The Socialization of Your Personal Brand
By Brian Solis, blogger at PR 2.0 and principal of FutureWorks PR, Co-Author Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and Now Is Gone
In the era of the Social Web, practically everything we create and share online is open to public discovery, interpretation, and feedback – positive, neutral and negative. It sounds sensational and perhaps a bit ominous, but it’s not meant to serve as a deterrent. It's only intended to introduce the subject and the context of this subject as well as raise awareness for the need to be proactive about cultivating and managing your brand and your reputation.
Your digital identity defines who you are and in this genre of Web-savvy content creators and purveyors, your online reputation does indeed precede you. The pictures and videos you upload, the bookmarks you share, the profile you define on each social network, those you befriend, the comments you share on blogs and other profiles, the posts your publish, the tweets you send on Twitter, basically everything you contribute to the Social Web shapes and contributes to
your personal brand and how people will most likely perceive it. Hopefully in most cases, it can promote and showcase your expertise, and sometimes, what’s representative online can and will be used against you.
Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, blog posts and comments, basically every piece of content you generate collectively feed search results in Google, Yahoo, Ask, and all other search engines. All it takes is someone to “Google” aka search your name to begin the process of forming an opinion and perception based on the search results – usually without your knowledge and definitely without the opportunity to explain the results. Whether you’re a student, currently employed, seeking a new job, a brand ambassador or the official community manager of a company’s social media strategy, your activities online contribute to and ultimately shape your identity and lay the foundation for your reputation. It’s been said that Google is the new resume. Truth be told, any search engine, whether social or traditional, is the resume – it’s the Wikipedia entry for the rest of us. It’s no longer what we decide to curate onto a piece of paper or onto one traditional one-page digital resume. It really is moot in a world when anyone can practically piece together your story without the help of a document designed to shape and steer our perception. “Seventy-seven percent of recruiters report using search engines to find background data on candidates. Of that number, 35 percent eliminated a candidate because of what they found online.”
-- Kevin Donline, Star Tribune Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota
Indeed, there are many stories that fuel the urgency for everyone to take control of their online persona. In one such case, a highly qualified candidate appeared
for a job interview and was confronted by the comments that he left on a series of older, unrelated blog posts that cast his opinion in a way that was questionable to those making the hiring decision.
In another such instance, a candidate was offered an interview, which was later rescinded due to several negative blog posts that portrayed him as an undesirable teammate. Did they do anything wrong? The only answer is that they weren’t proactive in defining, correcting, or steering their brand and underestimated the impact of social content on the job selection process. The same could be said for employers and employees.
In four different cases involving DWI car crashes, the convicted defendants received greater sentences because of the pictures on their profiles in Facebook, Myspace and other communities. In one case, a 20 year old was shown wearing a Halloween jailbird costume drinking and celebrating after seriously injuring someone. After viewing the pictures, the judge labeled the defendant depraved and extended his sentence.
In another similar case, the defense lawyer recommended to his client that she delete her Facebook profile prior to the trial. She refused and the pictures that she chose to share painted her in an unfavorable light and contributed to a maximum sentence.
While these legal cases may be extreme, and certainly sharing pictures is not illegal, the idea here is that the content they chose to share online didn’t convey remorse, instead visually demonstrating that important lessons weren’t learned.
Social Media and The Generation Divide
Generation Y aka the Millennials are groomed in the new generation of online communications, while veteran communicators and marketers are learning how, and why, to adapt.
Millennials communicate with each other using the very tools and services that are foreign to most others within older generations. SMS, Tweets, MySpace and Facebook wall posts, YouTube videos, IM, are representative of only a few varying ways that fundamentally changed human communication. My generation and the generations before it are just now evolving beyond email, and maybe in some cases, IM, SMS, and VoIP (Skype). This does not include those early adopters who populated the bulletin board services at the early stages of online communications or those who were active in forums and networks during the Web 1.0 “content is king” era.
Collectively, however, Generation Y is much more proficient in online communications, simply because it’s inherent to their culture.
While this new and more Web-savvy generation is ushering in a new era for interpersonal digital dialog, their standards for business etiquette may be a bit unrefined and therefore the idea of tying online activity to strategically crafted personal or corporate brands may seem alien.
