Investment. In the section on how to find a readership, I stated that developing relationships in your content area, specifically when it comes to building backlinks, was about investing time and energy into others with the confidence that it will come back to you.
If developing a loyal readership requires this, then the idea of a brand requires even more patience and persistence – and a clear sense of what your blog is about – what you’re about.
A brand is an identity. A reputation. It’s what customers think of when they see a logo, an color, a byline, or a product. You can either cultivate the one you want, or gain one by poor choices and haphazard effort. The latter being one you might not want.
While organizations also use blogs to promote product or service reputations, we’ll focus on personal branding here.
Most bloggers are not all that interested in developing a personal brand. It takes a lot of work and frankly, many of us write for personal satisfaction and are happy to communicate to a relatively small audience. While we may be interested in growing that readership, the idea of some special identity really never gains traction with us.
However modest our early ambitions, it’s possible that may change with time, perhaps after we find some success with our writing. Taking charge of our reputation is a bigger issue these days than it has been in the past.
With the growth of our online lives, mostly from social media, there is much that can be known about us without our giving much thought to it. That is a good thing and a bad thing. You can have a reputation, an image, whether you want one or not.
Bottom line? You have a growing online identity, just not necessarily the one you intended.
As we used to pay attention to our reputation at home, at work and in our communities, now our reputations potentially reach much further than we ever considered possible.
Second, as more people make their living to some degree through the “gig economy”, our person becomes the product. Now, the distinction between our personal selves and our professional ones has blurred, if not simply disappeared.
It reminds me of a little book that came out a few years ago called You, Inc. by Beckwith and Clifford, which captured this idea for me that we were the product, the business, and we needed to start thinking and acting that way.
Here are five things we can do to manage our online identity.
1) Who Are You and What Are You Selling?
Ok, two questions in one; I know. But they’re very intertwined ideas. Who are you has to do with you as a person, a personality, a life lived up to this point. A big part of a sustainable personal brand is being authentic and real to the audience. We spend so much of our energies trying to please others that we may in fact no longer know who is really “in there”.
Practically speaking, give this some thought. You may have to do some digging to figure out who you are. Reminds me of the song from the 70s, Smiling Faces Sometimes by the Undisputed Truth, “smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within….” Ok, perhaps a bit harsh. BUT, depending on the circles we run in, we may have spent a fair amount of our time being someone else with the thought that that is what it took to succeed.
Write three words that you think would be adjectives that describe you. Funny, happy, witty, matter-of-fact, creative, intense, etc. These are to be the basis of your unique angle on your brand – what makes you distinctive and hopefully valuable.
What are you selling? That has to do with your area of expertise. Or the area you wish to be an expert. That is, the noun of your identity.
Education, gardening, email marketing, mathematics, raising kids, or Ruby on Rails programming language.
This focus on what you want to talk about is blended with your angle or the tone of your adjective that defines you. The “witty mathematician” is, well, an angle. For me, if it’s about math, it better be witty!
2) Establish a Home Base Online
For an online identity to be managed, an online home base needs to be established. Your own website or blog would be typical of this. It is a primary vehicle for demonstrating who you are and what you do. Through your writings, you establish your tone, your message and your authority.
As you develop a clearer sense of who you are and what you’re about, you will want to move to your own domain presence (ie. yourname.com). Reserve it now, if you haven’t. Whether you decide to go to this level or not, it is best to secure the domain as soon as possible. Call it an investment in your reputation.
3) Communicate with Purpose and with Authority
When writing, take the time to ensure that each post you write is solid in terms of quality and value to the reader. Reputations can be made or broken by one or two pieces.
Stay on task. That is, write on topic, and with impact. Potent writing is both art and science. Someone who writes well keeps my attention. We can tell good writing from excellent writing. While it may not be natural to us, we want to be growing in this area. Reading other’s writing is part of that growing.
This goes for speaking and videos, as well. Good speaking is enhanced by good technique, and practice.
That’s why it is so helpful to operate from our authentic self.
4) Shape and Focus Social Media around this Identity
With branding in mind, social media posts become more intentional. You create profiles and images that reflect the image and identity you’re pursuing. Yes, it may involve logos, bylines and pitch lines, but it is also personal.
In general, people want to deal with people – specifically, people they come to trust. They prefer a person to communicate with than a machine.
Social media is an important part of building relationship – connecting with an ever-widening audience.
5) Regularly Review and Reshape Identity
The process is not a one-way process – it’s more iterative. You will likely try different things with the idea of creating a particular result. Your identity is an evolving concept, one that is constantly being shaped and reshaped as you get a better feel for your audience and their needs.
Taking time to review how it is going needs to become a natural process. What’s working and what’s not.
In the end, we need it to be manageable. Simple, on target, consistent and… manageable.
Branding is a commercial word for what we might better call personal reputation – our identity as perceived by a viewing public. It is online now. We probably already have an online presence, small or large, it communicates to others who we are.
So, whether we want to be as famous or influential as the brands of Coca-Cola or Microsoft, or not, we nonetheless have an identity emerging online. It might be better to know what it is and take some responsibility for what it is and will become.
Google yourself now. What do people see? What might you want them to see?