Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Who Am I Online? and Who Owns Me?

In the early days of the Internet, securing usernames, online handles and domains not related to your own persona was described as “cyber squatting” or “aliasing.” Back then I used my disc-jockey handle, Megamix, to claim e-mails on every free e-mail service provider from to I then identified and secured dot com domains, not only for my DJ handle but for other DJ-related topics. Further, I wanted my DJ handle to be referenced everywhere someone was looking to hire a DJ. Today, in the world of substantially digital lifestyles, a sure grip on reputation management and personal branding are keystone requirements to professional individuals and companies alike.

Let’s begin with the basics of personal brand identity and reputation management. Social Media Strategist Ramsey Mohsen described personal branding as “identity management of associations, feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes toward an individual.” When performed well, personal branding can lead to trust building, increased credibility, new business opportunities and connections with like-minded people.

Digital personal brand identity is the same concept, but in the context of the hundreds of millions of content sources accessible through the Web. To visually summarize the concept of digital personal branding, check out this video from highlighting the major points. These ideas lay the groundwork for understanding reputation management and the need for a plan.

Reputation management is most often described as the effort associated with monitoring, tackling and reacting to search engine results or references in other areas of the vast digital landscape, particularly in the social media sphere. Every day friends, customers, potential customers, competitors, business partners, and even your own employees are shaping and influencing your personal or brand reputation online.

Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” That was then. Nowadays, your reputation can be ruined in milliseconds with just one tweet. Buffet went on to add, “If you think about that, you will do things differently.” Part of doing things differently is the practice of actively managing your reputation. If you can answer “yes” to the question - Are you listening to what people are saying about you? - then you are already ahead of the game. Reputation management is about optimizing against what you are hearing and defending your brand identity in a proactive, not reactive, manner.

In a recent post by Sarah Kessler on Mashable, she cites that “in a world where almost 80% of hiring managers Google job candidates, it’s important to make sure that the people looking you up find you and not someone else with your namesake.”

When first establishing digital brand identity, consider several things to build the strongest brand. One consideration is to ensure three characteristics are inherent to your brand: authenticity, passion and consistency. I’m also an advocate for individuals maintaining a distinct personal brand separate from a career brand and Industry Analyst Jeremiah Owyang points out these distinctions well on his blog, Web Strategy. You must then define the objectives for each of your brands. Take an inventory of all of the traits you want associated with it. Assess and incorporate what makes the brand distinct from any other brand and finally, determine and accept what the brand is not. With these considerations under your belt, the next milestone is to formulate a plan that you can put to work.

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