IDK, DQMOT, but I think we all can learn 2gether, IMPOV. IAC, take it FWIW. HTH. L8r
If the Millennials are more sophisticated in their knowledge of using social tools, then those who are more experienced in appropriate and effective communications must learn new technologies at a much more rapid clip than previously introduced and adopted technologies.
On either side of the spectrum, each and every generation not only needs to know how to use the social tools available today, but also combine an understanding of the cultures and ethnography (a genre of writing that uses fieldwork to provide a descriptive study of human societies) of each online community and the opportunities for providing resources and helpful information based on the company and solutions an individual may represent. Either way, the activities that connect you to communities and more importantly, the individuals who are seeking and sharing relevant insight, begin to shape and cultivate an overall portfolio of ideas, biases, and value that feed online brands and reputations – personal and professional.
Whether you know it or not, this is already well underway, and for many of us, a preliminary online personal brand may already exist. Social Media doesn’t discriminate between age groups and technical proficiency. Everything is indexed and saved equally on the Web where it will remain for years until more strategic
content is produced that will invariably eclipse what exists today.
This becomes increasingly important as Social Media becomes more pervasive in corporate communications, business development, and customer service, and those who are on the front lines of customer and influencer engagement are judged and measured by their previous contributions.
It takes champions to bridge the generation and marketing gap in order to effectively communicate with customers and peers regardless of demographic or psychographic profiles. This is the only way to truly build and nurture genuine relationships that last over the long-term.
Defining Your Online Persona
The Social Economy is defined by the exchange of ideas and information online, and in the real world, and is indexed by the dividends earned through new opportunities and alliances. Relationships are the new currency of the Social Economy as they fuel and extend interaction, insight, and loyalty, and in turn, contribute to the social capital of the individuals who actively invest in their personal branding portfolio.
In the workforce and in our personal lives, the things we share online define who we are - it's a fortunate or unfortunate reality (depending on how you look at it). Social profiles in Facebook and Myspace aren’t protected in a secret society that only the cool people can find and share. These profiles are showing up in search engines and what’s in them tell us everything about how you view yourself and therefore how you may wish others to view you. It’s not just your profiles in the social networks where you participate, it’s what you say and share everywhere, from blog posts and comments to wall posts, the music you listen to and the widgets you embed, as well as your status updates and even product or service reviews. This is your digital identity and your real reputation and it’s yours to define and to nurture.
Instead of simply thinking about social networks and social tools as new ways to communicate with friends, family and associates, let’s view these communities as dashboards for our online brand and collective expertise.
Answer these questions, what do you stand for and how would you prefer others, not just friends, but also professional associates, view you today and tomorrow?
It's important to proactively weigh, factor, and proactively contribute to the
impression you want others to have when they stumble or intentionally find your profile/s. This is the first step in defining and shaping your online brand.
Social Networks Many of us aren’t masters of Web design and therefore, the idea of creating our own entity on the Web is untenable and perhaps, nowadays, even unnecessary. Social Networks provide an easy-to-use, fully-searchable and discoverable platform for us to create, define, and fortify our identity.
The most popular social networks, such as Myspace, Facebook, Hi5, Bebo, LinkedIn, and Friendster, offer users the full ability to customize and personalize their pages and in the process, proactively paint a more accurate self-portrait.
Social networks are indeed a hub for your digital identity and activity, connecting the disparate pieces of your persona from across the distributed Web and portraying a more crafted, organized, and representative digital resume and knowledge portfolio.
Social networks are far more expansive than those dedicated to connecting friends around people and their social graphs. They can focus on exchanging and discovering niche content, video, images, bookmarks, events, news, thought leadership, and the list goes on and on. The point is that there are social networks for almost everything you can and can’t imagine. Join those networks that are instrumental in associating your brand with the industry, ideas, content and people that further your brand’s reach and resonance. And in each case, craft a consistent profile that conveys what it is you stand for and the value you bring to the table. Yes it’s cumbersome and time consuming, but it’s the only way to ensure the integrity of the specific and unique attributes that define your brand and reputation.
