Steps in Online Personal Branding

Whenever possible, you should follow a logical progression as you construct an online personal brand. (I say ‘whenever possible’ because for many of us it is something we have to react to what is already out there.) But ideally speaking, you want to establish an identity before projecting it onto networks and social media. And as you construct your personal brand, you want to get a handle on how others perceive you in stages.  So you can respond and take control of impressions before releasing your personal brand to an entire target audience. Finally, it is an ongoing commitment so it requires constant attention and monitoring.

Steps in Branding

Steps in Branding

I created a simple ladder of eight steps to illustrate this progression, and once you get there, there are another four things you should consider doing in perpetuity; personal branding is a career long endeavor.

  • Become self-aware. Take personality, interests, and/or strengths test to get a firm grip on what you are all about.
  • Take inventory of brand assets. What content, core competencies, or knowledge do you already possess?
  • Identify a target market. List clients, associates, potential employers, and whoever else you are trying to reach. It is not all about you.
  • Conduct competitor analysis. Know who you are competing against, so you can differentiate and benchmark.
  • Build a personal website. This is the centerpiece of your online personal brand; it is something you will keep throughout your career.
  • Create social media profiles. If you do not already have an account, build a profile based on the intended purpose of the service and what you are trying to project. If you already have an account, you want to repurpose what’s out there to fit your personal brand.
  • Get feedback. Release the ‘Alpha’ version of your personal brand to a small cadre to get an understanding of their perceptions. Respond accordingly.
  • Start making connections. Now you are ready to reach out to your target audience.

You can view more graphics related to online personal branding at: www.onlinepersonalbrand.org

Personal Branding and Behaviors

In defining an online personal brand, you lay out a set of expectations so it is important that you behave according to them both online and offline. As more of our interactions move online, there are an increasing number of behaviors to consider.

Branding Behaviors

Branding Behaviors

You want to respond to connection invitations in a particular way, perhaps create a new connections policy that defines the criteria for accepting connections. Specify how many new connections you want to make in a given week and stick to it, then think about ways to get to know them.

Consider the frequency of your social media interactions. Create a schedule for disseminating new content. Of course, this schedule varies considerably depending on your online personal brand. For example, if you blog, you want to implicitly tell your audience: “you can count on me to deliver a weekly blog post”. There is a big dropout rate for bloggers, so if you can get past the first hump and regularly post a weekly blog, you establish authority and a deeper connection with your readers. So even if you create content in spurts, release it your audience in a stream.

Regarding your communications, consider the three Cs of effective personal branding communications: clarity, consistency, and constancy (Salpeter and Morgan 2013). In emails and social media posts, you want to have a clear voice. Your style and delivery should be uniform in your communications. With the majority of online connections, these communications are the only way somebody gets to know you in a personal and professional way; there are no face to face meetings to clarify things. So it is crucial for connections to feel comfortable with you, something that is only accomplished through normalcy and consistency.

Make sure there is commonality between your personal website and social media presence. Initially when you first build a personal website and social media profiles, make sure they effectively complement each other. Use the same style and appearance (background image, color scheme, and tagline). Your slogan and elevator pitch should be the same. Then, as your brand evolves, make sure modifications to your personal brand cascades across all portrayals.

You want to be adaptable to others’ perceptions of your personal brand. Establishing your personal brand is not analogous to proving a thesis, but rather modifying a perception. So you want to always solicit feedback regarding the effectiveness of your branding efforts.

Finally, try to show enthusiasm as you project your personal brand. Be proud of you: who you are and are becoming. Let your target audience get a glimpse of your vision and how you are different from everyone else in the world.

Why Online Personal Branding Can Be Annoying

There are parts of personal branding that might seem enjoyable such as becoming self-aware, developing a vision, continual learning and working towards mastery, and making solid connections. However, there are also parts of personal branding that might seem arduous and mechanical. And many of us cringe when told to self-promote and sell ourselves as a brand. Online personal branding is a difficult undertaking for a number of reasons.

Personal Branding Annoying

Personal Branding Annoying

Much of the content and communications we publish online are part of a permanent record. It is very difficult to get rid of unwanted content from appearing and be accessed online.

It is difficult managing personal and professional content. When using certain web services, we just want to be ourselves and not worry about the implications of things be taken out of context. Sometimes we want to be funny, challenge the status quo, or be clever. In a way, we want to have multiple identities as we reach out to different channels.

