What is the first thing that you do when you want to research something online? Most people I know would search for it using Google or Twitter Search. When you are applying for a job or something similar, what do you think hiring managers are going to do? Most likely they are going to search for you on Google, Twitter, or LinkedIn. When they perform a search, what will they find? Your site? Embarrassing personal photos? Nothing? In a study that Careerbuilder.com conducted in September 2008, it was found that 1 in 5 hiring managers conduct some sort of social networking search before deciding on a candidate. With the likelihood that this trend will only continue, it becomes very important that you manage your personal brand online.
Creating Your Brand
One of the first steps in managing your online brand is to have one. This can be established a few different ways, but the fastest and best way is to make sure you have a presence online.
One of the best ways to ensure you have a strong presence online is to have your own website. This can be a very scary idea to some people who may not be as tech savvy as others, but with the different services available now, just about anyone can create some sort of website in a short amount of time. If you need to get a web address, in my opinion, one of the best places to get started is GoDaddy.com where you can purchase a domain name and even have them host your email and website. The added bonus to having your own domain is that you can have a more professional looking email address instead of something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another way to ensure you show up properly in Google searches for your name is to create a Google Profile. This profile will let you add as much information about yourself as you feel comfortable with as well as allowing you a place to put links to your other sites. The best part about a Google Profile, though, is that when someone searches for your name, your profile will appear at the bottom of the first search results page that Google returns! This can go a long way to ensure that potential employers find you and you control where they view your content online.
LinkedIn & Other Professional Networking Sites
While your first thought might be to use your Facebook or MySpace as part of your online brand, this may not be the best use for a personal social networking site. Friends or other people you are aquatinted with may post inappropriate content that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. Lucky enough, services like Facebook allow you to set up privacy rules to prevent people other than your ‘friends’ from seeing your information. Federal laws even protect you as it extended the reach of Equal Opportunity Employement to cover you if a potential employer did not hire you based on age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or veteran status information they found in a private profile. Best rule of thumb, though, keep your personal networking and professional networking separate and lock down your personal profile sites. You may be wondering if you can’t use Facebook or MySpace, what is there to use? One of the best professional networking sites out there is LinkedIn. It is one of the best resources currently on the internet for professional networking and having your professional information available on the internet. Once you create a profile, I would recommend making most of your profile information available to the public as it will allow Google and other search engines to index the most amount of information connected to you which can help to increase your performance in organic search results. The other nice aspect of LinkedIn is that you can connect with others on the site in your company and profession. There is a common statement that says that “it’s not what you know, it’s who”, so the more people you can connect with in your profession, the better. Other professional networking/profile sites include: Xing.com, Zoominfo.com, and Spoke.com
Professional Blogs and Forums
One of the other places that can help you appear more online, and appear as a viable resource for your particular industry, is to contribute to the conversation on professional blogs and forums. Most industries have a space where professionals come together to talk about news, techniques, etc. Join one of these online communities and start contributing. Depending on how the administrator has the blog or forum setup, chances are that the search engine bots are crawling through indexing the information. Another thing to do is ensure that a link to your domain always appears in your signature on the profile. Not only will this help to drive traffic to your site by other members/readers, it will also help validate your site to the search engines. If for some reason you can’t find a good online community to contribute to… start your own!
Monitoring Your Brand
Now that you have your presence established, your job is about half over. The other side of it is that you need to continually monitor what is going on and how you are appearing. Sometimes directories can pull the wrong or out dated information from sites or, even worse, someone may be posting bad or inappropriate content related to you.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to see what potential employers would see when looking for information on you is to do what they would do and google (verb not noun) yourself. While you are looking through Google, it may be worth the effort to also search using other popular engines such as Yahoo! and Bing. A quick searching tip, if you have a formal first name (Bradford) and a name that everyone calls you (Brad), make sure to check both.
Setup Google Alerts
One way to take your Google search to the next step is to use the Google Alerts service. The nice part of this service is that it allows you to setup a search term to monitor (i.e. your name) and when the search bot comes across that term during indexing, it compiles a report, and that report is sent to your email. While this is a fantastic free service, it is not updated all the time and, depending on your online activity, you may not receive an alert email more than 2-3 times a month. Bottom line, a great thing to setup but it shouldn’t take place of an occasional Google search of your name.
SocialMention.com is a great tool that will help you to track your appearances on sites like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, and Digg. One of the best things about SocialMention.com is that the results page is fairly detailed and includes information like the average time between mentions and an estimate on whether the information is positive or negative. The site also offers a free daily alert service that sends results directly to your email.
Only You Can Prevent a Personal Brand Disaster
Depending on what you do and how well you manage it, when a potential employer goes searching for your information, they could find results that confirm you are the person for the job… or find items to give them second thoughts. In the end, though, you are the one that will control how you appear online. As Chris Brogan puts it, “the Web has become our workplace, our water cooler, and our social mixer”. You can get almost as much information about a person online as you can from talking with them in person during an interview. With proper management, the information they find about you online will set you up to be just the person they were looking for.