by Maggie LatonIn this digital age, everyone needs a personal brand. No matter what you think your future holds, failing to build your online persona now could lead to problems down the road. At worst, your online activities could be embarrassing or inappropriate. At a minimum, a search for you could yield no results, making you seem unengaged and therefore undesirable to certain employers.
So, how do you create your online brand, ensuring it portrays the person you want others to see?
- Conduct an audit.
Google your name and review the search results. If you have a common name, you may need to add keywords like your college, employer, location or other descriptive terms.
On most platforms, other users can post photos or comments about you and tag you without your permission if you haven’t set your privacy levels correctly. If you find something that doesn’t represent you in the best light, remove it or contact the poster and ask him/her to remove it. Once information goes online, though, it never really goes away.
During your audit, visit a site like namecheckr.com, which generates a checklist of the social media platforms and domains that currently use your name.
This leads us to the next step:
- Claim as many usernames and domains as possible.
You do not need to reserve all of the accounts associated with your name, but conduct an audit a couple of times a year to make sure you have locked down the major ones.
The most important platform for any professional is LinkedIn. Claim your “unique URL” that looks like this: www.linkedin.com/in/yourname. If your name is taken, add a middle initial or another identifier. Don’t use a company name, which is likely to change, and don’t use a graduation year or other trendy term.
Other key platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google+.
Also consider buying your domain name. Most domains are available for around $10 per year; although you will have to renew the subscription every year, reserving that piece of online real estate could prove to be a good investment, especially if you work in marketing, enjoy writing or plan to run for office.
- Create your online brand.
As previously mentioned, your online audit might uncover incriminating photos or other unsavory information. Many executives age 40 and older are fortunate that camera phones didn’t exist while they were in college. However, today’s college students don’t enjoy that luxury. Many students and young professionals accumulate online trails of evidence that can derail their future employment plans.
The best course of action is to “bury the past.” If you are looking for a job, demonstrate your expertise and qualifications with focused, purposeful and strategic content that prospective employers will find. For example, if you aim to secure a position in finance, post columns from The Economist with an informative headline explaining the articles and why your followers would benefit from reading them. If you are pursuing a career in consulting, write long-form LinkedIn posts about best practices or new developments in your field.
Although monitoring your online persona is critical to your career, you still can have fun online. Examples of fun posts include photos from industry conventions and training sessions, which demonstrate your commitment to continuing education, as well as professional dinners and networking events, which establish your position as a community and industry participant. Just remember that everything you post becomes part of the public record and ask yourself: Will this strengthen or detract from my personal brand?
The bottom line is that your reputation no longer is built solely in person or via a resume. You now can build or destroy your online brand by not participating at all, or participating poorly. If you approach your online brand with the same intention and planning as your education, employment and personal relationships, you can utilize it for your benefit — and have fun, too.
Maggie Laton (MBA, marketing, ’07) is a marketing and social media expert for small businesses, helping them use social media to tell their stories and connect with the world. She is a frequent speaker on social media trends and issues and a contributor to Fayette Woman magazine.