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

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Reflection on Personal Website Concepts

Often times I think in functional ways, so get tunneled vision on sharing key concepts and forget to include personal reflection. So, in this blog, I thought I would share some of the stories behind the concepts.

The story behind a mainstream personal website service starts around Christmas time in 2010. I pulled my brother’s tag from a hat for our family grab-bag and I had to give him a gift. He has traveled extensively around the world, so I was going to build him a website to share his travel experiences with stories and images. However, he preferred having his own personal website to help promote his work for non-profits. Of course, I tried taking a short-cut by using a platform from an existing web service. I could not find one – there was not a web service with the functionality we needed. This is when my brother and I knew we had an opportunity to be innovative by designing a personal website service.

We learned two important characteristics about a personal website from this experience. First, it establishes an online identity. A person wants it to appear first in a Google search about them, therefore it must deliver a deep, meaningful impression. Second, there are both personal and professional themes on the website. Part of an effective personal website is presenting and validating skills, but another equally important part is communicating an aura – something that requires media, style, and aesthetics.

I took an interest in academics at the start of senior year of my undergraduate education, before then I was more into a social experience. I was in a fraternity and made some great, lifelong friends (would not change that). But my goal was to get a degree, not actual learning. For that year and in my graduate education, I performed well academically. It was simply a switch- balance social and academic experiences. All it takes is accountability, dedication, and tricking yourself that learning is enjoyable. I want to help others to turn on the switch earlier in their lives.

In creating the Skills-Based Approach methodology, one of my primary objectives is to get college students and young professionals on the right career track. I feel so many young adults lack maturity, so do not go through the necessary self-reflection to find career fulfillment. Personally, I think it is a generational thing. In their two books Academically Adrift and Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors provide a compelling case that this problem of career preparedness affects a majority. In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I suggest four career planning strategies: craftsman’s mindset, self-awareness, product to market, and passion theory. My goal is to get the average person thinking about higher education and a career much earlier, take responsibility for their own learning, and grow personally and professionally – be happy.

I root for the underdog. A person who has fresh insights should be successful, regardless of their status and how many connections they have, in my opinion. Things I fear about personal branding approaches laden in self-promotion is that it becomes a ‘popularity contest’ in social media and credentialism takes over. This is why I am an advocate of using the power of demonstration. Get your ideas and content out there.

With online personal branding, one of my goals is to remove the stigma of self-promotion. I acknowledge varying doses of self-promotion are required in personal branding because professionals compete against each other, whether it be for a position, clients, or eyeballs on content. I cringe when forced to self-promote. I am more or less an introvert who prefers writing and sharing content, then sitting back and hoping it gets read based on the content itself (and not what I say about myself). So I came up with a model of online personal branding where self-promotion is not a focal point. Instead I suggest assessing your skill set, aura, and identity and then projecting it onto a network. No one likes too much self-promotion on a personal level, why do we accept so much of it on a professional level.

Gossip, Informal Reputation Management

In thinking about gossip, we giggle and think of something trivial we said behind someone’s back. Never thought much regarding the power of gossip until a professor in my A Brief History of Mankind MOOC identified gossip as one of the most important characteristics in the evolution of man. His argument is: gossip allows us to interact in ever-increasing social circles and, without it, we would be confounded in making new connections with persons in groups outside of our own. Similar to a point made in Wikipedia: Gossip is crucial in the forming of social bonds in large groups. People quickly get up to speed on characteristics and rumors of someone new in another group.

Gossip
Gossip

With social media, gossip is potent. It can sway the opinions of large networks of users in a frighteningly swift manner. A single post on Facebook or Twitter can command the attention of many people, especially as it gets introduced to ‘other groups’ as users share or like it. Gossip in social media blurs any distinction between personal and professional conduct; it is impossible to keep a personal life out of the prying eyes of coworkers, clients, and associates.

The primary benefit of gossip is “it is intimately connected with the moral rules of a given society, and individuals gain or lose prestige in their groups depending on how well they follow these rules”.[i] This is why gossip has endured through ages.

“This preoccupation with the lives of others is a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times to make our ancestors socially successful. Thus, it appears that we are hardwired to be fascinated by gossip.”[ii]

A problem with gossip is it often contains an unproven record and veiled truths. Gossip is meant to reach the masses and there are victims – persons whose reputation or standing in a group is tarnished. These victims cannot present their side of the story and sometimes do not even know precisely what has been said about them. This is why some offices ban gossip; it damages workforce morale. According to a recent article on maintaining your reputation: “Gossiping, triangulating—and not following the basic rules of your workplace—can certainly undermine your credibility”.[iii]

I think it is worth accepting the existence of gossip and that it may serve a purpose, so separate useful information and gossip; as a corporate-training executive put it, “one person’s gossip is another’s ‘information-sharing’”[iv]. Think about the intent behind it. Does it affect you in any way? Instead of tearing someone else down, why not improve your own perceptions and talk to someone directly. Once you partake in gossip, it never goes away (especially in a digital form – a text message, social media post, or an email). It can also erode trust and damage relationships.

