Have you seen a sonogram of a pregnancy in a friend’s announcement online? That sonogram is the beginning of a particular child’s digital footprint, before they are born. Similarly, every time someone posts a cute picture, mentions their name, and shares a funny video of the child, their digital footprint expands. This is the beginning of their online brand — their digital birthday.
That child does not have control over what other people are posting about them now. But someday, they will ask a search engine to compile every bit of information that has been posted with their name online and the digital version of naked-baby-on-a-rug will not seem so cute. At that point, online branding and profile development coaching start looking like a good idea.
You have more control over your digital footprint than a child does, but it takes work. If you are not proactively curating everything that can be connected to you, then it will accumulate without your control. Even not tagging your photos and using privacy settings will not prevent a facial recognition program identifying you or a security breach. Mistakes can be made, too, and your identity might be confused with someone else to your detriment. Once stuff goes viral, there isn’t anything you can do but damage control.
Because employers are increasingly using search engines to find candidates, your information might not even show up in the first few pages of “qualified potential candidates” when they start looking. If the computer doesn’t select you as suitable, there’s no chance to make an appeal. If you are not active online, monitoring all your information and adding value to your digital presence with LinkedIn activity, professional posts, and making sure your brand is what you want it to be…
then you will be as helpless as the infant in the sonogram, subject to whatever someone else says about you and unaware of what is going on.
“Branding” has become a buzzword, one that is losing meaning for many people tired of hearing it. That doesn’t change the importance of what “branding” actually is: your reputation.
It’s all the little pieces of information someone has about you wrapped up in their perceptions about that information. It’s important because it directly affects your career. Your reputation can get you the job or get you on the “do not call” list. People’s understanding of who you are can get you promoted or get you fired. With the internet and social media, there’s just a lot more information out there to be aware of.
Who you are, the choices you make and the way you do your job are part of your brand even though it happens off-line. Think of it as being the spokesperson for your personal brand. The best way to deepen relationships is to face time, and it happens best when you are not on a screen (although videoconferencing is becoming a popular substitute, it doesn’t work for everything). So step away from the computer and go to workshops and seminars. Do the volunteer community service. This gives a huge chunk of information to your branding because it is as big as you are.
Online, your brand is also made up of pieces of information. You have control over most of them if you are diligent about privacy settings, security, and consistent postings. Many are even choosing to have their own site with their name.com in order to be first in a search. LinkedIn profile and online branding development is so important that you should invest in research and possibly coaching to make sure your online brand is professional and current.
Your brand is not just the history of who you are. Your brand is the hope of who you aim to be. It’s your reputation and your potential all in one package, and you can choose what that looks like.