Managing your personal brand online

When people hear the word “brand”, the first thing that comes to mind is the image a company presents to its audience: the tone, messaging, and personality associated with the company’s mission and values. While this is certainly the definition of a brand, there is such a thing as personal brand. You may not be a public figure or a business, but if you have an Internet presence on any social network, you have a personal brand. What do you want yours to be?

As a working professional or a student, your personal brand is essential to building connections. For career advancement, social interactions, or professional development, the way you are perceived on the Internet matters. It follows you everywhere online. The beauty of it is that you control it: you can mold it to be whatever you want it to be.

Are you an entrepreneur looking to establish themselves in a niche market? Do you run a blog about being a single parent? Do you want to be taken seriously for your commentary on the economy or world news? Your personal brand can get you there. Here’s how you can make yours work for you.

1.) Identify Yourself

The first step to managing your personal brand is identifying what you want that brand to be. Some important questions to ask yourself are:

• Why are you on social media? Are you seeking career opportunities, or do you have a product or service you want to increase visibility for?
• Who are you trying to connect with? Are you looking for customers or potential employers? Are you promoting something, or do you want to help people?
• What is your voice? Are you informative or funny, inspirational or objective? What do you have to say to people, and is there a mission or vision that you can summarize in a way that connects with your audience?

The Daily Muse encourages people to “think, act, and plan like a business leader.” Establishing your personal brand entails determining an overarching model. What is your emotional appeal—how will you reach the people you want to connect with? What need are you meeting?

2.) Target Your Online Presence

People are on different sites for different reasons. Once you’ve decided what your brand is, you must determine where that brand will have a presence. While it is wise to be active on multiple social networks, some just don’t align with your brand.

Do your research: know what the sites you want to join are primarily used for. LinkedIn, for instance, is primarily a professional networking site. An ambitious job seeker looking to connect with potential employers may want a robust LinkedIn profile, and possibly a Facebook account, to establish themselves as a serious and talented professional. Someone with a catering company, on the other hand, might reach more people with a business page on Facebook, and may even find a niche by sharing examples of their products on Instagram or Pinterest.

3.) Claim Your Online Identity

Your name is one of the first things people associate with your identity. It is how they search for you, how they recognize you. Your name distinguishes the personality you’ve established as your own.

When it comes to social media specifically, usernames are key to your personal brand. It is beneficial for your username on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and any other network to be as close a match to your brand as possible to ensure consistency: so that people are able to easily identify you across different networks, and to give your brand one strong, cohesive identity. The moment you’ve figured out your brand’s name, claim your name on social networks.

Usernames go quickly, and if you have a common name, chances are somebody has already taken it. You don’t want to be John_Smith8297564. If your username is taken, chose the closest variation. Usernames may be easier if you have a small business with its own name, but you still want to act quickly to reserve your brand’s identity.

4.) Earn Their Trust

We know that potential and even current employers search for us on the Internet. Your Internet presence is considered an important indicator of your personality and merits, so your online presence needs to speak to who you really are. Remember that whatever you share online follows you, so stay professional and appropriate when sharing anything that is associated with your brand.

Responsible social media behavior also establishes trust with your networks. Share things on your profiles that are relevant to your audience, and remain professional at all times. The more reliable you seem, the stronger your brand becomes.

5.) Monitor Your Reputation

You should always be mindful of your reputation. How is your brand perceived? Are you trusted by the people in your network, or have you lost any credibility? Read your reader’s comments on your blog, the responses you receive in a LinkedIn forum, or the mentions you get during a Twitter chat. Gauge whether or not the things you post are received positively, and let it inform how you continue to interact with people in the future. There are even a number of free tools that will help you track how people are talking about you on the Internet.

Your personal brand is how you define yourself to others. Whether your reasons for joining social media are personal or for business, for making friends or finding clients, you are in control of your online presence. Put your best foot forward and take back your online identity.