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How to clean up your personal brand

Everyone has a personal brand. Here’s how to improve yours if it doesn’t reflect who you want to be.

How to clean up your personal brand
[Photo: Kerde/Pexels]

While you may not be an Instagram influencer or a prolific YouTube personality, whether you like it or not, you have a personal brand. And it affects you.

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Your content, publicly available work and portfolios, media coverage, social media posts, and others’ opinions are all part of your personal brand. Personal branding, much like any sort of brand, really boils down to reputation.

“How do people think about you? What do they say about you? It is in your interest to make sure that you understand what your reputation is, and if it is not what you want it to be, it’s important to get strategic about how to reshape that so that other people are thinking of you in the right way and for the right things,” says marketing strategist Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.

And it can matter in important ways. An August 2018 survey by job information website CareerBuilder found that 70% of employers check out your social media profiles during the hiring process—and more than half saw something that caused them to take a pass on a candidate. Another survey by Hover found that 71% of employers will consider online portfolio quality in hiring decisions. For some, the simple act of typing their name into Google’s search box and hitting Enter yields shocking results.

Personal Branding Basics

Fixing your brand starts with determining the messages that currently exist about you. Beyond “googling” yourself—which is an important step—and checking your social media profiles, Clark suggests using a simple exercise with trusted colleagues, friends, and coworkers. Ask roughly a half dozen of them to use three words that describe you. Then, evaluate the messages that are there.

“The fact that it is so limited, they can only choose three words, really helps you get a sense of what is foremost in people’s minds when they are thinking of you. It begins to show you what attributes of yours are most prominent in their imagination,” she says.

So, what should you do if you find your brand isn’t all that you want it to be? First, get a vision for what you need to define, what you do want reflected in the world, says Mark Schaefer, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, a Louisville, Tennessee-based marketing consultancy and author of Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. Schaefer says there’s a difference between being “internet famous” and curating a specific personal brand that will help you become known in your industry.

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“If there’s a lot of competition, I don’t think that should necessarily scare you off, but you need to find a voice, an angle, an approach that’s different from others. It’s a very busy world. It’s a very noisy and competitive world, but there are lots of strategies to help you stand out,” Schaefer says.

Fixing What You Find

As you work on changing your brand, don’t transform into someone else overnight, says personal branding expert Natasa Djukanovic, chief marketing expert of .me. If the change doesn’t seem authentic, it can actually backfire, she says. Remove offensive or inappropriate content and, if others have posted questionable photos or comments, request that those be removed, too. But, realize that anything that has previously been published may surface again, and be prepared to address it if it does, she says.

And don’t delete everything personal. While you may not want to post about sensitive topics, letting people know that you have hobbies or love dogs makes you more accessible and can help your brand—even a business-focused brand. “People have to at least try to understand you and feel that you are a human being. And we all have faults, so it’s okay sometimes to make a joke about yourself online,” Djukanovic says.

Your next online move should be to start creating strategic content that will begin to reshape search engine results. Djukanovic says creating a blog is a good way to begin generating brand-specific content, while Schaefer likes the idea of choosing a social media platform you like and creating public posts that support your brand messages. Whatever platform you choose, Clark says it’s critical to be consistent. “A week isn’t going to do it. A month probably isn’t going to do it. You need to take the right actions consistently over time for people to notice,” she says.

It’s also important to take your branding efforts offline, as well. If you want people to think of you as a strategic thinker, get involved in activities that reflect those strengths, Clark says. Work on becoming part of your company’s strategic planning committee, or approach your supervisor about your goal to get involved in more strategic work on your team or in your division.

Schaefer says it’s also critical to build relationships with people who reflect your personal brand values. He calls it an “actionable audience.”

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“[Look] at the people that you want to connect to and who are connecting to your content and go to the next step by trying to connect to them in a personal way, in a human way, maybe even face-to-face, because that creates a bond that turns into actionable results,” he says.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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