When is a good time to start cultivating a personal brand? Yesterday.
Whether you work for yourself, an employer, or are unemployed, you need to cultivate a personal brand online. Resumes are almost obsolete. Increasingly what matters is what shows up on Google and/or social media when potential employers and clients look you up.
For many, this means locking down all of your social media sites. In extreme cases, people go at lengths to delete themselves online. Unless you’re planning to go full-blown hermit in real life, I think it’s a bad idea.
Why? Two reasons:
- You probably won’t succeed. If you don’t curate your own presence online, others will do it for you. It might be a random blog comment you made, an obscure social media platform you forgot you set up, or some previous company newsletter, etc. Even if these items aren’t outright embarrassing, they will still be the first impression many people make of you. Chances are it’s not what you want.
- If you happen to succeed, and a search of your name returns nothing, it’s not a good thing. When somebody contacts me about a website, I usually check them out on Google and LinkedIn right away. If nothing comes up for that person and/or business, red flags go up. Is it a real person? Are they in touch with society? Do they really want to spend thousands on a website if they haven’t used any of the countless free channels for getting seen online? It’s not an automatic “no,” but if there are any other factors that seem off, I’m pretty quick to move on.
Your Personal Online Audit
Before you go any further, Google your name. Browse the first two pages of results and see how accurately they reflect you. If there are many other people with the same name, you might also need to add your location, employer, and other details to help weed out the imposters.
- How many of the top 10 results do you control (e.g. sites you manage, accounts you own, etc.)?
- Do any of them reflect poorly on you?
- What professionally important aspects of your life are missing?
How to Cultivate The Image You Want
If what you found is any less than ideal, it’s time to get to work. Here are the first steps:
- Get your name is available as a domain (e.g. chrisesh.com) register it, even if you have no plans for it
- Improve any of your top 10 results you control (e.g. social media sites, websites you manage, etc.)
- Make your LinkedIn profile perfect
- Start other accounts to cultivate a professional portfolio. Do you write? Add a Medium account or some other blog. Code? Github. Photography? Instagram plus your own portfolio site. Are you an expert on some topic (in academics, business, nonprofits)? Start posting your ideas on a blog. Give presentations? Get them on YouTube.
- If anything is negative or otherwise unflattering, try to get it taken down.
Think LinkedIn is dumb and boring?
Maybe, but you know what else is dumb and boring? Not getting hired for jobs you want. You’ll likely never again get hired by somebody who hasn’t viewed your LinkedIn profile (or whatever platform replaces it in the future). So make sure it reflects you.
Just because the platform has a boring reputation doesn’t mean your profile needs to fit the stereotype. Show your personality and your genuineness. Do NOT just copy and paste your resume content into it and/or stuff it with resume power words. These kinds of profiles make me gag.
But I’m happily employed, why does it matter?
You may be a rockstar at your job, but most of the world can’t see that. You need to start documenting your contribution online so that whenever you next need to seek a job or open a business, you aren’t starting from zero.
Sure you can polish your LinkedIn profile in a few days, but search rankings take a while. You need to start putting in the work long before you need it.
Drown out the dumb stuff with new, better stuff
You might be disappointed to find that some random comment you made on a blog 4 years ago ranks well for your name on Google. Or some other non-desired mention is taking up valuable real estate.
If you can delete it, then do it. If you can’t the best approach is to drown it out with accounts and content that does represent you well. This might mean opening new accounts and improving existing accounts.
Over time these newer, updated listings should eventually replace the older, less relevant ones.
A Note on How Search Engines Work
When you enter a search term on Google, it finds websites with that keyword and ranks them based on relevance. Domain authority is a big deal here. So all else being equal, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Wikipedia, etc. will outrank small sites that aren’t.
So if you’re trying to push less desirable results off your top 10 on Google, open some new accounts on well known social media and or well-known professional portfolio sites. They’ll climb quickly compared to a brand new website or blog on a new domain.
Make sure to use the same name across all platforms. So if you use your middle initial, use it everywhere. If you prefer a shortened version of your name, always use that one.
I also recommend using the same headshot (or maybe 2) across most platforms. That way when potential employers or clients look you up, they’ll be greeted with a consistent image. It should be friendly, authentic, and professional looking.
While you want to present yourself in the best possible light, you also need to appear as a real human being. Feel free to show some of your quirks, just use your judgment about which are public and which should be kept among friends.
The Online World is a Blank Canvas
Many people have correctly pointed out the dangers of our disappearing privacy, but I think that’s only half of the story.
The interconnected world also offers a tremendous opportunity. We don’t need to rely on gatekeepers in order to get our message out. We don’t need to wait patiently for a dream job that lets us use and broadcast our skills and passions.
If you have a passion that you’d like to turn into a business or career, then start blogging about it, posting on Instagram, recording videos for YouTube, etc. Build a personal brand that is cohesive across platforms and promotes the image you want the world to see.
Build a personal brand that is cohesive across platforms and promotes the image you want the world to see.