No matter how we try to erect barriers to protect our privacy, in many cases, we cannot protect our anonymity or the how information is disseminated. This requires us to monitor what is out in the public domain about us and how it affects our online personal brand, whether it is something we publish or another party publishes.

Online personal branding mistakes are difficult, sometimes impossible to recover from. As you make more connections in social media and publish content, everything you produce is shared with your audience.

Trying to control perceptions is subjective, which requires constant monitoring and soliciting feedback from a target audience; you cannot know how others perceive you without them telling you in some way.

Online personal branding is a requirement, so you are forced to do something about your personal brand regardless if it is something you want or even like doing.

 

Skills Gap, Online Learning, Higher Education, Common Core, Millennials

This month I passed another milestone with this blog: a two-year anniversary. So I wanted to canvas some of the key concepts I covered this year (posts after June 2013).

First, I wrote a few blogs related to advancing the Skills-Based Approach methodology. The book was released in August and here is a blog post about the release: New Book: A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career

Second, there has been a whirlwind of press coverage about addressing ‘a skills gap’ in K-12 and higher education. Employers claim college graduates do not have the technical skills for jobs they are looking to fill. In response, the administration is pushing to increase STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) bound students in K-12.

STEM Funnel

STEM Funnel

Third, online learning is growing rapidly for a few reasons. It is an effective tool for personalized learning and mastery, provides feedback loops to teachers and educators, and is a cost-effective way to reach the masses (demonstrate by the success of MOOCs). According to Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class, by 2019 50% of all K-12 courses will be online.

Feedback Loops

Feedback Loops

Fourth,in a few blogs, I discuss the issues related to the escalating costs of higher education. There is going to be reform in the upcoming years to control rising student debt. It has a ‘snowball effect’ on young households’ investments, less can afford to buy houses and cars. Students are going to have alternative choices to a traditional college education, such as technical internships and online learning solutions. To control cost inflation, colleges will blend online and traditional learning channels.

Squeeze on Higher Education

Squeeze on Higher Education

Fifth, I advocate the whole concept of Common Core in K-12 along with the 45 states that have already adopted it; I dedicate a few blogs discussing the advantages of Common Core. I think is a powerful way to get teachers, administrator, politicians, and third-party organizations (such as online learning platform and game designers) in synch with a set of transparent learning expectations by subject and grade. The standards are posted on a publically accessible website for all interested parties to view. Currently, some parents and teachers are complaining about students underperforming; two states have recently dropped the standards. I think we have to be patient with the testing, and embrace all the benefits of Common Core – far beyond test results.

Common Core

Common Core

Sixth, millennials are the buzz. This upcoming generation is comprised of ‘digital natives’ and represent a large segment of the workforce (36 percent).  There is going to be a ‘tug of war’ with Millennials and Baby Boomers for influence in years to come (something Paul Taylor talks about in The Next America).

Millenials

Millenials

Seventh, I spend a couple of blogs talking about leadership. In this Information Age, there are going to be smaller, nimbler companies. More professionals will be required to take on leadership roles. There is also going to be an emphasis on building the team.

Finally, I have been working on an online personal branding concept, something I feel is a logical extension from the Skills-Based Approach methodology I shared last year. It is also closely intertwined with a personal website – a centerpiece of an online personal brand.

 

 

Create a Slogan for Your Personal Brand

Finding a way to represent your emotional value in a slogan is a powerful way to reach your audience. This is what companies do frequently. A good example is with car manufacturers. Here are some examples of one word phrases car manufacturers have established with their brands: Volvo – safety, Volkswagen – economy, Mercedes – performance, Toyota – reliability, Cadillac – luxury, and GM – utility. In You Branding, Mark Cijo states:

“Many experts even call personal branding the ‘you business’, and that’s an accurate assessment”

As you develop your brand, try to summarize your message into a few words and make it personal. You can then decide if you want to promote your slogan implicitly or explicitly. Ways you can deliver your slogan implicitly are through content and/or appearance to get your message across to a viewer; make sure you put the content in a prominent place. Make it a focal point in a similar way an artist tries to draw your eyes to a particular place on a painting. For example, say your message involves compassion, you might use a video demonstrating your compassion in a personal or professional setting or a story depicting how you helped someone. Put it on the homepage of your website so someone visiting it cannot overlook it. Ways you can deliver your slogan explicitly are by using it as a tagline in a heading, keywords in a promotion campaign (Google AdWords, Facebook, and/or Twitter), as part of your domain name (www.ideaactualizer.com), and by tagging content with it.

