Online Personal Branding Solutions

Last year I introduced a functional model for personal branding  with three elements: skill set, aura, and identity. It is meant to capture a holistic picture of you. I want to provide you with solutions for each of these elements.

Branding Solutions
Branding Solutions

As you work on your skill set, I suggest using the Skills-Based Approach methodology. It is a complete package. There are strategies and tools for career planning and development, constant learning, and gaining credibility – all based on the premise of developing  a skill set throughout your lifetime.

With an aura, the idea is to flesh out perceptions (especially on an emotional level) about you. The best way to learn what people think about you is through a focus group or interview and what I call a branding club. Ideally a focus group or interview is conducted face-to-face, but you can also setup an online video conference with Skype or a Google+ private chat. Some other suggestions to get a perspective of your ‘aura’ (all happen to be free):

  • Create a SurveyMonkey survey, then send it to a target audience.
  • Create a private LinkedIn group and start discussions where members talk about personal brands.

What I like about a branding club is personalization. It combines a professional networking meeting (like BNI), with a social gathering (like a book club). If you are uncomfortable about asking others to respond to a series of questions about you, with a branding club, you commit to return the favor on another night. I suggest doing it within your community if you can; though logistically speaking, it can be coordinated online.

The identity element is about establishing and owning an identity, then controlling how you are represented across networks. Some actions you should take to master your identity.

  • Get your own domain name. Your domain name becomes another personal characteristic of yours, like a phone number, address, etc. The longer you have a domain name, the better it appears in search engines. It is possible to use subdomains to link to various web services.
  • Build a personal website. This is the cornerstone of your personal brand. You want for it to appear first in a Google search. You own all the content. You control the style, aesthetics, and layout. There are no ads or distractions (unless you choose to have them). It is all about you, everything down to the pixel.
  • Take an inventory of assets (IP). In the Information Age most students and professionals create and accumulate content, including papers, graphics, video, presentations, etc. This content is produced from education, employment, or other experiences. You should identify content that is IP, then separate what content you have control over. Figure out its value, then answer these questions: Do you want to relinquish royalty and/or copyright privileges? Should it be used on a personal website to validate skill competencies? Can it generate some income?
  • Understand how you are represented on networks. Each of the social media platforms has an analytics platform to understand your presence on their network. (I use Twitter Analytics to see who is reading my Tweets, what hashtags are effective, etc.) There are also social media analytic platforms like HooteSuite, Sprout, etc., which are effective if you are super engaged in social media.  BrandYourself is a free service you can use to monitor how you are represented on a Google search engine results page (“SERP”) and provides tools to improve the results.
  • Establish a mobile presence. Make sure you subscribe to popular mobile apps, some are only accessible via the app itself. For example, you can only create an account for the popular app Instagram from an IOS or Andriod device. (Instagram has 300 million active users!) Mobile usage is surpassing desktop usage and it only becomes more lopsided in the future.

Of course there are many other tools applicable to the Online Personal Brand model.  Please share tools you find to be effective and what element it targets (skill set, aura, or identity).

Less Self-Promotion, More Idea-Promotion

Regarding personal branding, many of the experts suggest heavy doses of self-promotion and cater to the elite. Much of the audience who buys and reads a personal branding book wants to hear stories of how to make it big. This might be landing an elusive job at a top company, becoming a thought leader, or making tons of connections in social media. How do you reach these accomplishments? A common suggestion is self-promotion.

Idea Promotion
Idea Promotion

A difficulty for many of us is what to ‘self-promote’ (especially early career professionals).

  • Size, scope. There are an astounding 5,000 colleges and universities in the US; total undergraduate enrollment was 17.7 million in 2012.[i] Getting in one of the top 100 of the colleges and universities is ridiculously challenging. It largely depends on a near perfect high school GPA, which barring geniuses, requires a lot of maturity.
  • Tangible talent. Regardless of the college, it is statistically hard graduating with top honors; there is a bell curve and lots of smart people. Many talented individuals do not perform well in college.
  • Lacking leads. Most of us are not ‘connected’, so have to build our reputations on our own.
  • Costly credentials. Acquiring credentials is expensive and time-consuming. Not everyone can afford the expense.

