There is no shortage of media buzz about the Millennial generation. From skyrocketing student debt, to the contracting job market, to the decline in traditionally “secure” professions, to the setbacks of coming of age in the worst recession in decades, the challenges of my generation are well-documented. The flip side of the doom and gloom prophecies is the unprecedented opportunities in the new economy for those who are willing to get creative to sell themselves and reach their goals. Whether you snag a traditional professional job, strike out as an entrepreneur, or work a 9-5 with projects on the side, strategically managing your personal brand can be what sets you apart from your competition.
While branding has an established role in a business — we can all list traits of brands like Porche, Coke or McDonalds what can a brand offer a person? An effective personal brand is one of the quickest and most effective ways to build credibility. Online branding, especially social media, has become the go-to way to check a person’s influence, resume, connections and current projects. Quantifying how many people “like” someone, use their services, support their ideas… a seemingly endless array of data is readily available. For a product or a person, gaining support and creating a clear brand message online improves access to opportunities from jobs to investors to customers.
To build a strong personal brand, the first step is to audit where your brand is now. Your digital personal brand is a searchable, traceable record of your photos, projects, opinions, relationships and anything else you post or others post about you.
Inventory the Online You
The first step is to Google yourself. Focus on the first page of results. How many of the links are sites that you are monitoring or providing the content for, like a blog or Facebook? How many are sites by others, like a post you are tagged in or a new article about a club or school you are connected to? How many of them are surprises? Once you have a clear picture of your digital first impression, repeat the process with Google images. With rare exceptions, anything coming up on the first page of Google image searches (or before the scroll) should be appropriate enough to not raise the eyebrows of either a boss or elderly relative. At least one photo should be a professional-looking headshot.
When I first started monitoring my personal brand, I was applying to graduate school. I was surprised to see on the first page of search results links to my hometown newspaper covering competitions I competed in during high school. As I expanded the content I was posting about my current projects, those links slowly moved off of the first page. I also had to clean up my Google Image results — unprofessional photos from college were still online and tagged to my profile. I untagged and deleted photos connected to my name and asked friends to do the same.
After auditing Google, repeat the process with the top 3 social media sites you use. This could be sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. What you post or link to your social media outlets should be at worst neutral and at best helping you. Scroll through your 10 most recent posts on each site and quickly write down what the posts communicate. Is their message saying something positive about you? Are they related to your goals/career/business? Would they better serve you tucked away in an offline diary or photo album? Social media has an incredible power to communicate and should be aligned to your aspirations. Delete any comments, posts, tweets, photos, etc. that detract from the message of who you are and your goals. Also, delete any half-started or fake online profiles. They distract from your brand without offering any benefits.
Develop the Online You
Once you have a clear picture of your current brand and have cleaned up any problem areas, it is time for the hard part: deciding who you are and what you want. This isn’t to say that you have to have the final answer — the definite essence of you. You need to be able to reevaluate and redefine as you grow. Map out an idea of who you are now and where you would like to go in the next few years to shape the brand that you want to project. Start with any clear next steps you would like to take, like looking for a job or starting a business. Then add in other features like current projects — from crafts, to game design to writing an ebook — art or literature that inspires you, affiliations with clubs, organizations or schools, or other pieces of your identity that can help you connect with other people. Once you have mapped out your personal brand, you have a guide for the types of content and channels you incorporate.
Once you design your personal brand, you should select the best online channels for your own content and audience - taking into account the ease of use for different sites and the time you have available to post and monitor content. With my personal brand, I found that Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are best suited to the content and audience I am interested in, whereas sites like Instagram and Tumblr were not a good fit.
Building your personal brand is a long-term commitment. After your personal brand is spruced up and you have selected the channels of distribution, content and information should be regularly updated. The frequency is up to you and varies depending on the channels you choose and what sort of content you are dispersing — for instance tweeting a single photo takes much less time than a blog post. As a general guideline, you should start with updates once a week. Many sites also offer scheduled posting so you can load multiple pieces of content and select when they are posted in advance. Whichever method and frequency you choose, the content you link to your name online should be aligned toward your goals.
Strategic personal branding can open doors to opportunities that can help you reach your goals. With thoughtful management, your digital brand can transform from a mere record to an asset.
For further information, check out my book RAY-ganomics: The New Rules to Becoming a Millionaire (Spring 2014) and the Small Bytes & Apps Entrepreneurship Conference at MIT February 22, 2014.