Make An Impression

Make An Impression

The primary reason for developing a slogan is to differentiate you from other professionals. Moreover, it is something your audience remembers and associates with you on an emotional level. Something visual also helps your audience recollect their impersonation of you. It is unlikely you pick a slogan that totally standouts from everyone, there are too many people in the world. But hopefully, there are few competitors with similar slogans in your target audience. And you may consider further differentiating your slogan by adding another dimension to it. Related to the car manufacturer example above, Tesla has successfully carved out its own niche defined in two words: performance and eco-friendly.

Think of something personal you can draw on. Let’s take an example of a computer programmer. He or she will have a difficult time differentiating from other programmers, especially on an emotional level; the responsibilities of programmers are predominately functional. In their personal lives, programmers might cut the stress by hiking, sailing, volunteering, or playing sports in their free time. They should incorporate these experiences into their brand. The idea is to not only share personal experiences with a target audience, but also find a way to tie it together with the other part of the slogan.

This is very common on a Twitter profile, where you have one hundred sixty words to define who you are and attract others to connect with you. I have read profiles where someone with similar professional interests of mine, also shares that he or she is a parent, participates in hobbies or sports, or helps a social cause. As you make connections with people, the heavily active Twitter participants say Tweets are all about connecting in a personal way (whether or not they are doing it for professional reasons).

To illustrate this idea of a slogan, let me explain mine. I try to identify with two words: reliable learner. I express my slogan implicitly in the content on my website and in the taglines of my Google+ and LinkedIn social media profiles. On my website, I emphasize that I am a continual learner – always taking courses (MOOCs or at a university) – through a timeline application. In my social media profiles, I say I am ‘driven to actualize ideas’. A few things to notice. First, my slogan does not say what I do professionally but rather describes me in what I feel is a personal way. Second, there are ways to subtly tell your audience how you want them to perceive you. And, depending on your audience, they might appreciate this added level of sophistication. Finally, summarizing yourself in two words makes you self-aware. Throughout my life, I have always prided myself to be reliable. Being a learner was my top strength in a Gallup Strength Finder test and after self reflection I agree with this assessment; it clearly fits me.

You should come up with your own slogan. To come up with one, reflect on your personal and professional experiences, take personality or strength tests, and/or ask someone who really knows you well. Once you have one, find a clever way to deliver it your audience.

Why Services Are Free?

We share an exorbitant amount of information about ourselves online. Some of the information is published content in social media, where sometimes we understand the boundaries of who has access to it. Behind the scenes, we also share information about our behaviors, values and interests. What do we search on in Google? What links do we click on? All of this information is stored by the providers of the service (Google, Facebook, etc.) and many times can be linked directly to you (a reason why these companies want for you to stay logged in).

Monthly Expense Personal Website

Monthly Expense Personal Website

What I find interesting is that you are not really aware of what is happening behind the scenes. You might have heard about the use of cookies and how they are used to track your moves on the internet. You might know how to turn them off in your browser. However, from the perspective of a developer, the use of cookies is essential to the functionality of many websites – it allows the use of session variables – so it makes it a painstaking process to disable cookies. According to a Frontline broadcast United States of Secrets (05/20/2014), Google has a tracking cookie that most users get when they go online regardless if they are using a Google service; NSA piggybacked on the use of this cookie.

I experienced the effect of marketers viewing my digital tracks first-hand (like I am sure many of you have). For the past couple months, I have been looking for a television and bike in online stores. So I searched for them in Google and visited some of the sellers’ websites. Now, when I check my Hotmail email, I see ads for these products. I do not mind. From the marketer’s perspective, it was effective because I checked out the prices in the ad. The argument is both sides – the marketer and consumer – benefit from this personalized targeting.

According to a documentary Terms And Conditions May Apply, one such marketer Acxiom claims to have 1500 points of data (eye color, age, etc.) on the average American citizen.

Sharing ownership of content you publish is different. You should be careful when you upload a personal picture or video, because you never know where it could appear. I suggest reading the ‘privacy policy’ for all of the web services you become part of. In particular, pay attention to their rights to your content. For example, Facebook’s ‘terms of service’ makes it clear they have the right to use your intellectual property (IP) royalty free, worldwide, and in a sub-license.

It is understandable companies use these tactics when they offer free web services. If you think about how much time you spend using their services without directly paying for it, then you understand the value of their service. How many times do you search in Google a day without paying a cent? (I probably Google at least 10 times a day). Similarly Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn capture a lot of face time. So users are willing to give up some privacy to get something valuable for free.

