Whether we like it or not, we all have a personal brand on the social web.
The question is: Are we cultivating that brand or are we letting it be defined on our behalf?
In a perfect world, our online brand would be an exact reinforcement of our real-world reputation.
But with so many social networks out there for us to live on — and so many sophisticated tools to hone those spaces — it’s a far more arduous process to synchronize these two versions of ourselves.
Building Your Online Persona
In a recent webinar by the Poynter Institute, branded content consultant Melanie Deziel emphasized the importance of presenting yourself online in an intentional and coordinated manner — for the benefit of your career.
Strategic personal branding helps make your expertise known, can increase your job prospects, bring about new opportunities, and help set you apart in your industry, she says.
It also can help you manage your reputation.
“Branding is not something we should approach with skepticism,” says Poynter’s Ren LaForme, who moderated the discussion. “If you don’t take control, people will decide on their own.”
For some, building an online persona comes naturally. For others, it’s not so second-nature.
To start auditing and enhancing your online persona, here are Deziel’s six steps to powerful self-branding.
1. Find Clarity
A personal brand helps define your unique value to those around you. It tells people what you excel at, what you stand for, and how you can deliver. But to be truly successful in communicating your online brand, you must have a clear understanding of yourself.
The first step, says Deziel, is defining what you want to be recognized for. To do this, ask yourself a few key questions: What are you an expert on? What do you want to be known for? What do you want to learn more about? What do you want to teach people?
The answers to these questions will help you focus attention and effort in moving forward.
To better visualize your story, Deziel suggests mind-mapping your expertise and passions. Can you list five to 10 topics that you’re known for and trusted to talk about? What are some adjectives that you’d like used in characterizing your brand?
2. Strive for Continuity
“There should only be one of you online,” says Deziel. When you’re a journalist or a blogger, your audience should be able to find and recognize you wherever you go.
Separate accounts (like work vs. personal) on the same platform can create confusion and even result in losing your existing audience. A lack of continuity in usernames and URLs can hurt your discoverability by new audiences, too.
To achieve continuity, choose a go-to username that’s friendly across all social platforms. It can be difficult to achieve complete username consistency — especially when using your given name — so utilize periods, underscores, and initials to manipulate the format of your name slightly. This gives you the greatest chance for recognition.
When it comes to avatars and profile photos, Deziel recommends using the same across platforms so people always know it’s you. If you want to shut down a duplicate account, don’t. It’s best to leave it intact, says Deziel. Just leave a post telling viewers where to find you if they happen to stumble upon or re-visit your old page.
3. Aim for Completeness
Now, you want to bring your defined brand to life across all of your chosen or existing social media accounts.
“You don’t have to be everywhere,” says Deziel. “But if you’re somewhere, be there 100 percent.”
Complete all of your profiles by filling in relevant fields with information that clearly represents you. Optimize your profiles with strong keyword use that allows you to easily be found. Add flare with strong word use and attention-grabbing phrases that help sell your story. Remember, it’s about leveraging what makes you exceptional, so that you will stand out from others who offer similar credentials and expertise.
It’s also a good practice, says Deziel, to cross-link accounts when possible, so followers can see where you’re active and potentially connect.
So, fill in that Twitter field on your LinkedIn and Medium profiles, and don’t forget to add your site URL to your Twitter and Facebook bios.
4. Make Connections
Your profiles are looking more complete. Now, it’s time to start connecting the dots between your personal and online self.
“There’s a lot of pressure to ‘be’ a certain way, but you should just be you,” says Deziel. “No one is an all-work robot.”
To strike a good balance between your offline personality and your industry expertise, Deziel champions the 70/30 rule.
The 70/30 rule is a general rule of thumb in social media that says 70 percent of the content you share should be other people’s content and 30 percent should be your own.
Take time you define what kind of content fits in your 70 percent and 30 percent. Then, follow accounts that correlate.
The benefits are abundant. Your audience will see you as a resource and not just a self-promotion machine. You also may put yourself on the radar of the brands or individuals whose news you are sharing = WIN.
5. Have Conversation
For some, confidence and affirmation are easily gained through the use of their online voice. Others are more comfortable with their offline selves.
No matter your comfort level, to build trust online, we must engage in some dialogue — just as we would to gain attention and build credibility in person.
“You have to live the brand you create,” says Deziel. “Don’t be a lurker.” Reply to people who engage with you, comment on other people’s posts, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and follow back (when it makes sense).
To keep yourself active, find a few new people in your industry or interest areas to follow and/or engage with every week.
If you find yourself struggling to connect, try joining a Twitter chat. These regularly scheduled talks can expose you to like-minded connections and make conversation easy with set parameters around topics and length of discussion.
6. Be Consistent
Your brand is a living, breathing thing. “You can’t just set it and forget it,” says Deziel.
Keep your profiles up to date by doing regular check-ups on your personal information to ensure accuracy.
Dedicate time, like during lunch or on a commute, to scroll your accounts and engage with friends and followers. Use scheduling tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or Buffer to prepare posts and maintain regular sharing in all spaces.
Finally, be cognizant of voice and tone. What we share and reveal online affects how we’re perceived.
So, whether you’re lively, direct, clever, or casual, if the vibe of your brand is consistent and authentic, your personality will shine through to your audience.
For more on building your persona, what social networks to focus on, how to connect authentically, and more, check out the Poynter webinar here.
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Anna Jasinski is manager of audience relations at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski or on Snapchat. You can also catch her sharing the latest news in journalism and blogging on @BeyondBylines.