Oh, a simple, but often-overlooked tip, is to start with professional quality portraits. Feel free to share other personal photos, but present yourself artistically and professionally as well. You never know who might find these profiles.
Newsfeeds and Lifestreams
Obviously you have passions, experience, and aspirations. Share the content that reinforces these strategic attributes through the tools that keep you connected to the communities that are important to you. Social networks feature the ability to showcase your activity in various networks, packaged neatly in the form of embeddable applications. For example, if you’re active on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, upcoming.org, blogs, etc., many of these services offer applications or widgets that can be installed directly onto your profile. They display your latest contributions and events and more importantly, compartmentalize your content into a presentable focal point for the brand “you.” Applications aren’t the only way to filter this content into your profile. Practically every social service produces an RSS feed that can be imported into personal
newsfeeds. And, in the land of social networks, these feeds are evolving into lifestreams that channel external and in-network proceedings into one, easy to follow flow.
The practice of channeling the most representative and complimentary pieces into one complete puzzle is known as curation. The practice of curation is the most effective policy for presenting and communicating a well-crafted personal brand. It requires the identification, collection, and contributions of meaningful and topical content that when aggregated, creates a more holistic and powerful depiction of any brand or idea. Social network profiles and associated newsfeeds aren’t the only tools available to curate and present strategic content. Tools dedicated to the art of lifestreaming gaining in popularity. Similar to the newsfeeds within social networks, these dedicated communities provide the ability for users to also aggregate their activity into one river of relevance. They collect the feeds and updates from the services you choose to include and merge them into a personal or brand stream. These solutions include LifeStream.fm, SocialThing, Swurl, Ping.fm, among many others. Specialized services, such as FriendFeed and Jaiku, combine streams and conversations and allow others to not only follow the activity, but also comment on and bookmark favorite content as well, thus facilitating hosted conversations surrounding content directly, as it happens.
Text-based lifestream example of John Smith “Conversations taking place in social networks help to define one’s online brand” – via Twitter XX date, XX time (link) Uploaded a new photo album entitled, “diagram of my social map” – via Flickr XX date, XX time (link)
Wrote on Jane Doe’s wall, “Excellent post today on conversations across the distributed Web. I agree. Have you experimented with reputation management tools such as SezWho? – via Facebook XX date, XX time (link) Published a blog post, “Using social networks and online content to create and reinforce your online brand” – via ACME: The Brand You Blog XX date, XX time (link) Robert Johnson commented on “Using social networks and online content to create and reinforce your online brand,” “John, nice post. I learned a lot, thanks!” – via Friendfeed XX date, XX time (link) Bookmarked “Online brands and the art of aggregating ideas into a collective and cohesive flow” – via delicious XX date, XX time (link)
Blogs Lifestreams and Social Networks aren’t the only tools to help aggregate and centralize your digital identity or collectively assemble the bits and pieces that, when combined, help to define your identity and reputation. Blogs are perhaps, still the most effective platform for sharing your observations, thoughts, ideas, expertise, and vision on the subjects of which you’re most passionate.
Unlike micromedia tools such as Twitter, Plurk, Identi.ca, FriendFeed, as well as social network profile pages where brevity is promoted and rewarded, blog posts inherently boast the ability to share expanded content, text, video, audio, images, tags, links, to more effectively and deeply express, explain, and support the ideas and context related to any given topic.
Blogs with an almost undeviating mission of focusing on key topics, boast an expansive library of keywords that can intentionally or unintentionally contribute
to a valuable search engine optimization (SEO) infrastructure that ranks your brand and ideas higher in search results for related topic searches. And, as your content library grows and expands, your blog’s page ranking authority escalates along with it. Higher page ranking combined with keyword density (the concentration of keywords related to your expertise) equates to greater authority you’re given in search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
Remember, blogs are indexed in traditional and blog search engines, and with a focused emphasis on SEO and page ranking, your blog will almost always rank higher in search results over any other form of social content you contribute or publish.