I suggest a mainstream personal branding approach. You take an inventory of your assets and then project them onto networks; anyone can do it and at any stage of their career. Some takeaways:

  • ‘Idea promotion’ over ‘self-promotion’. Use the power of demonstration. Allow others to assess your skills by seeing what you can do.
  • Build your own identity and network. Make connections and establish an online identity from scratch. Spread your ideas to make connections.
  • Control the impression. The idea of an aura (an element in my personal brand model) is to have someone come up with their own impression of you, without you telling it to them.

How do you use ‘idea promotion’? You publish past work projects from a college course or an employment experience on a personal website (or LinkedIn profile). You write and maintain a blog where you share interesting insights. You choreograph a video that exemplifies you. In all of these cases, you let your audience draw their own conclusion about your ideas – what you have to say!

How do you control an impression? You build a personal website with style and aesthetics matching your personality. Use all types of media to create depth on an emotional level. It is implicit. You do not say: “I am creative… I have style… I am meticulous.”

How do you make connections from scratch? You participate in some combination of the major social media platforms. This is where you share insights, link to published works, and comment on the posts of experts in your discipline. It is not about talking about you and your accomplishments, but rather spreading your ideas and showing interest in other peoples’ ideas.

Hard to deny self-promotion has its place in being successful, albeit depending on how you define successful. We face acute competition to establish a career and build a reputation, so self-promotion is a way to get ahead, gain an edge. If you have the credentials and connections, might as well use them to your advantage; they will open doors for you and get you pass initial screens. However, if you do not, consider my online personal brand model. It should motivate you to come up with your own ideas and get them out there, regardless of your past record and accomplishments. And it is refreshing if you would rather talk about your ideas and values, than yourself.

You can learn more about this concept by buying the book: Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.

[i] http://nces.ed.gov/pro

Original Image © Depositphoto/ zoomteam#6519586

A Company Culture Goes Both Ways

You should maintain your identity, especially as employers want to manage your behaviors. Let me be clear, I am a proponent of a company culture that defines how you must act while working for a company. A strong culture impacts a company’s success: better ideas, more engagement, and improved retention. It also has the potential to make you (as an employee) smarter, happier, and more productive.

Still, you do not want to lose track of who you are – your essence. Adopt the expectations of an employer for as long as you are required, yet always keep in mind what expectations are a true reflection of you. Keep a perspective. Later you might choose to stay or go based on these self-reflections; moreover, it becomes an important maturation process.

Respect is viewed as an entity that is hard won but easily lost so must constantly be guarded.[i]

Identity and Behaviors
Identity and Behaviors

I come from both angles: a leader defining a company culture and a professional projecting a personal brand (which I argue has a critical identity element).

I created a ‘standing constitution’ defining values and behaviors everyone should follow.[ii] For many companies, it gets much deeper than simply writing down expectations. New applications monitor and collect data based on behaviors and competencies of all workers. Management has desired outcomes. They monitor behaviors, analyze the results, and then make decisions. They encourage employees to adopt their behaviors, usually with contingencies. They train employees to modify their behaviors.

I created a model for professionals to project their personal brand onto networks; it includes a critical identity element. (The book is Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity.) A central premise is professionals become their own advocates. A professional has desired outcomes. A professional communicates how he or she wants to be perceived, has internal beliefs, and is prepared to respond and negotiate based on his or her own convictions.

