by Stephanie Fierman

I’ve been a passionate advocate of online personal branding and reputation management since 2007.  That was the year, as some of you know, that I had a personal experience with the power of Google – a “digi-mugging,” if you will.  Or maybe a “Web-jacking.”  

Whatever we call it, it was the moment that I came to realize that the game had started without me.   I started a blog, wrote a 4-part series on the topic (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4) and never looked back.  I’d discovered that I would need to manage my own brand online – not just as good offense but also good defense – and wanted to help other executives do the same.

How much time are you committing to managing your own personal brand today, and – if asked – what would you advise the majority of businesspeople who are only now getting hip to the digital world?

The ball’s already in play. It’s just a question of whether you’re on the field.

Everyone already has an online personal brand.  It’s just a question of who the brand manager is.  The Web isn’t waiting with a blank slate until you’re ready to pay attention to your online persona. Everyone’s already out there – because of a wedding announcement (from your current or former marriage), past interviews, industrial gossip or rumor, quotes, political contributions, publicly-available legal filings. These are all examples of content that is already living your public life online.  Is that acceptable to you?

Your resume is no longer your resume.  Google is your resume. Google is da bomb.  Around 75% of global Internet users, or 943.8 million people, used Google services in June 2010 – more than any other Web company in the world.  In the U.S., 66% of the core searches in July (or 10.3 billion of the 15.6 billion total) were conducted on Google.  Yahoo is a distance 2nd with 17%. There’s a lot of looking going on. 

In other words…

It’s not about what you do when you’re ready: it’s about what’s going on when you’re not paying attention.  45% of employers, for example, are using social networks to gather information on job candidates, and 35% say they’ve dismissed candidates based on information found there.  Usages is even higher in the recruiting community: 85% use search engines to research candidates, and  45% say they’ve eliminated candidates based on information found on the web.  

And I’m not only talking about proactive job search (i.e., offense).  Successful executives, I believe, are accustomed to thinking about what they want, what they can do next – Master of the Universe stuff.  If I decide to look for a new job, then I’ll start paying attention to this stuff.  What I try to get across to people is that everything we’re talking about – in this particular example, the employment category – is about defense as much as offense.  What about the company that’s looking to fill a job paying 30% more than you’re making now?  Its head of HR has heard your name and does a Google search on a Sunday afternoon.  What might he find about you? 

Let’s use Facebook as an example. 

In 2009, Facebook was the most popular online destination for snooping employers.  So what, you say, you haven’t done anything dumb.  You would never, for example, post some stupid photo to your profile (duh).  But are you tagged in photos posted by other people?  Has someone tagged you and two friends drinking at a party?  People drink at parties: you know you weren’t drunk and anyone judging one photo is an idiot.  Really?  Not to be paranoid, but… are you willing to gamble that a potential employer looking at the same snapshot would agree with you?  More than half of the employers who have knocked a candidate out of the running say that provocative photos are the #1 reason for doing so.

You’ve got to make sure that you have and keep a broad view of the field.

What about where you work right now?  What would your boss, your peers, your staffers or your HR department find out about you right now if they went to Google?  Ditto for clients, (current or potential) business partners, board search, trade associations and other entities you’re likely to care about.

If someone had been wandering my Twitter profile this past weekend, they would have found this attached to a tweet.  No context, just the photo.  Do I need this? What might it communicate to someone about this person’s judgment – or mine?

And P.S:  let’s remember that tweets are now searchable on Google.  I see some of the craziest… you get the point. 

How often do you check your Google results, anyway??  (Answer:  once a week, please.)

This is not to imply that everyone should have a presence everywhere.  Not all executives are good at stream-of-conscious thinking, or can shift from heavy issues to pecking out 140 characters on Twitter.  Additionally, many professionals will need to preliminarily determine what the online cross-over is, if any, between a “personal” voice and a professional one.  And lastly – cool factor aside – social media may not be the best way for a particular executive to attract desirable “followers” or “friends” at a particular moment in time.  I insist on good defense, but offense is in the eye of the beholder.

What play do you recommend, Coach?

When advising a relative newbie, here are a few pre-game thoughts:

Take time to understand the legal and regulatory environment that surrounds you, your organization (if relevant) and the content you may be publishing. Assume that what you say is discoverable in a lawsuit and subject to SEC and other requirements (like Reg FD).  Assume that everything is “on the record” and “in print” (and act accordingly).

Remember that what you say will last forever on the Web. One of my favorite quotes in this regard is “Tweet with caution, Facebook with care, 10 years from now it will still be out there”

Listen to the conversation about you and/or your company first.  Make your own observations before jumping in.

Find a safe place to practice like a Yammer. If you want to check out Twitter, consider signing up with a pseudonym first and tweeting about gardening or fly fishing or some other like topic. You must have your own account to read or follow a tweet stream; you do not need to expose your executive self  before you’re ready.

Once you’ve decided to put your helmet on, here are a few guidelines:

Musts:
* LinkedIn – Create a profile. You need one to study the site, and it’s the place right now for executives to find others

* Facebook – Create a profile if only to lay claim to your own name

* Use a single identifier everywhere. Stick to Matt Jones or Matt P. Jones or Matthew Paul Jones



Up a Notch:
* Twitter – Wander about after opening an account under a pseudonym, and use the site’s search engine liberally to get a feel for the ebb and flow of real-time business conversations

* Start a blog

* Register on sites that let you establish a PURL.  Such sites include Digg, FriendFeed, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, OpenSalon and Squidoo. Use them every once in awhile, if you can.

* Study the search engines and try things out; focus on sites that tend to rank highest


* Share content on community sites like Flickr and Slideshare


Advanced Techniques:
* “Syndicate” your blog on sites that aggregate such posts (and have their own Google rankings)

* Work on securing offline speaking engagements, and get the events promoted on the Web

* Create your own “online” speaking engagements – your own YouTube channel, podcasts, etc.


Now before I get a bunch of comments and emails, a disclaimer: in no way is this intended to be comprehensive advice regarding what you should pack for the big game or how to behave once you get there.  It’s really just a quick slap on the back before the coin toss.  But I’m on my high horse about making sure that everyone at least knows how to protect themselves so – whether you’re warming up on the bench or helping someone who is – these are few ideas that will help avoid a penalty flag on the field.

This post was originally posted here on the Marketing Executive Network Group’s blog, MENG Blend.

 

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