I don't mean to go all "woo woo" on you, but you already have a personal online brand. Don't believe me? Bring up your favorite browser and type your name in quotation marks ("Firstname Lastname"), and do a quick search. Try it again with your middle initial added. Did something come up? THAT's it! It's your personal brand!
Do you like what you see? If not, or even if you do, please, in this joyful holiday season, take some time to give yourself the priceless gift of strategic personal brand management. Here are three personas to consider as you do it:
The Shadow: let's say you're a very private person, and you would like to minimize your online brand altogether. Take some basic defensive measures. If you participate in any online social media, learn how to use the privacy settings for each site you use, and set them to maximum. You can set up Twitter, Facebook, and most blogging sites so that your content is viewable solely by people you designate. For reasons related to advertising revenue, these sites tend to change their privacy rules frequently--check and update your settings regularly, say, once a month, or when the headlines indicate Facebook has violated your basic civil rights again.
Additionally here's a handy blog post on "How to Un-Google Yourself," to get rid of matches on your name that you didn't create and that you don't want to keep.
Business Up Front, Party in the Back: let's say you're a person who has a good work/life balance, but who would like to be in the public eye primarily on professional matters. You'll see advice to the contrary, and I suppose it all blurs together for the young people these days, but if you're a BUF/PITB person, here's how you can create an online business presence that will vastly overshadow online social/personal presence.
Note that your friends will often be very supportive of your business endeavors, so you may want to make them contacts on LinkedIn or make them aware of your blog posts, and so on, but the reverse is not always true. Business contacts may very well not care where you went on vacation this year. A week or so ago, I personally had to disconnect with a Twitter contact who posted 137 Twitpic photos of his baby.
Here's a handy list from mashable of some things you can and should do to build a reassuring online presence that will help carry you through times of employment and unemployment with grace and dignity.
Joan of Arc: would you like to change the world? And, in particular, are you a woman who would like to change the world to increase the number of women going into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields? If so, you need to take this online personal brand thing even a little further. It's not good enough just to look professional online. You need to become a famous woman scientist, technology, engineer, or mathematician so you can be a role model.
Don't do it for yourself--do it for the children!
I'm completely serious. A recent MIT study showed that role models are immensely important in drawing people into particular fields. The received knowledge on this is that "women need to brag more often." And yet a recent long-term Catalyst studyalso supports something many of us have felt intuitively, which is that women are less likely to promote themselves than men, partly because they are actually penalized in the long term as well as the short term if they do it too obviously. It's seemingly a discouraging downward spiral. Without a critical mass of role-models, women don't go into the STEM fields as much, and even if they do, they don't tell people about it.
I have a crafty plan about this that I'm still thinking through, and no doubt you will think of one yourself if you read the Catalyst article, but for now, let's just say you are a woman who wants to stand up and be counted, damn the consequences. Here's what you can do:
But, then again, not everyone wants to be Joan of Arc. And that's...okay. No matter who you want to be, however, please make sure that the person someone finds on Google when they type in your name is not someone you're embarrassed to be associated with.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.