Having an identity should not be casually overlooked. A professional needs to be self-aware. Here are some suggestions:

  • Show career vision. Understand short-term and long-term goals. Think of how a company culture coincides with your personal brand. (In the above mentioned book, I dedicate a chapter discussing this concept.)
  • Be prepared and proactive. Pull feedback to you.[iii] Find ways to advance your career goals.
  • Constant learning. Find ways to build and validate skills necessary not only for a current job, but also future jobs (with or without the company).[iv]
  • Listen to all suggestions. A company has invested to correctly measure your competencies; management has data and analysis to back up their assertions.
  • Not always a matter of right and wrong. You are who you are. Some things are worth changing, some things are not worth changing. Some things cannot be changed.
  • Keep a diary. Take note of your observations of a company culture as it evolves. Maybe it is simply an acknowledgement of how you feel; maybe it inspires you to make changes or decide to leave.
  • Separate identity in social. Social media makes it more difficult to have an identity. Separate how you represent yourself versus your company. Moreover, make sure your self-representation is not detrimental to your company representation.

I am a firm believer in the potential of a company culture. So my advice to you, as a professional, is to consider a company culture from the start – while applying and interviewing for the job. Recently, I saw a job posting where a company listed behaviors the company likes and dislikes. I went through the list checking what fits me. Right away I knew whether I wanted to be part of the company.

Once employed, observe how a company culture is evolving. Do you stand behind what the company is trying to accomplish? Do you agree with the expectations? Are you willing to suggest changing the culture? Are you in for the short or long term?

Last year, the median job tenure for workers aged 20 to 24 was shorter than 16 months. For those aged 25 to 34, it was three years, according to the BLS.[v] LinkedIn managers call this period: ‘tours of duty’. This means, if you are an early career professional, you have a mutual understanding with an employer that after the period has completed you will renegotiate your terms of employment. Take full advantage of this period to determine if your personal brand coincides with the company culture. Keep your identity, part of an online personal brand and more importantly who you are as a person.

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/02/business/dealbook/the-enduring-hunt-for-personal-value.html

[ii] https://blog.theprofessionalwebsite.com/2015/02/27/adopting-a-company-culture/

[iii] Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Penguin (2014, New York).

[iv] http://www.skillsbasedapproach.com

[v] http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-employers-wrangle-restless-millennials-1430818203

Improve Your ‘Collective Intelligence’

I recently talked about humans using machines to improve a ‘collective intelligence’, but another way to improve ‘collective intelligence’ is through teams or networks; so the two terms together:

INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS + NETWORK/TEAM (YOU AS A MEMBER) = COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE

Collective Intelligence
Collective Intelligence

With social media, you engage with a network and build concepts collectively. Someone has an initial inspiration such as a blog or article post and then a network responds through commentary. That initial concept usually evolves into something deeper and richer. This exchange is especially effective in LinkedIn, perhaps because professionals’ reputations are at stake. In A World Gone Social, the authors summarize it:

By sharing knowledge and best practices, the community grows, collectively.[i]

Professionals are able to claim a concept (something they are researching or thinking about) and attract interested parties through a network. The best ways to distinguish the concept is to create a hashtag, something all of the social media platforms use for conversations. Of course, a traditional search in social media or Google on the concept also works. Once there is a following, you have effectively created a feedback loop – an effective way to collectively build a concept.

Your network also feeds you relevant content, stuff they have created or curated. Intelligent systems also feed you content through algorithms. Because of the massive amount of content produced on a single day, you cannot read everything. Much of your ‘daily knowledge gain’ is based on what content is fed to you. Many of us get our daily news from Twitter and Facebook.

But probably the biggest gains in ‘collective intelligence’ comes from groups working together and using technologies to solve problems. A well-cited article Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups has two strong conclusions. First and foremost, it is possible to measure and sometimes predict a group’s collective intelligence. Second, it is strongly correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and proportions of females in the group” – not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members. To the ballyhoo of those trying to improve team dynamics, it turns out motivation and cohesion are also not good predictors. [ii]

The takeaway is leaders should improve the ‘collective intelligence’ of their teams. Introducing new technologies and applications could be an effective way to improve this ‘collective intelligence’. Moreover, they should create a structured environment where all team members have equal time to share their ideas. Perhaps flatter companies where team members have an equal voice and status is the optimal structure; this is something the authors harp on in A World Gone Social. Social networks and technology make it possible to do all of this virtually. In the future, ‘collective intelligence’ will be more commonly referenced than ‘individual intelligence’.

