Paula Dean, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart. Celebrities sure. But above all, they are brands and have built multi-million dollar empires around their names. No matter what your industry, music (Elvis Presley), politics (Bill Clinton), entertainment (Ryan Seacrest) or your level of fame (sports, marketing, teaching or art), we are all our own business person and walking billboards for own personal brands.
Every tweet we put out, every photo we post on Instagram or Facebook and even the brands we associate ourselves with are a direct reflection of our self. In a digital age, it’s more important than ever that you have a strong sense of your own personal brand and ensuring that you are putting your best self out there. Because you never know when a prospective employer, an ex-boyfriend, or even your grandmother or kids might Google you or look you up. And you never know when you might win the lottery or accidentally stumble into stardom so it’s best you are proactive about your image now.
Audit Your Online Identity
A good place to start with any brand identity is with a 360 degree audit. Take a step back and look at your brand from a bird’s eye view and evaluate all the various components. To do this, make a list of all the social media channels you engage in and compare them side by side and look for consistency and discrepancies. And it might be a longer list than you think because it should include everything even those less common social media tools like Voxer, Foursquare, Pinterest, Flickr, Yelp, Quora, TripAdvisor, yes even Myspace and Friendster (if your accounts are still live).
Everywhere and anywhere you have a profile, you should have the same profile image, tagline, about me section and voice no matter what. And it would not be a bad idea to create a running list of these profiles so you can add to them as you create them to make sure when you update one, you update all.
It’s also important to be consistent with your username and PURLS (personalized/unique URLs) whenever possible. In the case your name is pretty common like Joe Smith, come up with something semi-unique to you and own it. And I don’t mean Sarah1234. Make it catchy and easy for others to remember. Almost like picking a business name. What’s your DBA?
When not using my full name for forums and in professional places like LinkedIn, I use the identity “Texasadie.” And in picking a name be careful that you pick something that can grow with you and change over time. Are you going to get married? Then don’t include your last name (especially in URL’s as those are usually more permanent and difficult to change).
Use a profile photo that is professional but personal. Crop it so that only your head and face are showing and only you are in the photo (if possible without cropping other’s limbs off). A solid background is ideal or something that is ambiguous enough to not know where you are or what you are doing.
You don’t have to pay a professional to take fancy head shots. Use your iPhone to snap a good photo next time you’re having a good hair day. Mine for instance was an impromptu photo my husband took on a recent trip not knowing it would be my future profile picture but I liked how genuine my smile was since I was so happy at the time it was taken. Even if you aren’t active on a particular social media channel, at least make sure you have a current profile picture. No one wants to engage with a faceless Facebook or an egghead on Twitter.
Some social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, About.me, and Google Plus give you the option to create a cover photo or have a personalized background in addition to your profile pic. This is a time to let your personality shine. This should be something personal, unique and that sums you up in a nutshell. A family portrait, a landscape of your favorite destination. And, like your profile pic, don’t leave it blank – nothing is worse than showing up to a party and no one’s there.
Now that you’re username and photo are chosen, consistent, and updated, come up with a tagline/about me that summarizes who you are and what you specialize in. It may be difficult to write about yourself. So if you are having trouble with this, ask a friend or colleague to describe you — they’ll usually give you an unbiased and honest outsider’s opinion.
Think of your tagline similar to a mission statement for a business. If you were a brand, what would you stand for. Jot down a bunch of ideas and then narrow it down to something short and sweet that will be timeless. Ask yourself, what have I been good at and what have I liked for the past 10 years and what will I be good at and what will I probably still like 10 years from now?
Avoid using trends or things that might date yourself like the number of years you’ve been doing something, been married to someone, or when you graduated. But also don’t be afraid to share a few personal details or quirky hobbies to make yourself more approachable and interesting.
Find Your Passion
What is your niche and what value are you adding in what you’re sharing/saying. We are all collectors and curators of content but how we share and disseminate it to the world is what differentiates us.
Do you stay on top of breaking news and add a touch of humor to it? Do you take lots of selfies of your outfits and give fashion advice. Do you travel a lot and know the best restaurants at which to to eat? Are you a stay at home mom with parenting tips? Are you a sports enthusiast full of trivia and facts? Are you an insider and in the know of the latest marketing trends? Are you a photographer with a passion for animals? There are hundreds of thousands of topics. Just pick a few general interests you have and think about how they could be useful and entertaining to others.
Know Thy Audience
Speaking of others, keep in mind who you’re speaking to and your motivations for speaking to them. Is it to keep in touch with friends and family? To sell your business or service to potential clients/customers? To entertain the general public? To vent or get feedback from strangers? If you’re like me, it’s a little bit of all of the above. While I do it mostly to connect and interact with people I know, inevitably there are people in my network that I have gotten to know only through social media or don’t’ know at all. So in that case, think twice before you share. You hear me, Anthony Wiener? Social media isn’t a private conversation between you and another person.
Even if you have filters or privacy settings, there’s always the off chance that someone else could share it to their networks. So remember the golden rule and if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it all.
Less Is More
At the end of the day, everything is better in moderation. This is true no matter who you are, what you are talking about or who you are talking to. There are only so many hours in a day and so many thoughts, tweets and photos you can post (without losing your fans and possibly “friends”), so be selective. While it’s tempting to post 15 photos in a row on Instagram or share every detail of your day on Twitter, don’t. Think like a marketer. Advertisers don’t buy back-to-back time slots or play the same commercial over and over again on the radio. You are are using social media as a form of broadcasting so don’t abuse it just because you can and it’s free.
Don’t Forget Links
Links are often forgotten about. It is important to include a URL to your blog, website or wherever you want to drive traffic. Also a great tip I learned recently is if you are dormant on one particular social media channel, then put a link to where you are active (e.g. you may not tweet very often but are on Instagram every day so post a link to your instagram account and say “Follow me here”).
Bottom Line: Be Consistent
In conclusion, when it comes to your online brand identity, consistency is key, less is more, and pick it and stick to it. But if you ever decide to change careers, go back to school, have a kid, or have a religious sabbatical, that’s okay too. Your messaging, story, location and even name might change over time. Just like brands do. Just be sure you keep things up to date.
I have moved so many times and changed jobs so often I have a social media checklist now on things to update so I don’t forget. In the spirit of sharing, I also created a personal branding checklist for you too complete with a handy reference list for you to keep track of all your social media website addresses.