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Why Personal Branding Begins at an Early Age (and What to Do About It)

December 7, 2013

Photo source: Dave Lawler on flickr.

Introduction

I asked a class of tenth grade students how many of them have a personal brand. A few looked around the room to see who raised their hand. One student did. And that was it.

When I grew up, the Internet did not exist. Back then, personal branding was centered around experiences and achievements and how they combined to form a reputation – you know, tangible things. Today, those things still matter for your personal brand, but so much of that brand is formed online.

Junior Achievement Program

San Mateo High School

Photo: I visited a tenth grade class at San Mateo High School.

My visit to a tenth grade classroom was part of a Junior Achievement program called JA Career Success.

Junior Achievement is “the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs.” (learn more: Junior Achievement website)

The JA Career Success program consists of seven sessions. I participated in the seventh session, which is titled “Get Hired: Know Your Personal Brand.” The session’s objectives, as defined by JA:

  1. Explore how to hunt for a job and the tools needed
  2. Determine choices they can make to create a positive personal brand as they build their careers

Why We All Have a Personal Brand

An informal poll of the classroom determined that every student is on Facebook (although their teacher does not use the service), 15% are on Twitter and everyone has an Apple device at home (iPhone, iPad or iPod). In short, these students grew up with mobile devices connected to the Internet.

So I told the students: if there’s one thing you remember from today’s program, it’s this:

You’re online, which means that you already have a personal brand.

Well said.

In other words: whether you like it or not, the digital footprints you’re leaving across the Internet are the embodiment of your personal brand. By being aware and proactive, you can manage that brand. By being reactive and unaware, it gets managed for you.

So let’s consider ways in which you can start managing your personal brand. And yes, it’s NOT too early to start this in high school, or even middle school.

5 Personal Branding Tips

1) Always Be Mindful of What You’re Sharing

This photo could become a future issue

Photo source: Dennis Harper on flickr.

I know that high school students will do things that their parents would not approve of (example: throwing a wild party at the house when the parents are away for the weekend).

High school students will have their fun and should continue to do so. But take a moment to ponder before clicking the “submit” or “tweet” button.

Be sensitive to what you share and know that there can be implications and ramifications. If you post something online, accept the fact that it never goes away.

Even if you’re careful to limit your posts to particular groups, the fact remains that the post is online. Understand that when you apply for a job as a forty year old, what you posted as a teenager could come back to haunt you.

Here’s a good mechanism: when you’re ready to post something online, think whether your parent(s) and your teacher would approve. If they wouldn’t approve, then don’t post it (hat tip to Junior Achievement for this).

2) Pay Attention to Details

When you interview for a job, body language can be far more important than the words you speak. You might have an eloquent and insightful answer, but if you’re slouched in your chair and not making eye contact with the interviewer, your answer doesn’t really matter.

With personal branding, every little thing matters. Start with your email address. People will need to contact you, whether it’s a college admissions officer or a potential employer. Select an email address accordingly. “ilovetoparty” at (gmail dot com) will not curry favor with potential employers.

If you have an unfavorable email address, get a new one to use for college admissions and job applications. Next, have friends and family call your cell phone and listen to your voicemail greeting. Does it say something like: “Yo. Do it now. Over and outtie”? That would make a college admissions officer think twice about your application.

3) Sprinkle in Brand-Appropriate, Proactive Sharing

Photo of an academic award

Photo source: COD Newsroom on flickr.

Yes, you should do some proactive “brand building,” even in high school. Some tenth graders will apply to colleges in a few short years. When you apply to a college, the admissions officers will review your social profiles.

Did you recently receive an academic achievement award at school? Have a friend take a picture of you (with your award), then post that to Facebook. This digital footprint can make a difference, when discovered by the admissions officer (hat tip to a parent volunteer, who provided this suggestion).

4) Don’t Let Your Inside Voice Get Outside

In other words, keep your posts and status updates positive. We all have our dislikes, whether it’s jobs, other people or situations. Think twice before you share those dislikes with the entire world. Social media should not be a venting mechanism.

