How to Create Your Own Online Brand

Devon-McDonald by

Think about it: if someone posts a picture of you shoveling pie into your mouth at Grandma’s house, you probably untag it immediately. In its place, you might post a profile picture of yourself on the beach last summer looking toned and tan. Some may call that vanity, but it’s really brand management at its finest.

From a professional perspective, let’s say you’re taking off on a business trip and you post a Facebook status that reads: “Heading to the airport. Another trip to San Francisco to close some deals — Show me the money!” You may not think about those words as brand creation and cultivation, but that’s exactly what they accomplish. You’re letting the social media world know that you’re energetic, worldly, and successful.

The fact is that almost everyone has a brand online nowadays. Whether it’s a professional brand on LinkedIn or a personal brand on Facebook, social media has made it easy for businesses and individuals to showcase themselves, their talents, and their capabilities.

One big question looms, however: Are you sure that your online brand is being perceived the way you want it to be?

Social Media Isn’t a Fad

The growth and relevancy of social networks is undeniable at this point. In January, TechCrunch wrote that Facebook was nearing 600 million monthly unique users, while Forbes recently reported that Twitter had hit 200 million active accounts producing an incredible 110 million tweets a day as of the new year.

That volume of social sharing and interaction creates a huge opportunity for people — especially expansion stage sales staff — to brand themselves on a professional level. Your friends and followers are listening if you have something relevant to say. Creating and cultivating that brand can be a very valuable exercise for an up-and-coming sales superstar trying to make a name in the market space.

But that opportunity is only viable if you brand yourself the right way with the right mediums.

Your primary goal should be proving your expertise and industry knowledge. It doesn’t matter which field you’re in or which network you’re using, the key is to be focused, thoughtful, and passionate.

But make sure that your “expertise” isn’t too general. As April Joyner wrote in an Inc. Magazine article last summer, your brand expertise must be unique. So, focus on subsets of a particular market in which you have experience rather than the market as a whole.

And while creating your online brand is important business, make sure to have some fun with it, too. A lot of customers use social media as an escape from traditional corporate noise, so don’t take yourself too seriously.

Identify and Use the Right Tools

In general, the most widely utilized platforms for creating a personal brand online include LinkedIn, Twitter, your own industry specific blog, Facebook (with restrictions on the visibility of your account), and comment walls on big industry articles or blogs.

The content you post on those sites and networks (whether it’s your own or shared from other sources) shouldn’t simply be regurgitated and reposted. The key is to be yourself, have some fun, and show some personality. At the same time, you also want to be sure that your industry knowledge and professional message come across in the content. Displaying that expertise — infused with your personality — is the best way to communicate the brand you’re trying to create.

But here’s the catch: There needs to be a fine balance between personal and professional content and you need to know the unspoken rules of each social site. If I were to break it down to percentages, here are my recommendations for professional vs. personal branding in your online community spaces:

  • LinkedIn: 100% professional. Avoid any sort of personal discourse on this platform.
  • Twitter: 80% professional, 20% personal. Your tweets should primarily share industry news or tips, but don’t be afraid to share a personal picture or blurb from time to time.
  • Your corporate blog: 80% professional, 20% personal. This is a not a blog about your life, so keep it mainly professional. Creating authentic articles about your industry or commenting on newsworthy events should be your primary focus.
  • Comments on other blogs and articles: 90% professional, 10% personal. This one depends a little bit on how well you know the person who wrote the article or blog, but the rule of thumb should be to keep it professional much more often than personal.
  • Facebook: 50% professional, 50% personal. Facebook is a hybrid medium. It’s OK to post both personal and professional information, but keep it clean regardless.

If you’re not yet active on the myriad social networks, personal branding expert Dan Schawbel wrote a great article for Techipedia recently that highlighted some easy-to-follow steps to begin building your brand online.

Whichever medium you use, it’s important to know your own personality and how people perceive you. If you’re having trouble figuring that out, ask your three closest friends how they would describe you in three words. Better yet, ask a customer you’ve developed a close relationship with to tell you what professional traits drew them to you. Take those attributes and make your branding sites scream those characteristics.

You’ll know that your branding activities have been successful when a target customer in your space tells you: “Oh, I know who you are. I follow you on Twitter!” A Twitter follower is an active participant with your brand and, in today’s social world, that relationship can be worth its proverbial weight in gold.

Photo by: Alejandro Escamilla