Most first encounters in the modern world happen virtually, via your online presence. From customers to coffee dates, everyone is vetting you before they buy from you, do business with you, or even before showing up for an initial meeting. Every tweet, status update, blog, photo, and emoji you post is a crucial part of your first impression.
Welcome to the age of the personal brand.
Collectively, the online information both by and about you constitutes personal brand, a concept once reserved for celebrities, performers, and politicians. As our lives become increasingly high tech, low touch, and conducted online, everyone now has an image to manage.
Most people don’t give this much thought until they face some critical juncture – selling a book, ramping up a consulting or speaking practice, or launching a new business venture. But your work, expertise, and in many ways, subtler components about who you are, what you think, and what you value are already in public view.
Erasing information online can be difficult or impossible in some cases, but most people can make big improvements. Let’s dig in
Search and scrutinize
Regularly check the search results on your name, business, book, or any new venture tied to your name. Read, listen, and watch all of the material to be certain it is accurate and up to date. Tweak what you can, and if there are egregious errors, reach out to the outlet or organization that controls it asking for revision. Consider boosting or shifting your efforts and contributions so that they better serve you, perhaps by adding visual elements to your blog or making the most of your content by reposting a recent column to your LinkedIn account. Be proactive about what can be found.
Invest in your URL
If you don’t already own the URL for your own name, purchase it. As anyone with a common name can tell you, this is valuable real estate that will grow in value over time. If your name is frequently misspelled, as my surname is (Hendricks, rather than Henricks), buy the incorrect version as well and have it redirected to your domain. Even if you don’t foresee needing a website built around a custom URL, the small investment needed to reserve one makes this a sensible precaution in protecting your own brand.
Close any inactive/inappropriate social media accounts
The Internet is home to a vast wasteland of accounts and websites that have been started with gusto only to be abandoned, like so many gym memberships, after six months. Be a good steward of your name and image and close accounts you are no longer using. Likewise, be active on the social media accounts that you do hold. This is also a good time to check on photos or posts where you have been tagged. While you can’t remove tags, its far better to be aware of what exists rather than being blindsided by an unflattering mention or image.
Choose your words and images carefully
We’ve become an informal society, where casual Fridays are the norm and texting has, to a large extent, replaced conversation. Distinguish yourself by using proper English and making your written communication as clear and clean as possible. Adapting tone, voice, and style to suit specific social media channels is fine, but sending messages or constructing posts rife with typos detracts from your credibility, as well as the content itself.
Put content creation on your to-do list
Creating material is an increasingly marketable skill in today’s information economy. A 2014 study by the American Press Institute shows that 33 percent of all Americans consume news throughout the day across various formats, devices, and technology. Take advantage of this appetite. Contribute material online that informs, entertains, and most of all, entices people to learn more. Content is the centerpiece of personal branding, so make sure that yours is best of class.
The world makes assumptions and draws conclusions based on what they see in their search engines, so know what your search says and invest in creating an image that will serve you well.