If you found a new job, but really disliked your previous job, keep your feelings about the previous job on the inside. Negative comments don’t play well when viewed by potential employers. And who knows? Things change and the employer you disliked years ago may be one that you return to years later.

5) Advanced Topic: Start Blogging

I started this blog five years ago and it’s helped a great deal with my personal brand. I’m able to share thoughts and ideas (with you!) and I consider it an add-on to my resume. In fact, blogs and social profiles (e.g. LinkedIn) are far more relevant than the old-fashioned resume.

One important point, however: figure out a “focus area” for your blog that’s tied to the personal brand you’d like to portray.

Your blog should not be an extension of Facebook, in which you share anything and everything going on in your life. Instead, it should be an outlet for you to share thoughts and observations.

Consider what you’re most passionate about and start writing about it. If you write well and share interesting things, I’m sure college admissions officers will take note.

Additional Thoughts on Personal Branding

Jonha Revesencio

Photo: Jonha Revesencio (@jonharules).

While writing this post, I posed a question on Twitter:

At what age should we start building our personal brand?

Jonha shared the following:

“In a world where technology has helped in facilitating questions, I think there’s not really an exact “age” to best build your brand, or as I like to put it, #BrandYOU. I think, though, that it’s most essential to “position yourself to be found so you won’t have to look around.”

That means it’s important to provide value even before you ask for one. I’ve given a presentation before college students about this and my main message is for them to use the time they spend on social networks by building their brand instead of using it for activities which will at some point break it (even before they try to build).”

Conclusion

Thanks for those thoughts, Jonha!

The concept of a personal brand was quite new to the tenth graders I spoke to. And that’s a big reason why I wrote this post: to create awareness around the fact that personal branding starts at an early age. Those who get an early start will have an advantage. Start working on your personal brand today.

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Harness the Power of Your Personal Brand

May 17, 2012

Introduction

In 2006, TIME magazine declared “You” their Person of the Year. TIME’s selection was based on the rise of YouTube and other social web sites that allowed individuals to become publishers. TIME’s cover concluded, “You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”

Some six years later, we have even more tools to publish, interact and discover. Facebook is approaching 1 billion global users, while the past 12 months has seen the rise of Instagram and Pinterest, to name a few.

In the midst of your status updates, posts, blog comments and photo uploads, I think there’s a larger meaning (and value) that you can achieve: migrating from simply “You” to “Your Personal Brand.” Let me explain.

Brand Around Your Passions

When I speak about personal branding, people often ask, “just where do I start?” I encourage people to identify their passions. For me, it’s sports, social media and virtual events! For others, it might be food, wine or art. Your personal brand has the highest potential when it’s based around your passions.

Personal Brand Benefits: PASSION

Now, let’s consider the benefits of your personal brand. I use the acronym PASSION. Let’s take them one by one.

Possession

Whether you’ve been at your current job for 20 years or 20 months, as an “at will employee,” you can be asked to leave tomorrow. Your personal brand, however, has guaranteed possession. No one can take it away from you – it’s your’s for the rest of your life.

Annuity

An annuity is defined as “a specified income payable at stated intervals for a fixed or a contingent period, often for the recipient’s life.” As you manage and grow your personal brand, it routinely “pays you income” in the form of recognition, authority, presence and “real” income (if you so desire).

It’s important to realize, however, that while your personal brand’s annuity pays out over time, it’s an investment that must be actively managed to guarantee continued payout. It’s a bit more involved than a conventional annuity: it’s more like a mortgage, in the sense that you need to “pay back” (contribute) each month (or each day!).

I love the part about “for the recipient’s life” in the definition, because it ties back to Possession: the annuity, like your personal brand, is your’s for life.

Searchability

Most businesses think and talk a great deal about “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO). It’s critical for your web site(s) to “get found” when potential customers are searching online. As you construct and develop your personal brand, a natural benefit is “searchability,” or the ability to “get found.”

In a 2008 blog post titled “Downsized? Fired? Here are the new rules of finding a job,” David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) tells us about Heather Hamilton, who describes herself as “Microsoft Employee Evangelist, Quasi-Marketer and Truth-Teller.” Hamilton performs an inverse of the typical job search process. Instead of posting a job description and receiving resumes, she proactively searches the web. As Meerman Scott writes, “So if you’re not publishing, you won’t be found by Microsoft.”

