share it. Interested in Mud Wrestling? Maybe keep that to yourself.

Twitter

  • Get a twitter account. I don’t even care if you aren’t going to use it, and you both personally and religiously avoid twitter, and have declared a private war on the company. Get the account – you never know when you might decide you want it, and it’s a lot better to get Your_Name now, then it is to get Your_Name12942 in two years. Just do it.
  • Use twitter to follow people in your industry. That’s right, don’t post if you don’t want to (your loss), but at least use it to stay up on whoever is a thought leader in your business – perhaps it’s a company, a person, or a group. Whoever it is, follow them, so when they know and share something, you will know it to.
  • Same picture rules that apply for LinkedIn apply for twitter – professional and applicable
  • Follow me on twitter, @blairlivingston, it will help you (okay maybe not, it’s really just a personal plug)

Advanced – Your Online Brand MBA

So, you have mastered the basic Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn combo pack. What’s next? Well I have a few ideas, here they are:

  • Your Personal Site: When URL real-estate firms first came out, people thought they were ridiculous. Who would buy, hold, and then re-sell URL’s? Well, it turns out it was a very good investment – some URL’s sell for six figures and up! The fact is, they aren’t making anymore apples.com, bear.com, or sex.com. Know what else they aren’t making anymore of? Blairlivingston.com. that’s because I own it. I am not saying that it is currently in use by me (try visiting it, its blank), or that I encourage you to launch your own website. However, as a good investment, I encourage you to buy your website URL. Chances are however, that if you waited until now, your name is probably taken, but if there is anything at all similar to it I encourage you to get it locked down. For $10 per year, I have secured blairlivingston.com, that’s a small price to pay on the option of using it. Plus it’s great for showing up on Google once I do decide to use it (a little topic called SEO).
  • Start a blog. Or someway to share content (if you’re in finance or a client facing business, maybe this is starting a weekly newsletter/email list). It’s good to start sharing your ideas. Throw them out into cyberspace and see if anyone bites. Start reading others too, and build on ideas – it’s how we all grow. Like I said in my previous post – there is nothing like being able to proveyour passion. Go into an interview, and have a print out of your blog, and there is no more debating. They know you are interested, you have shown it over the past two weeks/months/years.
  • Start experimenting with new tools. Have you signed up for Google+, instagram (if you have an iPhone), XING, or anything else new and unpopular? Check it out – start trying things before they become mainstream (it’s also a great way to get the good usernames). Get out there and experiment.

Using your online brand to find a job

Having an online brand can be a great tool to differentiate yourself at an interview or job fair, and actually land a job. When I was interviewing, I had business cards made up with all my digital contacts laid out. It had my contact information, Twitter (I believe), LinkedIn and a URL for my website. I would give it to interviewers and joke that if they ever ‘lost’ my resume, they could print off another copy on my website. Might sound corny, but it ended up giving me a great return on investment ($50 for the cards, and $10 for the website). Some people get asked for a card by the person they are interviewing, very few people get given a card! It always pays to be part of the very few.

Final Thoughts

A lot of this stuff is about just doing it. Take a few minutes to implement one of these steps. I am not asking you to become an online brand guru, but just take the time to do one thing today. Then maybe one tomorrow, then maybe one more the next day. Before you know it, I will be asking you for advice! (Or maybe I will be reading it off your blog!)

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