When you think of a personal brand what comes to mind?
Do you immediately think that’s for a celebrity? A Richard Branson. A Kim Kardashian? An elite athlete?
Whether you know it or not, everyone has a personal brand. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, once described personal branding as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. I love this. It’s terrifying in its simplicity and accuracy!
But perhaps you’re still one of the doubters? Like my new client, a senior lawyer, approaching 50, who finds herself job-hunting for the first time in quite some time. I was a little surprised when she implied that personal branding was for ‘show-offs.’ Furthermore, she questioned the importance and validity of having a digital presence, to the point that she was almost proud of having no digital presence. She was a little surprised when I advised her that personal branding is your reputation and, in this digital age, online is where it all starts.
I get it. There’s something quite freeing about a digital detox from time to time, not least, less distraction. But if you’re in business, or in a position of being evaluated by existing or potential clients, customers, peers, or employers, resistance to a digital presence has no place today.
Indeed, having a digital presence is empowering. You get to manage your brand, not someone else’s perception based on the little, inconsistent, or inaccurate information they find. And this is key to a successful career. Whether you want to make partner, be seen as a thought leader, or make a difference in your community, the D of the A,B,C&D (of executive image) is forming your first impression and determining your success.
But as the whole market recalculates itself following COVID, with a new dependency on technology tools, the risk for our personal brand is heightened. A study by Mine looked at the digital footprint since the pandemic began, and not surprisingly the results showed a clear spike of more than 50% in new online signups. Even my 90-year-old neighbour is now shopping for her groceries online for the first time – her ‘new normal’.
Why should the results from this study be of concern to executive image and personal branding?
Apart from the fact that there is a lot more data being collected and stored about you – that’s alarming in itself – think about what ‘unconscious’ messages you’re sending about your brand through your online activity. It’s one thing to think consciously about your personal brand – actively defining your brand and its essence, and, therefore, the messages you send deliberately across the various digital platforms. It’s another thing altogether to be influencing your hard-earned reputation through habitual, unconscious, and potentially damaging activity.
For example, how much time are you spending and posting on any one platform? What superficial relationships are you trusting? What validations are you seeking? What are you commenting on? What data are you providing to, say Facebook, by participating in that seemingly innocuous quiz? What sources are you sharing on LinkedIn?
According to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring. And three in 10 employers, with sophisticated ways of navigating security settings, have someone dedicated solely to getting the scoop on your online persona. The figures would be even higher today.
So, when you conduct a search engine exploration of yourself, what pops up? These results form the first impression people will have of you, long before they have met you. Is it a good one? Whether you have approached a prospective new client, or are applying for a new job, chances are someone is going to Google you to assess your ability to do the job, and pass judgment on your cultural ‘fit’ based on what they find.
The question is, do you want to allow your online reputation to take on a life of its own, or do you want to control the narrative? And if you’re not there, do you even exist in the eyes of those who are searching for you?
Effective online personal branding will differentiate you from the competition and allow you to build trust with your audience before they’ve even met you. Make it one that reflects who you really are. Take control of your digital presence in a very deliberate and sustained manner, and be very mindful of how you engage online.