Reputation and Expertise Aggregation Services
A new and necessary set of online services are permeating the social web to help track and aggregate the activity of individuals, improve the caliber of feedback and comments, and in the process, create a concentrated portfolio of published content and commentary. SezWho, Disqus, Co-comment, and Intense Debate run inside of blog comments sections, forums, and websites and make the process of content creation and the ensuing conversations more interactive, lively, and trackable.
For example, with SezWho, content hosts can add a few bits of code to their site or blog template to instantly offer readers the ability to not only comment on the post, but also rank the quality and insight of other commenters as well as the post in general. When commenting or voting, the service asks for your email address and then tracks your individual comments and your ranking history to provide interested visitors with an amalgamated representation of your views and aptitude.
As in any social network, these tools and services empower and encourage
users to provide a more complete and descriptive profile to effectively represent the context along with the associated experience of the content they choose to rank and publish.
These services aggregate the distributed thoughts and dispersed identity beacons of individuals into one representative profile. As active participants in the social Web, we comment on relevant articles in addition to publishing our own thoughts on our blogs. With one click, anyone can see view a history of our posts and comments, in one place, tied to a profile that we define.
Your Brand vs. the Brands You Represent
Whether we believe it or not, everyone within an organization is at some level, responsible for Public Relations. Everything we do, online and offline, builds the public perception of not only our personal brand, but also of the organization we represent.
As an active participant in Social Media and also a professional working in any capacity within a company, eventually an important and cognizant decision will determine your outward presence and whether or not your personal brand and your corporate responsibilities intersect, compete or clash.
When a small bank ran an online search for the results associated with its brand, the first link turned up a profile on Myspace of a young woman with fun, but inappropriate pictures that definitely didn't lend support to the bank's charter of earning and maintaining financial customers.
This particular individual wasn't participating online as a representative of the bank, only using the social network to communicate and share events and updates as Millennials do. She simply listed in her profile that she worked at this particular bank, and that was enough.
However, as many businesses are realizing, not only the opportunity, but in many cases, the requirement to participate and engage with customers, peers, influencers, and prospects in their respective communities, new roles and responsibilities for outbound communications and service emerge.
Since we're focusing on your digital identity and your real reputation, one of the first questions is, when representing a brand other than my own, do I participate as "me" or do I create a new entity in order to participate on behalf of my company?
The answer is, it depends.
Yes, perhaps not the brilliance you were seeking. The truth is, that it really does depend on a series of factors that are to be evaluated on an individual basis.
1. Does your personal reputation lend value to, or subtract from, the brand you're
representing and vice versa?
2. Is this a career path and industry you intend to commit to for the long-term?
3. What is the ROI or potential losses associated with not only your participation, but your departure, should you at some point, decide to change jobs?
4. What's most advantageous to you and the company you represent, now and in the future?
Whichever path you take, it's important to realize that there isn't a right answer, at least not yet. It's more important to participate honestly, sincerely, transparently, whether as "you" or as "you, company representative."
Several, very visible, companies dedicated to cultivating personal relationships in social networks, have opted for the creation of a corporate brand for the individuals who participate on their behalf.
Comcast has employed Frank Eliason and team under the @comcastcares moniker. Dell is empowering its social team led by Richard@dell (Richard Binhamer) and Lionel@dell (Lionel Menchaca). In these cases, the companies opted to invest in a unique digital identity that promotes the company and personal brands.
Depending on the company and the state of its social media prowess, policies may or may not exist. Those who are experienced in communicating using social tools can assist marketing and service leaders to establish best practices and policies that govern how, why, when, and where to participate and how to build the persona that elevates the brand for the company and also the person representing it.
Managing Your Online Reputation
Everything starts with listening and observing where, how, and why these conversations are taking place and the tone and nature of the dialog.
As part of the marketing process, companies employ (or should incorporate) an Online Reputation Management (ORM) program. This process serves as a radar for all discussions, blog posts, and search results to identify potentially damaging, less than favorable, as well as neutral content, to fuel participation and communications strategies to steer them in a positive discussion.
