Put Your Best Digital Foot Forward
Let’s face it: Branding is no longer the domain of businesses and organizations. Today, every individual has an online brand — whether proactively self-cultivated or not. This online brand (a.k.a. your digital footprint) is composed of everything someone can find on the Internet about you, from high school pictures to information about your most recent job. A study done by AVG in 2010 showed that 81 percent of all kids under the age of 2 already have a digital footprint. (Thank you, grandma, for posting those baby pictures!)
Maybe you, like most people, have a neutral presence — nothing particularly negative is out there, but neither is anything that truly allows you to shine. Why polish up your presence? Because everyone from employers to future dates are looking online first. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 75 percent of employers actively research candidates online.
Think of the first page of your search engine results as real estate. You want to own the most real estate on that page for your name. And you want to make it positive. Here are five of the best ways to do it.
Update your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn continues to be the No. 1 networking site for professionals. If you have an updated, well-polished LinkedIn profile, chances are that it will be one of the first search results for your name. Make sure you have a current picture, a strong headline and use the summary section to talk about your recent accomplishments. As you meet people within your company and outside, be sure to connect with them on LinkedIn. Even loose associations can be powerful when scoping for a future opportunity, such as a new job.
Adding and connecting with people on LinkedIn makes it easier to keep in touch with them. Spending just 15 minutes a week commenting on other people’s updates can keep you top of mind as well as strengthen your professional relationships.
The strongest element of a LinkedIn profile is the recommendation area where you can collect endorsements from colleagues, clients and employers. Remember that a digital footprint isn’t just what you say about yourself, but what others say about you too. Use this tool to curate the best of what people have to say about you.
Paint a Picture Using Infographics
Once you have a solid LinkedIn profile, you can utilize and present that same information in creative ways, thanks to websites like Vizify and Vizualize.me, which turn your LinkedIn profile into an infographic resume. These sites will automatically pull information from your existing social networks and create a visually appealing profile of your data.
While some people searching for you will appreciate LinkedIn’s clean look, others can get a better sense of your background via a visual layout. Best of all, these sites provide you with a unique URL — and a greater opportunity to own more precious real estate for your name.
Be a Power User on Twitter
Think of Twitter as an engine for strategic serendipity — and one more platform for personal branding. For example, if you are attending a conference, use Twitter to look up the people you’d like to meet and set up a time to do so at the event. Not only will your networking be more effective, you will be able to keep in touch after the conference.
When setting up your account, make sure your username matches your name or is as close to it as possible. Your Twitter account can also nab one more spot on the first page of search results for your name. Remember that every tweet is an opportunity to brand yourself further, so tweet strategically. Not sure how effective you are on Twitter? Check out Twylah.com, which will not only organize your tweets and give you a personalized URL, but it will also do a brand assessment based on your given areas of interest to teach you how to be a power Twitter user.
When it comes to measuring your success on Twitter, look beyond the follower count. Focus on getting visibility for your tweets by using relevant hashtags and retweets. Your tweets could be reaching a much broader audience than just your followers, thanks to hashtags, which are “followed” or searched for more often than individual accounts.
Set Up a Google+ Profile
Google+ is Google’s social network, and, after a slow start, it’s beginning to catching on. With 540 million active users and new features being added almost monthly, ignore this network at your own peril. Spending 30 minutes to set up your Google+ profile can pay off quickly. You can save even more time by copying and pasting your LinkedIn “About Me” section. (Told you that completing your LinkedIn profile would pay off!)
One very attractive quality about Google+ is that Google makes sure profiles and pages on their social network are ranked well on their search engine. Don’t be surprised to see a link for your Google+ profile popping up under the results for your name within hours of setup.
Ask the Experts
If you want a little extra help, you might want to try a personal reputation management service like Brandyourself.com. It’s ideal for those who want to take the most proactive approach to building their profile online — and for those who have something they wished didn’t rank as highly (like a poem you submitted while in school that outranks your professional profiles). Brandyourself, for instance, asks you for the links you want ranked highly (LinkedIn, a personal blog, etc.) and then gives you specific suggestions on how to push them up in search engines. A free version tells you how to DIY, and there is a paid option if you want them to do it for you.
Shama Kabani is founder and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, an award winning full service online marketing and digital PR firm. She is also an international speaker, bestselling author and trusted media correspondent for major networks ranging from Fox Business to Bloomberg. Her book, “The Zen of Social Media Marketing,” now in its third edition, is used as a de facto textbook in social media classes around the world.