Gossip requires informal reputation management and therefore ties into your personal branding. First and foremost, if you are the target of gossip, it is best to get a handle on what is being said about you. Sometimes it requires a smart response to stop it from spreading and hurting your reputation. Second, if you hear gossip, you need to process the information and choose a response (partake in it or remove yourself from the conversation). And remember this Turkish proverb: who gossips to you will gossip of you. Third, if you are the gossiper, consider how putting yourself out there affects your reputation. Are you providing accurate information and giving both sides of the story? Are you damaging someone else’s credibility? Gossip has been around for thousands of years and will continue to be around; social media is a powerful platform to spread gossip.

[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/groups_and_gossip_drove_the_evolution_of_human_nature.single.html

[ii] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-gossip/

[iii] http://preview.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/career/how-to-take-control-of-your-reputation-at-work/ar-BB59SBu

[iv] http://online.wsj.com/articles/what-to-do-when-you-are-the-subject-of-office-gossip-1412701581

Become More Self Aware and Knowledgeable Through Feedback

In developing an online personal brand, you must solicit feedback throughout your career. Much of an online personal brand is based on impressions, so it is up to you to understand them. It is a matter of not only accepting feedback as it comes naturally to you (like a performance review), but also building it into your normal routine – conversations, focus groups, emails, etc. Moreover, when you do get feedback, you should be prepared as a receiver to make the most out of it. You want to ask the right follow-up questions, for example. Optimize the experience by preparing yourself as the receiver and those giving you the feedback as the givers.

(Regarding feedback…) the real leverage is creating pull. Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning… the key variable in your growth is not your teacher or supervisor. It’s you. (pg. 6)

Feedback
Feedback

According to the book Thanks for the Feedback, there are three types of feedback: appreciation, evaluation, and coaching. You want to get each type of feedback, but keep them separate.[1]

Naturally, you want to have some positive feedback in the form of appreciation. Everyone needs some form of loving; it is what fuels our motivation. Start by getting some general comments and perceptions from your audience. Are you getting appreciated the way you think you should be?

With the evaluation aspect, try to get quantifiable ratings that you can use in a longitude study – something you can compare results over a period of time. This might be rankings or grades. A typical performance review includes a lot of evaluation feedback, which is often tied to compensation and promotions. Be proactive. Do not rely on HR personnel and leadership to perform the task as a formality because it is your opportunity.

Leave open the possibility for feedback givers to coach you. You might try to do some prompting with open-ended questions, where you get some valuable nuggets of advice. When I review the results of a survey, I always start by reading the unadulterated comments.

As you pick an audience, make sure you include a wide sample of people you work or interact with on a normal basis. Make sure there are workers with a lower status than you. They might have a refreshingly different perspective on things, so give them a chance; let them speak openly and freely without fearing your wrath.

Feedback leads to greater self-awareness and knowledge, which leads to a competitive advantage in delivering an authentic, effective personal brand. To learn more about personal branding, buy the book Online Personal Brand: Skill Set, Aura, and Identity

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

 

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Who Gets the Recognition?

In Invisibles, David Zweig talks about brilliant professionals whose work goes unrecognized (“invisibles”); usually someone up the chain gets the glamour. Some examples in the book include (in parentheses who gets the credit): a structural engineer (an architect), perfumist (a celebrity whose name is on the bottle), a sound engineer (a rock band), and a cinematographer – (a director). There are of course many other examples. Zweig’s first trait of an Invisible is an ambivalence towards recognition.

Revolving Door: Who gets the recognition?
Revolving Door: Who gets the recognition?

He goes into painstaking detail to explain precisely what these invisibles do. Why does he take so much effort doing this? So you appreciate the complexity of a task that might otherwise seem mundane or facile, perhaps not deserving of your recognition. Tuning a concert piano, translating from one language to another, and creating a perfume (examples in the book) require meticulousness – a second trait of an invisible according to Zweig.

Invisibles are expected to not make mistakes. An architect has faith that his structural engineer designs a building that will not fall down; a rock band performing to thousands of fans has faith that his studio engineer properly tuned and configured the instruments. Zweig’s third trait of an invisible is the savoring of responsibility.

I think David Zweig challenges the need for self-promotion and recognition in what he calls the “era of micro celebrity” – something driven by social media. The absence of recognition has nothing to do with compensation as all of the invisibles make enough money, but rather other extrinsic motivators: respect from an audience, verbal acknowledgement or praise, higher status, and awards. From within, these professionals are intrinsically motivated to work towards perfection. Is all the extra fluff necessary?

I spout off that almost all professionals should do some form of personal branding. For the invisibles, personal branding would be helpful in landing their gig; but after that, an online presence and self-promotion seems unnecessary. Invisibles are journeymen who have found lifelong careers where they leverage their core competencies. None of them seem destined for a major career change.

Most professionals face career changes, however. Personal branding is an effective way to go through a career transition. It helps you focus on a vision and clarifies what needs to be done to move forward.

Moreover, for many professions, our ruggedly individualistic society forces us to be assertive. We are in a non-stop series of competitions – for clients, partners, jobs, and/or an audience. To differentiate, I suggest developing a personal brand. How else do you gain influence over a target audience?

David Zweig. Invisibles. Penguin Group (New York, 2014).

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