Updated March 12, 2016
Whether you intend to or not, you have a brand. It’s not just a logo. It includes everything associated with you, from your social media posts to your site design to your books and beyond. Your brand is what comes to mind when someone hears or sees you, or anything associated with you.
I’ve been at this online thing long enough to have seen some brand reputations soar, and some that have spiraled downward. There are also some things I wish I would have done differently along the way to help my own brand. These are some things I’ve learned.
1. Give some thought to how you want others to see you
The internet is about individuals (not just big companies or products) and has blurred the line between our personal and professional lives. We should be thoughtful about what our name conjures up.
What words, images or feelings do you want to pop into someone’s head when they think of you or when your name comes up in conversation? Thoughtful? Professional? Intelligent? Authentic? Sophisticated? Cutting-edge? Helpful? Fun? Friendly?
Consider writing these qualities down. Whenever you write, post, comment, update, pin, tweet, network or otherwise interact online, make sure it’s congruent with the qualities you’d like to portray. Be consistent.
2. Figure out practical ways you can embody those characteristics
Filter your online decisions through the lens of “How can I enhance my personal brand here?” For example, if professionalism is important to you, when you choose a business or site name, you probably don’t want to choose Fun Casual Clothing.
If healthfulness is important to you, when you’re thinking about making money blogging, you probably don’t want to promote a fried chicken fast food restaurant in your ads.
Don’t be rigid about it, just aware.
3. Be consistent with who you are online and in real life
I suppose this goes without saying, but I’ll say it because we all understand the temptation to highlight only our good stuff online. Don’t try to portray yourself one way online when in real life you are quite different. Also, if you’ve chosen to exemplify a particular quality online, find ways to work that quality into your real life.
The thing is, it’s very likely your online and offline worlds will collide at some point so making them congruent is essential.
4. Understand that projects come and go, but your personal brand sticks with you
The site you’ve started or are about to start might very possibly morph into something totally different, die completely or launch you into something unexpected. I agree with Natasha who said once, “a good personal brand is the single most valuable investment you can make.”
5. Assume if you put something online, it’ll be there forever and it will be found
In other words, be careful and thoughtful about what you post online. Things have an uncanny way of coming back to get you.
It’s shockingly easy to find all kinds of information about you or things you said in the past. For example, do you know about the Wayback Machine? Type in any URL and you’ll see a history. Even the stuff you thought was anonymous or private (like your private contact info) can often be looked up easily.
So, write & share carefully and be aware of the character you exhibit.
6. Get a good headshot to use as your avatar and around the web
That small photo of you attached to social media sites, comments, etc. is often referred to as your avatar.
The internet is driven by relationships. Relationships are driven by face-to-face contact. Don’t hide behind a logo, name, animated avatar, icon or a grainy phone pic. Ask someone with photographic know-how to take some good photos of you.
Tip: If you hire a professional, be sure to specify beforehand that you would like the digital files as opposed to prints.
7. Use your avatar effectively
Use a high-quality photo. Your avatar is part of your personal brand. Just like big brands with recognizable logos, your avatar serves the same purpose—something that people associate with you and your online presence. Take some time to make sure your avatar is well done.
Don’t change your avatar willy-nilly. Consistency is key when it comes to establishing a solid brand. Can you imagine how confused we’d all be if Coke changed its logo every few months? So it is with your avatar. Pick a good one and stick with it.
Use the same avatar across the internet. Any time you are asked to upload an avatar or profile pic, use the same one. Again, consistency is key.
8. Get a Gravatar
This tip was a bit more relevant a few years ago before social media came on the scene and allowed us to sign into sites using our social media accounts. However, this is still something you might consider.
Have you ever wondered how some people have a picture of themselves next to the comments they leave on a blog? That’s a Gravatar (a Globally Recognized Avatar). Getting one is dead simple and completely free. Simply go here and click the “Create Your Own Gravatar” button.