Again, I am fine with these tactics; though perhaps, there should be more transparency with tracking and content ownership. I am just trying to make an argument for a paid service. I recently conducted a survey with Millennials, where I asked the sample ‘how much they would be willing to pay for a personal website service’. A large majority of them (65.14 percent) want to have it for free.

If I had a chance for a rebuttal, I would have told them why I think they should pay for it. If you have a personal website, I think you should have full ownership of the content and the provider should do what they can to protect your copyright privileges. In addition, there is no ‘mining’ of personal information to third-party marketers. This ownership of an identity is a key characteristic of an effective personal website.

Valuing the Traditional College Education

There has been a lot attention given to the value of a traditional four-year college education. For the past thirty years or so, it has been thought of having three primary purposes: preparing students for a career, providing a social experience, and imparting civic-mindedness. However, with the rising cost of tuition and associated student indebtedness, the first two of these purposes are coming into question.

There is a skills gap. Are there alternative ways to build relevant skills and knowledge – apprenticeships and online training? Are there less expensive ways to educate students – online courses, MOOCs, etc.? Are there better credentials than a college degree – online badges? The traditional education is not going away, however, colleges are going to find ways to address these issues – blend online and classroom learning, make internships more like apprenticeships, and shorten the path to a degree.

There is sufficient evidence that many students are not learning much in college, even if they earn a degree. The bigger question is the value of a social experience. There is a transition from living at home under parental care and living independently. College shapes an individual’s social connectedness and sense of responsibility, but how much is this worth?

In the book Paying for the Party, two sociologists define three pathways (motivations) for college students; they are: mobility pathway, party pathway, and professional pathway.[1] I find the party pathway intriguing. Students prioritize Greek life and social aspects of their college experience. There is little emphasis on learning in this pathway. The idea is to get through the academics (to stay in college and party) and graduate with a credential – a degree. As the authors make clear, this is not necessarily negative for persons who strongly fit this motivation because they orchestrate the social interactions of the college. The majority of college students experience a maturation process where they learn to balance academics and partying; it is like a right of passage. (Though the intensity and circumstance of this process varies considerably based on social class.)

Social Experience

Social Experience

Nevertheless, as the cost of college is put under a microscope, I think it is important to consider students who gravitate towards a party pathway. Tuition is based on a credit hour system (related to the number of hours a week students spend on courses). Professors are paid based on the courses they teach. But if students are not attending the courses, what are they taking out loans and/or asking their parents to pay for?

Online learning helps some of these problems go away. Students can take a class or test when they are ready. There is no requirement to get up early in the morning or attend class on a Friday. Personalized learning and mastery is easier too. Students can get deeper into learning when they are ready.

Still I am not sure there is an easy solution in dealing with the escalating college costs. I think college students should understand their likely pathway and how it impacts their college experience. There has to be a better, less expensive way to go through a ‘maturation process’ to become academically prepared. Moreover, if you devote all of your time towards a ‘social experience’, then you should pay for a ‘social experience’ – not an academic education.

[1] Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party. (Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 2013).

Survey: Millennials and Personal Branding

In late 2013 to early 2014, I conducted a survey to understand what Millennials think about online personal branding. Millennials are digital natives and know more about social media, apps, and technology than any other generation. I targeted this segment of the population because it is the first generation that must invest in an online personal brand (at least I think so). In addition, Millennials already have an online presence – more than 80 percent use Facebook – so they will have to make a transition when they become professionals. How are they going to manage all the personal content from their teenage and college years? What about the hundreds of connections they have made? And at some point, they will face maturity.

Most of the respondents feel an online personal brand is ‘somewhat important’ and only 9.60 percent think it is essential. A large number, 26.93 percent, think it is ‘not important’. I am not surprised by having such a large number of respondents say online personal branding is ‘not important’. They probably do not know much about it. I used a broad sample canvasing many professional backgrounds and unfortunately most articles and books about personal branding cater to ‘white collar’ professionals.

Survey Personal Branding

Survey Personal Branding

In the survey, I asked what Millennials thought about having a personal website. The response to the statement ‘I should have a personal website’ was largely split between agreeing and disagreeing. The largest two segments were 32 percent saying ‘Maybe’ and 31 percent saying they ‘Disagree’. Most of the respondents (71 percent) were ‘not sure having a personal website is worth the expense’, while 41 percent thought it was ‘too much self-promotion’. A large chunk of the respondents (65 percent) want a personal website for free and 24 percent would pay $5 to $10 a month. (Millennials are well acquainted to getting their web services and apps for free.)

