Personal branding has been an on-again, off-again interest of mine – and it’s akin to any other healthy activity. Think going to the dentist – something that’s important and good for you, but takes time and is even painful once in a while! 😉
Why care about your personal brand? Well, it can mean your reputation – for better or worse, correct or not. It’s your job to know what’s out there. At its best, it can differentiate and help you to become easily identified from others in your field. It can help to build a following of “customers” (employers) willing to buy your “product” (your services).
Where to begin?
Be Aware: behave yourself while in public spaces, be it in person or the virtual world. Personally, I don’t trust security settings on social media sites, etc. I don’t put anything on the internet that I wouldn’t want my grandmother to see or read, and I’m even a little careful out in person, in public. It’s too easy for a person to record or photograph you on the sly. It doesn’t mean you need to be a saint, but a little awareness can go a long way. Also, remember that impressions are made by: 55% visual, 38% vocal and only 7% verbal – body language, facial expressions and overall “how you look” really does matter.
Benchmark: Some tools for monitoring your personal brand: Google Alerts which will notify you if your name shows up on the Web. TweetBeep, which will do a similar service for Twitter, OnlineIDCalculator.com, which will analyze your online reputation, bit.ly for tracking the links you put in blogs, articles, etc. and last, but not least, addictomatic.com, which will allow you to get a snapshot of yourself across multiple search engines.
Evaluate: an easy place to start is to try to come up with three words that you feel describe yourself. Make sure they are “meaty” words that really say something – you wouldn’t want your three words to be – friendly, fun and capable. Think about your top strengths that really differentiate you from the rest of the working world. Then, ask others what they might say your three words are. From this, you can get a snapshot of how others see you. When I went through this exercise, I strategically selected a cross-section of people – good relationships, rocky relationships, people I’ve known for a long time and people I’ve only recently met. Roles are also important to consider – here are some of my categories: internal customers (positive and negative relationship!), senior management, co-workers, friends, family. You would want them to put some thought into it, so try to discourage them blurting out your words on the spot. You can communicate in any method you feel comfortable, but offer to receive their reply by their preferred method. Don’t forget to add a deadline so that you don’t fall off their radar.
Once you get the responses back, spend some quality time evaluating, and follow up with those who have words that might require more explanation. Example: I had received the word “Accommodating”. While this word at first blush sounds positive, there can be a negative connotation that I do not have the ability to say “no”. Having these kinds of conversations can be very fruitful as well as ease your mind. I had also encouraged people to offer words that present opportunities for growth or to suggest aspirational words for me, which I found quite enlightening.
Decide where you want to be: In this case, you can choose three words that would describe the person you strive to become or the kinds of qualities you would need to achieve your goals. Create a plan to help you get to where you are going. It may be helpful to discuss your plan with a personal coach, supervisor or mentor.
Makeover time! In addition to considering making some modifications to your looks or behavior, you may want to consider taking a new look at your resume and online presence. Weave in search engine keywords as well as some of those new “meaty” words that describe your personal brand – get your targeted resumes in order (one for each variation or type of job you may consider) think about writing a short bio including those words, (aka: elevator speech! …and don’t include where you work or your job title – use words that highlight YOUR top skills and stats or evidence to support your claims) and then carry those elements through to your social media and other online networking spots to help build a good foundation for your brand. Also, after trying some of the brand monitoring tools mentioned above, you may consider adjusting any content that may cast a shadow over your personal brand such as: unflattering photos, videos, posts, etc.
I found this exercise overall interesting and fun, while at times a little awkward. Everyone I had chosen were cooperative and open to discussing my words with me, which was great…and a relief. Generally, I think people are supportive of those who are striving to better themselves, and admire the spirit of continuous improvement. Carrying the project through in itself says a lot about the person in the first place. It’s important for anyone to know the type of personal brand they are projecting -and more often than not, you’re not going to find out unless you are willing to ask and consider the responses seriously. Remember: If you don’t manage your brand, it will be managed for you.