If you don’t know where you started from, how can you tell how far you’ve come? One of the first steps you should take when beginning your personal branding journey – as well as periodically throughout the process – is to check on where you currently stand in the eyes of others.
Seeing Yourself Through Different Eyes
In the “real world,” determining how others see you may involve asking friends, family, and mentors about their perceptions of you. Of course you have to filter through their biases and try to get to the real opinions, and ask enough people in order to get a general perspective rather than relying on the response of, say, your mother or your best friend (who, depending on how outspoken they are, may or may not be telling you the complete truth but what they believe would be easiest for you to digest or most desirable for you to hear at the time).
Thankfully in the online world, it isn’t very difficult to get an unbiased “opinion.” Search engine bots are mathematical – not social – and they don’t experience negative consequences if they piss you off, nor rewards if they delight you. We will discuss getting a real-world perspective in a future post, but in this one we’ll concentrate on setting your personal branding baseline with a simple online search for your name.
Establishing Your Personal Branding Baseline
Many people turn to Google, the largest search engine in the world, as a first step in finding information about any topic online. Therefore, in makes sense to check up on what information about you is available when someone types in your name.
In general, you want to be aware of both positive and negative search results. A positive result might be a link to your own homepage or online portfolio, your professional LinkedIn profile, or an article you wrote on someone else’s website that relates to your career field. A negative search result might be an embarrassing photo or a link to your old LiveJournal account where you chronicled the horrible breakup you had with your ex.
So, go ahead and Google yourself in a new browser window.
- Google now uses personalized search, which means that if you are using Google+, a Gmail account, or any other Google services, you will see different results than others users. Be sure to have “Hide personal results” toggled ON for more accurate results:
- Don’t forget to wrap your name in quotation marks i.e. “your name.”
Did anything surprising show up? Shocking? Incredibly flattering?
What is your ratio of positive to negative results?
- If you have more negative results than positive – fear not!
By proactively creating content that you are proud of, those negative links will eventually get buried (they may never disappear, unfortunately, but you can do everything in your power to ensure that it’s not the firstimpression, nor one that most people will encounter).
- If you have more positive results than negative – congratulations!
You did something right, but it’s your job to maintain and defend that positive press, otherwise something less flattering may surprise you one day. In addition, you can increase the value of your homepage and positive search results in many ways – but that’s another topic for another day.
- If you have a common name or see very little content – you have some work to do!
Online personal branding can be very difficult if you share a name with, say, a celebrity. However, you can ensure that you are not lost in the shuffle by promoting your own results both online and offline. We will post on this topic at a later date.
Interactive Tool to Check Your Online Identity
If you’d like something even more concrete, check out the FREE Online ID Calculator tool which guides you through a series of questions and performs a calculation based on your inputs. At the end, it provides you with some additional guidance for making sense of the search results that come up when you Google yourself. You will be placed on a perceptual map in one of four categories: Digitally Distinct, Digitally Dabbling, Digitally Dissed, or Digitally Disastrous (the creators must have a thing for the letter “D”).
When I did the quiz, I was placed in the Digitally Distinct category – the highest ranking – but even then the site had some helpful suggestions about increasing the diversity of my search results. Alas, the quest to build a perfect online personal brand in a constantly-evolving world wide web continues!
The tool was developed by authors William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson, who wrote the book “Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand.”
Once you’ve checked out how you’re seen in search engines, determine your goals and then make an action plan.
Is your goal to bury negative results? Think about how they got there in the first place – sometimes a simple fix like changing the privacy settings on your personal facebook profile may be just the ticket. You won’t see an immediate change, but check back in a month or two to see if they’re gone. In addition, start thinking about content you’d like to see high in the rankings in their place.
Is your name very common, and your goal is simply to make an appearance? You could legally change your name. Perhaps a more practical idea is to start by brainstorming a new nickname, or handle, which is more distinct and which you can then promote throughout your social networks and even on your resume. Read this post about creating a good nickname.
Is your name uncommon, and your goal is to become searchable? You might begin by creating blog posts (assuming you’ve already registered for our Building Personal Branding network which includes the best blogging software package?), producing link-worthy content, and engaging in other SEO-building activities.