As a professional today, your online image is essential. It’s just as likely that a potential client will “meet” you through a Google search as at a professional conference. Or, if you’re job hunting, that a recruiter will view your credentials on the LinkedIn® app as on a paper resume. Every professional must craft and maintain a professional online brand that will impress the people who view it and entice them to do business with you.
But—and this is critical—it is a major mistake to focus so much energy on your online image that you forget to pay attention to the impression you are making in real life. The trick is to find the right mix of URL and IRL.
Here are some suggestions to help you build your personal brand:
1. Do Your Homework
In some industries, such as PR or tech start-ups, it is essential to have a thorough LinkedIn profile, tweet regularly and comment on your colleagues’ Instagram® accounts. In other industries, such as law or defense, you’re more likely to hear someone ask, “Insta-what?” If you don’t know already, you must research the social media habits in your particular industry or organization.
Likewise, you should research the “places to be” offline as well. Do all of your colleagues belong to a particular industry association? Does everyone chitchat in the same coffee shop every morning? Does everyone attend a monthly town hall and listen intently to the employees who present there? Success is not just about who you know, but also who knows you. Make yourself visible both online and in person, and be sure to do so in the places that will have the most impact.
2. Be Consistent Everywhere
Especially if you are job hunting, make certain that the facts, titles and dates on your resume match exactly with any career information you are sharing on social media sites, especially the professional network, LinkedIn. While LinkedIn allows you to expand a lot more on your accomplishments, you never want recruiters or other professional contacts to question your credentials because they don’t match up.
Consistency also relates to how you build your brand. You don’t want to set up a bunch of social media accounts, post on them regularly for a week and then forget about them. Similarly, you don’t want to attend a dozen networking events and then disappear from sight. Consistency equals reliability, and that’s a trait that will serve you well as a professional.
3. Untag and Remove
If there is any content that you’ve posted online—inappropriate photos, angry rants, too-personal details—consider removing it or untagging yourself from other people’s posts. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I be okay if my most important client saw this post?” and if the answer is no, take it down.
When it comes to posting new content, check in with your in-real-life instincts. If your post is something you wouldn’t do or say face-to-face, then don’t post it on the Internet.
Finally, with so many options for how to spend our time and how to share our professional reputations with the world, I recommend checking in with yourself every few months to assess your personal branding progress online and offline. Ask: Am I meeting new people? Are people reaching out to me? Do people know what I do and what my strengths are? If you don’t like your answers, then commit to making some changes. Your personal brand is a big part of your success and deserves ongoing attention and maintenance.
Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University Of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.
Want to learn more about how to build your personal brand? My new book Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders is full of more advice on that and personal branding’s place in your preparations to take on your first leadership role.