The strongest personal brand in the world won’t do you much good if nobody knows about it. A strong online presence is essential in promoting your brand to your target audience. The first step is building online brand by set up your own website. Your personal website is the centerpiece of your online branding effort; unlike social media sites, you own your website and have complete control over its content.
Your Domain Name
If you don’t already have one, you need to buy a personal domain—ideally, one that matches your own name. Matching your name exactly makes your website URL easy to remember and helps reinforce the credibility of your brand.
You should also use the .com domain suffix, which is the most widely recognized (and most easily remembered) suffix. There are several different online tools that let you check for the availability of domain names, including checkdomain.com, instantdomainsearch.com, and godaddy.com.
If an exact match for your own name isn’t available, you might be able to purchase it from its current owner—particularly if it’s not being used and has simply been parked on the server with no content. If not, get as close as you can (you might want to add dashes, underscores, or your middle name) while staying with the .com suffix.
You should also consider securing similar domains (that is, your name with suffixes such as .net and .org) and redirecting them to your website. This will protect your brand by preventing it from being confused with similarly named sites, and may also deter cybersquatters.
Once you’ve secured your domain, you need to build a professional website. There are a lot of different Content Management Systems (CMS) that you can use to build and maintain a site, but the most user-friendly option for a first-time website is WordPress. Free to use and available for one-click installation at many hosting sites, WordPress can have your site up and running in as little as a day. Another key advantage of WordPress is that it has blogging functionality.
Think of your website as the clearinghouse for all materials related to your brand, including your photo, resume, any speeches or articles you’ve authored, and links to your LinkedIn profile and other social media sites. Prospective employers or clients can ideally find out all they need to know about you simply by visiting your site.
Your website should also include a blog—the best single way to promote your brand online. Blogging allows you to showcase your experience and viewpoints, reveal your personality, and position yourself as an expert in a field related to your work.
Readers of your blog are more likely to feel a personal connection because you’ve given them a chance to see how you think. Blogging that reveals elements of your personality—humor or empathy, a passionate commitment to the environment or a rabid interest in baseball—serves to humanize you and offers some clues to your fundamental values. All of that allows you to present your brand in the best possible light.
Another advantage is that from a technical standpoint, it’s accepted wisdom these days that “search engines love blogs.” Because of the way blogs are structured, and the frequency with which their content is updated, they tend to score high in search engine results. Those high rankings will help drive more traffic to your website, giving your brand greater exposure.
There are downsides, to be sure. For your blog to provide real benefits, you’ll need to post frequently, and that can turn into a major time commitment. There’s also the burden of being brilliant all the time: the whole point of your blog is to show off your expertise and insights, but a few pedestrian-or-worse posts could actually be damaging. On balance, though, the potential benefits of blogging clearly outweigh the potential costs. Communicating regularly with your target audience is the most effective way to strengthen your personal brand.
Blogging is not for everyone. Some people are simply uncomfortable with the written word, and others feel strongly that other media have a more powerful impact. For them, podcasting is one option. Roughly 30 percent of Americans are auditory learners, meaning they learn most effectively by listening to the spoken word. And even those who are not primarily auditory learners can appreciate a well-produced podcast, which can fairly easily be embedded in a blog or website.
Video options are also readily available. WordPress (as well as many other Content Management Systems) allows you to embed videos from YouTube and other third-party sites into blog posts. It’s also technically possible to upload your videos directly to your blog, but that’s almost always a bad idea: direct uploads chew up bandwidth, making it more likely your site will crash, and they mean you miss out on the high visibility and traffic of YouTube and similar third-party sites.
Other Online Assets
One of the most effective ways to promote your brand is to increase your online presence. The greater your online footprint, the higher your name will appear in search engine results—so when prospective employers or clients Google your name, they’ll be much more likely to find you.
According to a 2018 survey at Jobvite, 77 percent of recruiters used LinkedIn, 63 percent of recruiters used Facebook, and 25 percent of recruiters used Instagram (but 35 percent of millenial recruiters and 63 percent of those working at technology companies).
That’s why it’s so important to keep all of your online accounts consistent. Let’s say your name is Alexandra Smith, but you’re known variously as “Sandy Smith” or “Allie Smith.” Imagine the confusion if your website is alexandrasmith.com, but your Facebook page lists Sandy Smith and your LinkedIn profile boasts Allie Smith. That dilutes the strength of your brand, knocks you down in search results, and makes it harder for your target audience to find you. It’s much smarter to use the same name consistently on all accounts.
Similarly, you should keep personal identifiers, such as your photo or your logo, if you use one, consistent as well.
Besides your website, there are a few key sites that you should definitely be on: LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
LinkedIn. LinkedIn is all but essential; if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you run the risk that potential employers will dismiss you as hopelessly ignorant of social media. You should have a strong LinkedIn profile (complete with a professional photo), which essentially serves as your online resume. You can also network with professionals who share your interests and goals—and rub elbows with members of your target audience – through LinkedIn Groups.
Google+. Google+ is not explicitly a business- or career-related site. But a strong Google+ profile is an important component of your online footprint, increasing your presence on search engines and reinforcing your brand on one of the world’s premier platforms. In addition, every bit of content that you post on your Google+ profile is, in essence, a mini-blog post. It’s got its own URL and will show up as a separate entry in Google Search, which can rapidly multiply your online presence.
Facebook. The world’s largest social media site, with roughly 2.6 billion monthly active users as of Q1 2020 (Facebook Press, n.d.), Facebook isn’t just for posting adorable pictures of your kids. If you joined Facebook years ago, chances are your profile is more warm-and-fuzzy and less career-oriented. If so, click on the “About” section and retool your profile into one that reinforces your brand and provides prospective employers or clients with useful information about you.
Also, it’s crucial that you control access to any less-than-flattering images or information that might be on the site. That means untagging embarrassing photos (including any that involve alcohol or cigarettes) or negative comments about you. It’s also a good idea to restrict access to your personal information to family and friends.
Twitter. Twitter is one of the busiest social media sites in the world, and it’s one that more than half of all employers use when they’re looking for new talent. The problem? Maintaining a robust Twitter presence can be very time-consuming, and an awful lot of folks don’t bother to stick with it; their Twitter streams often go dead after only a handful of tweets. Unfortunately, a moribund Twitter account may suggest to prospective employers or clients that you aren’t as savvy about (or as focused on) social media as they’d like you to be. If your Twitter stream has gone dry, you should try to revive it – if not with original content, then at least by frequent retweeting.