Personal Branding and Your Online Reputation

Personal branding

The idea of personal branding has gained popularity in the last couple of years. It seems to mainly be used to refer to one’s online identity—meaning, mostly, what hits come up if someone Googles your name.

Like product branding, the personal brand includes a number of values and ideas. It includes what people used to call, in the old days, your reputation. Reputation includes information that used to only be available to people who actually knew you personally, or heard about you through a professional network. We career counselors have advised our clients for years to make sure to keep a good reputation, following all the golden rules like making sure you follow through on commitments, don’t renege on a job offer you’ve accepted, show up to work on time, try not to get in big arguments with your boss or coworkers, dress and groom yourself appropriately, do a good job at work, and so on.

Even in the good old “offline” days, your reputation could precede you. For example, years ago, I worked with two college recruiters, one from one of the “big four” accounting firms, and one from one of the world’s largest investment banks. These two recruiters would tell students a funny fact—the two of them were roommates! (New York is very expensive and grown-ups often share apartments.) They would spend time after work rehashing tidbits about the various jobseekers they interviewed, and if a student did something wonderful or something awful, the other recruiter would know about it that night, and would use the information to decide whether or not to interview that candidate in future. I’m sure this type of discussion about specific good or bad jobseekers still goes on all the time.

Now that we are in an online world, your reputation is now accessible to people who have never met you, and people who haven’t met anyone who has met you. With a quick Google search, you can find out quite a lot about someone, both good and bad. Usually, if the person is a professional, their profile will come up in Linkedin.com. These days, if someone has no Linkedin profile, I make one of two assumptions:

  1. The person is over 50 years of age and hasn’t bothered to keep up on current technology.
  2. The person is under 22 years of age and spends all his or her time on Facebook, probably posting inappropriate pictures of him/herself drinking or worse.

These assumptions can easily be borne out by a little bit of further exploration. For instance, with a simple online search, you can often find letters to the editor someone has written or mentions in any other news media, both controversial or not; blog posts; discussion threads from newsgroups; legal notices about lawsuits a person has been in; specifics on their campaign contributions to political candidates; information about someone as an online seller through EBay or Amazon.com, and sometimes a person’s “wishlist” on Amazon.com; negative reviews on things like “Ripoff reports”; teacher reviews on Ratemyprofessor.com (which I have found to be amazingly useful to learn about faculty when working in a higher education setting); often, information revealing someone’s home mailing address and phone number, including details on exactly how much the person paid for their house; and of course, the requisite Facebook account.

The Facebook account is unfortunately a danger spot for many people. People who create an account without learning the basic settings are soon the victim of the Facebook default settings. For instance, I can easily spot a Facebook beginner because the default setting actually reveals the person’s exact date and year of birth! This is not only a terrible problem if you don’t want people to know how old you are or if you are concerned about age discrimination, but it is also a possible danger for identity theft. Other bad default settings include allowing any random stranger to view your pictures, or to let others “tag” photos of you which you might not want. Take the time to learn about the dangers of Facebook before you blithely set up an account.

To find out exactly what the internet reveals about you, take the time to Google yourself every so often. If you have an unusual name, it is likely that all the posts refer specifically to you. If you have a common name, you might have a more difficult problem of determining how to differentiate yourself online. You might try going by a nickname or using a middle initial to distinguish yourself. You also should deliberately try to add positive content about yourself. An easy way to do this is to create a decent Linkedin profile, and clean up your Facebook presence. Other options are to create a blog or twitter feed.

What have you done to try to establish your online and offline brand?

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