There are a series of tools materializing that simplify the process of listening and tracking related conversations. Depending on the size of the organization, they may or may not be affordable, however they're worth looking into. Companies include Radian6, BrandsEye, BuzzLogic, and StartPR. Typically, ORM focuses on company and product name/s, executives, and/or brands, and each of these services automate the process of searching and presents the results in a manageable, easy to navigate dashboard. The differences between each lie under the hood, where the individual algorithms distinguish each service in how they discover, track, and present data. And, none of these services are all inclusive. There is still a manual element involved here, requiring you to search specific communities directly.
ORM isn't only limited to businesses. In the era of digital reputations, individuals can also benefit from the process of monitoring the conversations related to their personal brand.
Google Alerts, which scours News.Google.com, Blogsearch.google.com, and other Google properties, is one of the most effective, free services available for tracking keywords and automatically presenting them to you as they appear online. It gives you, as the primary stakeholder, the opportunity to participate and
respond immediately, as you should, in order to protect the integrity of your brands as well as the ability to continually cultivate your community.
Search.Twitter.com (formerly Summize) allows you to search directly in Twitter. You'll be surprised at the frequency and volume of conversations in the Twittersphere. You can search your company, your executives, your competitors and also your personal brand to see what people are sharing at any time, with access to historical content as well.
A new service, which I'll write about shortly, is BackType. It is a new service that allows you to search keywords as they're used in the comments sections of blog posts. BackType is a very promising community that not only allows us to search relevant comments across the blogosphere to uncover important conversations that may require our participation, it also connects us to like-minded thought leaders and the posts that compel them to comment on, in addition to publishing content on their own blogs. Please read Louis Gray's post for a more detailed summary.
Technorati, BlogPulse, and services such as StartPR also provide the ability to search related keywords in blogs, tags, and online conversations.
Also, don't forget the social networks that are related to your industry or your social graph. For example, in the social media and marketing world, searching Facebook, MarcomProfessional, SocialMediaToday, Gooruze, Yahoo Buzz, among many others, can yield incredible conversations that not only reveal how your identity, brand and reputation are discussed, but also provide the opportunity to participate in ways that increase your community awareness, visibility, and social capital.
There's always something to learn as we're forever students of New Media.
Whether you're investing in your brand, or you're the brand ambassador for a company or organization, active listening and observing is as important as participating and contributing. It's proactive versus reactive and it is always the difference between positive, productive discussions and crises communications or defensive exchanges.
This is your identity, your reputation, your brand, your experience, own it.
Socialized media is extending everyone's proverbial "15 minutes of fame," and providing us with the real opportunity to build and grow our personal brands and establish a position of authority based on our expertise. It only matures and expands the more we devote to listening, participating, and contributing to related conversations over time.
You are your best investment and you'll earn the rewards and relationships you deserve.
Brian Solis is globally recognized for his views and insights on the convergence of PR, Traditional Media and Social Media. He actively contributes his thoughts and experiences through speaking appearances, books, articles and essays as a way of helping the marketing industry understand and embrace the new dynamics fueling new communications, marketing, and content creation. Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning PR agency in Silicon Valley. Solis blogs at PR2.0, bub.blicio.us, TechCrunch, and BrandWeek. Solis is cofounder of the Social Media Club, is an original member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup, and also is a contributor to the Social Media Collective. Solis has been actively writing about new PR since the mid 90s to discuss how the Web was redefining the communications industry – he coined PR 2.0 along the way. Solis is considered an expert in traditional PR, media relations, and Social Media. He has dedicated his free time to helping PR professionals adapt to the new fusion of PR, Web marketing, and community relations. PR 2.0 is a top 10,000 Technorati blog and is ranked in the Ad Age Power 150 index of leading marketing bloggers. Working with Geoff Livingston, Solis was co-author of “Now is Gone,” a new book that helps businesses learn how to engage in Social Media. He has also written several ebooks on the subjects of Social Media, New PR, and Blogger Relations. His next book, co-author Deirdre Breakenridge, “Putting the Public back in Public Relations,” will be released by Pearson by Q1 2009. Connect with Solis on: Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Plaxo, Plurk, Identi.ca, BackType, Jaiku, Social Median, or Facebook --Subscribe to the PR 2.0 RSS Feed