[As a side note, the above blog post by Meerman Scott is singularly responsible for the start of my own personal brand.]

As you join new social networks, it’s critical that you fully populate your profile there. This is a critical first step in establishing your personal brand. On LinkedIn, for instance, ensure that your profile is 100% complete. Don’t settle for 95%, make sure it’s a full 100%.

As you gain a presence across different parts of the web, be sure to “cross link” your presences within your social profiles. For instance, on my Twitter profile page, I link to this blog and to my book on Amazon. You’ll also notice that on this blog, I cross-link to many other “personally branded presences” on the right side of the page.

Now, let’s return to Heather Hamilton. If you’ve published content related to Hamilton’s search terms, then the following may appear in Hamilton’s search results:

  1. Your blog.
  2. Your LinkedIn profile.
  3. Your Twitter profile or a recent tweet.
  4. Your answer on Quora or Focus.com
  5. An eBook that you published on your blog.
  6. An article in which you were quoted.

So in conclusion, the more you invest in your personal brand, the more visible you can be. And with more visibility comes more chances of others finding you.

Sense of Self

By “sense of self,” what I mean is that you learn about yourself as you build your personal brand! I’ve been blogging since 2008. It’s helped highlight (for me) my passions, my strengths and my weaknesses. In a post about her own blogging journey, Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra) writes, “One of my favorite quotes is from the writer Joan Didion, who once said ‘I write to discover what I think.’”

As I became active on Twitter and LinkedIn, I discovered something about myself that otherwise wouldn’t have been obvious: I love to find, meet and connect with others. Twitter has been amazing in its ability to find and follow others, share thoughts and ideas and get to thoroughly know (in my mind) someone I’ve never met in person. This discovery has led me to consider ways in which I can continue this “connecting” in offline settings, as well.

Identity

While your personal brand should align with your passions, going niche (vs. broad) gives you a lot of advantages. Building a personal brand around “technology” is challenging. Go a step deeper, based on what interests you. Consider “social web technology” or better yet, “social and mobile web technology.”

My personal brand focuses on virtual events and social media. The social media part is challenging, in the sense that many, many others are more knowledgeable than me. The virtual events realm is smaller and more focused, so there’s more of an opportunity to build an identity around it.

By “identity,” I mean that your personal brand comes to be known for something. My personal brand is closely tied to virtual events – I suppose the name of this blog says it all.

Objectives

Having a personal brand helps you set objectives around it. For some, it can be as basic as “continue to grow the brand.” For others, it might revolve around Twitter followers, a Klout score or page views on your blog. Yet others may seek to parlay their personal brand into a new job in a new industry. Your personal brand will evolve over time and objectives are there to help guide you.

Networks

Based on your employment history (or your small business), many of you have amassed a “network” of connections on LinkedIn. A personal brand allows you to significantly extend that network. Via social networks, your blog, comments on other blogs, guest posts on other blogs and articles submitted to publications, you can meet and engage with new people.

It can all start with a single Twitter hash tag. On Twitter, there’s a vibrant community of event professionals who gather around the hash tag #eventprofs. By simply reading, responding and re-tweeting (via this hash tag) over the years, I’ve gotten to know lots of event professionals that I otherwise would not have “met.”

Many #eventprofs are sole practitioners or run a small event business. So personal branding is critical to them, as their personal brand and their business’ brand are one and the same. In addition to the “#eventprofs network, I’m part of many others, including the networks on Quora, Focus.com, Instagram and Pinterest.

Actively engaging in networks helps raise the visibility of your personal brand and brings with it annuity, searchability and many other benefits.

Conclusion

Got a passion? Then put some PASSION around your passion. Developing your personal brand can lead to business opportunities, speaking gigs, fame and fortune. Why not get started today?

Related Links

  1. Blog Post: 7 Tips for Building Your Personal Brand Online 
  2. Slides: How to Build Your Personal Brand and Advance Your Career with Social Media

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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