More to come regarding the survey…

Generation Z, Mobile Natives

While I looked into the ‘monthly average users’ for the big four social media services, I realized there is a major new trend: users are using mobile devices on par with regular desktops. According to a recent publication, Facebook has reached 1 billion monthly active users using mobile devices compared to 1.28 billion overall. And this is also playing out with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google +. The major implication is a good web service must function just as well on a mobile device, it cannot be a secondary afterthought. It is not like building a web service first and then saying “Oh, maybe I should make this mobile friendly.”, but rather, “How can I make a web service that functions on a desktop and mobile devices effectively, where there are little discernible differences in functionality as I go from one to the other?” Another implication is the next generation is being brought up using mobile devices, and could be labeled as ‘mobile natives’ (in a similar fashion Millennials are labeled as ‘digital natives’).

Network vs Identity

Network vs Identity

The use of mobile apps is soaring. There are millions of apps offered on Android, Windows 8, and Mac OS platforms. What is great about apps is they do one simple task really well. You can have hundreds of apps, each providing a particular service. There are apps for weather, GPS, cooking, emailing, content sharing, social media, meditating, calculator, processing payments, calendar scheduling, and so on.

Our next generation will be accustomed to this ‘app way of doing things’. Microsoft realizes this. This is why they changed their operating system, Windows 8, into a hybrid of what they had before with an app interface. They want to have their operating system accessible on all devices, desktop and mobiles. Facebook realizes this too. This is why they acquired Instagram and WhatsApp.

I do not think usage of desktops disappears. Simply put, there are just too many things we do that we prefer a larger screen or more processing power, and if you are at a desk, why not take advantage of it. For example, I prefer writing, editing graphics, and watching video on my desktop. If you are playing a graphic intensive game, you need a desktop. So the platform we use is dependent on the task we are trying to accomplish and whether a desktop is accessible. That’s why new web services should be built to work on both desktop and mobile devices effectively.

In a New York Times article, the CEO of a content distributor says:

We used to interact with personal computers daily, for two or three hours at a time. With laptops, we started interacting three or four times a day for 20 minutes each. Mobile phones made that into sessions of two minutes, 50 times a day.[i]

[i] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/writing-in-a-nonstop-world/?hpw&rref=technology

Fishing An Idea

Conversations revolve around talking either ideas or perceptions. I think most people are comfortable picking one or the other and sticking to it. When does chasing an idea conflict with winning consensus?

Fishing An Idea

Fishing An Idea

An idea is a statement that begs to be rationalized. It is often a solution to a problem. For example, in 1980s, Steve Jobs had the idea: “Every person should have access to a personal computer.” You challenge this idea/hypothesis by coming up with the needs of the average person and doing a market study. (This example comes to mind because I just watched Jobs the movie.)

Some people like to talk ideas. They have analytical minds. They revel in sharing perspectives, philosophizing on societal impact, and debating for the best argument. There is comfort in being confined to rules based on rationality. Arguments are challenged with logic, hypothesis testing, and statistics and probability.

A perception is a response that begs to be voted on. For example, last week there was sufficient discussion about the impact a CEO’s religious views would have on the company’s image. It is almost impossible to rationalize whether the former CEO should have been pressured to resign, so you weigh the public response.

Some people like to talk perceptions. They have sensory minds. They like to connect with others. The rules are to follow social graces. A winning argument is often subjective and one that builds consensus.

There is not necessarily a clear, overall benefit in choosing one preference over the other, though there are surely situational benefits. Personally, I think there should be clear segues when you move from talking ideas to perceptions and vice-versa. Moreover, you may want to converse with people based on their preference so they are in their comfort zone. This is what good leaders already do.

The popular Myers Briggs Personality test gives some validity to what I am trying to say.[i] There are four personality types, which ask the following questions:

  • Are you an introvert or extrovert?
  • How do you process information (sensory or intuition)?
  • What motivates you when you make a decision (thinking or feeling)? This has the strongest linkage to my discussion above. A thinking personality type looks to logic when making a decision. A feeling personality type looks to people and communication when making a decision.
  • Do you prefer organization and order or are you open to new information and options?

There was an interesting quote in the NY Times about Mozilla’s former CEO:

(he) is a very analytic person who got into a situation he did not have the social skills to navigate.[ii]

[i] http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/my-mbti-results/

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/technology/personality-and-change-inflamed-crisis-at-mozilla.html

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