Intelligence in all its forms relates to personal branding. Think about it. In an evaluation of a person’s reputation (personal branding is synonymous with reputation management in many ways), two things always come up: that person’s smartness and how well he or she works with others. Your maximum level of expertise with a skill set is largely determined by your individual intelligence (and to some extent your collective intelligence). Your identity and connectedness defines what networks you can tap into to maximize your collective intelligence.

[i] Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt (2014). A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt To Survive. New York: AMACOM.

[ii] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686.full

Why Create Content?

As the world becomes social, we are still establishing rules and norms with little precedence. Never before in our history could ordinary individuals connect with masses of people through networks like the Internet and social media. But there are clear implications, such as managing an online reputation, competing for an audience, and amplifying one’s individual thinking. One question related to establishing an online personal brand is whether you should start a blog. If you do, what should a blog post be comprised of and how frequently do you post? In Social Networking For Career Success, Miriam Salpeter summarizes the main benefits of blogging:

(Blogging) expands your circle of influence and lets you engage in two-way communication with colleagues and mentors in your field from around the world… Helps you become known as an expert. (And helps you ‘Get Found’ in a Google SERP.) [i]

Why Create Content?
Why Create Content?

I have been managing this blog for two and a half years and have my own formula for successful blogging. Here are some of my thoughts:

Ms. Salpeter and other experts suggest writing a blog “at least three times a week”. Perhaps you might have this type of participation to rev up a new blog or it is the core to your personal or company brand. Otherwise, I think this is too frequent for a number of reasons. (Publish once a week.)

  • Quality trumps quantity. Develop a concept rather than simply publish for the sake of it. Four primary tasks in creating a blog entry include: researching a concept, sharing your insight, writing the content, and designing a smart graphic. Strive for compelling content.
  • Your time is valuable. Blogging might be inexpensive, but it is time-consuming. At least consider your time spent on blogging in terms of a ROI and if it brings you happiness.
  • Your audience is bombarded with content on a daily basis. Build up anticipation. Get your audience excited to read your latest insight on a particular day every week.

Keep the blog short because your readers have a short attention span. In my opinion, a blog with one paragraph and without any references or stats is an immediate turnoff. Wouldn’t you rather read something of substance? I think a comfortable medium is between 400 to 800 words. To grab my readers’ attention, I always include visual content. To show I did some homework, I guarantee at least one quote.

“Broadcasting instead of engaging is not an acceptable trap to fall into.”[ii] I understand why you want to tame your promotions when you are selling something, however, what about when you are giving away something for free? You are essentially giving away your concept and hard work. At a minimum, you want for it to be read by audience. There will always be some element of broadcasting.

“Your network is your net worth and your greatest career asset.”[iii] For the vast majority of your connections, there is no real deep, personal relationship; in other words, you cannot have a meaningful, interactive and personal exchange with thousands of connections. You can do it with a cadre of a few hundred people you know. But for the rest, making connections involves formal and informal reputation management – personal branding and gossiping, respectively. Obviously, you must commit to responding to comments and requests and remain authentic – the size and scope of your audience fuels your influence.

If you can spare five to ten hours a week, like the challenge of being insightful and have basic writing skills, you should consider blogging as a part of your online personal brand. You might take on a ‘thought role’. Effective blogging reinforces each element of my online personal brand model: validates your skill set, radiates your aura (by sharing your personality), and establishes an identity (by helping you ‘get found’ on networks).

[i] Miriam Salpeter (2011). Social Networking For Career Success. New York: Learning Express.

[ii] Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt (2014). A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt To Survive. New York: AMACOM.

[iii] Dan Schawbel (2013). Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success. New York: St. Martin’s Press.