Once you’re registered, your headshot (avatar) will show up automatically as you leave comments around the web. You are recognized by the email address you used when registering at Gravatar so make sure you use that email address whenever you leave comments.
9. Put your avatar on your business cards
Anyone who knows you online will undoubtedly associate you with your avatar. If you have the opportunity to meet an online acquaintance in real life, your avatar provides an instant means of recognition. Likewise, if you meet someone in real life and they want to connect with you online, the image on your business card will do the same.
10. Use the same username across the web
Just like your headshot or avatar, ideally you’ll want your name / username to be consistent across all social media sites.
Whether you’re creating a new site or a new product, or you want to more firmly establish the one you’ve got, use KnowEm to search availability. They have paid-for plans for serious online types, but you can do a basic search for free. Simply type in the name you want and you’ll see if and where it’s available.
Tip: Whenever you hear of a new social media platform, sign up and grab your username immediately. Even if you don’t use it right away, you’ll be glad to have it if you ever do.
11. Register your name as a domain
If you’re unfamiliar with the term domain, it’s a web address. For example, AmyLynnAndrews.com is a domain.
I highly recommend you register your own name as a domain, even if you don’t have plans to use it right away. If you’ve got a common name like me, try a simple variation like inserting your middle name.
You can “park” a domain, effectively holding it until you are ready to attach a website to it. Twenty bucks a year is a small price to pay in the event you might need it later on. Read my post, How to Choose a Domain Name, for more tips.
12. Create an elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is a clear and concise summary of your company, service, product, ebook, blog or website. The “elevator” part comes from the idea that you should be able to communicate it to someone you meet on the elevator, within the time it takes before one of you gets off. In other words, it should be short, to the point and compelling. Here are tips for creating an elevator pitch:
- Turn it into a question. Deborah Grayson Riegel gives this example: “If you’re a professional organizer, ask ‘You know that pile of papers you’ve got somewhere in your house that you’ve been meaning to get through? As a professional organizer, I help people finally get through it.'” I love that, you now why? Because it’s relevant. You just named my problem and offered a solution. I’m instantly drawn in.
- Prepare a few different versions. The version you present to the mom standing in line behind you at the grocery store might be different than the version you present to the brand representative at the conference. Of course, there’s a second tip buried in here too: always know who you’re talking to.
- Be normal. By that I mean, ditch the explanation that makes you sound sophisticated and important. Be relatable. Be real. Don’t lose people in the ten-dollar words.
- Practice it. In the mirror, to your spouse or friend, in a video or to your dog. The goal is to make it so natural it rolls off your tongue effortlessly.
- End with a call to action. I haven’t decided if this part should be included in the pitch itself or should be an addendum. I’m thinking the latter. After someone hears your elevator pitch, what is it you want them to do? Visit your blog? Buy your ebook? Sign up for your emails? If it seems like they’re trackin’ with you, first ask them to do something and then tell them how to do it. For example, “I’d love it if you stopped by my site sometime. The address is AmyLynnAndrews.com…” The goal here is to not sound sales-y but informative. (That’s why I think it should be an addendum you can throw in if it seems like they’re genuinely interested.)
- Use a tool to help. Buzzuka offers help if you’re not sure where to start.
13. Monitor your brand and reputation
Be active on social media so you know what others are saying about you.
Another way to keep tabs on who’s talking about you is to set up Google Alerts. Use them to monitor your name, specific topics or keywords related to your niche. Here’s how to set up Google Alerts.
Conclusion and my top branding tip
A little thought and planning goes a long way in establishing and building a solid brand.
If someone asked me what my top branding tip is, it would be this: slow down. Perhaps that’s a bit random, but the bottom line is, the times I’ve witnessed a brand (big ones and individuals) take a hit is often when they rushed into something. Maybe they quickly tweeted something, responded to someone in haste or quickly published a post on a hot topic. Moving quickly doesn’t always hurt a brand, of course, but it’s amazing how often it does.