How to Expertly Craft Your Personal Brand Through Online Presence

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The digital age really has inspired an ‘ADD Culture’.  With so much stimuli in the world today, we have grown very conservative with our attention.  25 years ago, simply pushing out your message was enough to make a brand known.  There wasn’t nearly as much noise to break through.  Getting people’s attention was much easier, so long as you had the means to reach the masses.  However, reaching the masses in those days took a lot of resources.  Nowadays, things are quite the opposite. Everyone has the resources to reach the masses, but getting someone’s attention is tough.

Done right, reaching the masses and getting their attention can unlock incredible opportunities.  There is a huge return on investment for those who get it right, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.  However, most people either (a.) don’t attempt to leverage online presence at all, or (b.) take the wrong approach.

The ‘A-Types’

Most people think it’s enough being known solely in their own circle.  To have credibility amongst current and past colleagues, amongst friends, and amongst family.  That’s probably true, if you don’t intend to do anything extraordinary.

But people who want to accomplish great things but don’t take their message online leave so much on the table.  Limiting your exposure to your offline circle means you have to carefully craft your reputation over a long period of time.  It means the inevitable poor first impressions, career missteps, and any lackluster performance have greater negative impact on your reputation.

You’ve likely heard facebook pages being referred to as people’s “highlight reel”.  That’s because on facebook, people have the power to craft their own story.  This has a huge impact on how others perceive them.  We tend to think better of people we are acquainted with on facebook because we are only exposed to their life’s highlights.  Even for people we know well, our perceptions of them are skewed more positively.

Almost everyone uses facebook.  But when it comes to facebook and personal branding, our “highlight reel” is limited to managing our social perception, and our audience reach only extends to our personal, social network.

People who invest in their online presence don’t just make impressions on their immediate network of 500 people, but instead have the potential to reach millions.  People who invest in their online presence don’t have to rely on the impressions they make in real-life, which vary in quality.  Instead, they have the power to craft the story that the world sees.

The ‘B-Types’

Many people just have social media profiles, but are not actively promoting themselves.  For a lot of us, it’s just not a priority.  That being said, branding ourselves for the professional world is undeniably important.

Most of us in this category are already on LinkedIn.  Most of us are probably careful about what we present, too.  Most of us leave it at that.  But the truth is, your name means little as a standalone social media profile, perhaps with some vague descriptions of what you’ve done, and a list of positions held.  How many people actually even see it?  Probably very few.

Nowadays, to actually catch anyone’s attention, you need their permission to communicate your message.  To get their permission and thus attention, you need to add value to their lives.  The easiest means is to provide valuable content.  That content might be entertaining, educational, inspiring, you name it.  It might be an article, a video, or a resource.

So what does that look like when you are trying to build a personal brand in the professional sense?

Building an effective online presence takes vision and foresight.  You must define a clear vision for future, and act accordingly.  You must have the foresight to understand a great online presence isn’t established overnight but over time.  Consistency is key.

For our purposes, let’s imagine a fictional, second-year finance student named Jack.  Jack wants to graduate with a job in investment banking.

That’s Jack’s short-term end-goal, but Jack’s long-term goals involve a successful career in finance, be it in mergers & acquisitions, asset management, or trading. The first thing Jack’s going to do is establish a ‘home base’.  Something he have complete control over in regards to design, content, and audience.  A social media profile doesn’t offer hardly any of that; so instead Jack takes 10 minutes to establish his own blog.  Jack can’t code or design.  Fortunately, no technical expertise is required these days.  Not even for a site like blogtojob.com, for example.

The front page of Jack’s blog is inspired by his vision.  When someone visits my site for the first time, what is his end-goal for them?  What is the most likely first step towards that end-goal?  What other pieces to the puzzle can help support the achievement of that end-goal?

So, considering Jack’s short-term goal of landing a job in I-Banking, he will want to produce content that offers value to people both (a.) in the industry, and (b.) people generally interested in content related to the industry.  This content should demonstrate his working knowledge of the industry, so it probably features Jack’s own equity analysis reports, along with other related content.

When someone visits blogtojob.com, my goal is to inspire visitors to start a blog, and that is clear from the initial content you see on my home page.  For Jack, he wants to attract I-banking recruiters and insiders who could hire him, refer him, and/or mentor him.  So, the first content a new visitor sees should direct that visitor to his best content.

Other supporting content to that end-goal can be featured on lower parts of the home page, including more reports and information about the student himself.  Links on the navigation bar include categories of content Jack has published and an “About Jack” link, with an invitation to connect.

The student will also likely try to collect e-mail addresses from visitors so they can notify them when future content is published.  That’s how he builds a loyal following.

That’s all well and good, but how do I get visitors in the first place?

This is where social media and other web platforms come into play.  Jack simply spends time virtually in places his intended audience can be found.  He offers value there, and invites readers to visit his blog for more quality content.

Consider Quora for example, a sort of Yahoo! Answers with a more… ‘refined’ community, including a lot of successful people.  There are plenty of people looking for answers to their finance questions, and Jack simply answers the question well, and links back to a related article on his site for further reading.  Jack might not know everything he needs to, but Google is just a click away.

It is not unusual for high-quality Quora answers to attract 10,000, 100,000, even 300,000 reads.  In fact, sites like Inc.com frequently reach out to answer authors to publish the content to their site, with credit to the original author.

Sheesh!  300,000 reads?  Surely he can leverage that attention into more than just an entry-level job!

Absolutely.  Endless opportunities.

Jack sure has a pitch for future interviews with recruiters unfamiliar with his blog.  Just picture, “Yea, I started my own blog about the industry.  6 months later, I now have 100,000 people reading my stuff every month.  And, it has turned into a side business.”

Here’s just a few more benefits that might come of it:

  1. Jack’s audience trusts him a lot.  They want more.  2 months after starting his blog, Jack offers a beginner video course on financial analysis for $100.  In the next few months, 2% of Jack’s 10,000 loyal readers download the course.  Jack pockets $20,000.
  2. Tech startup founders stumble on Jack’s content on Quora.  Through his blog, they connect with him and ask him to prepare some preliminary financial statements for their potential investors.  Jack accepts $50/hour as his consulting fee, finds he really enjoys the work, and offers consulting to more of his audience.
  3. Jack’s been blogging weekly for 5 years now.  He’s also now in a management position at a large bank.  His blog’s audience is a huge asset to the firm.  The connections he has made online allow him to source huge deals, for which Jack collects some hefty bonuses.

In conclusion…

The most talented job seekers are consistently publishing valuable content in their desired career space, and they’re getting it seen.  As a result, they are able to carefully craft other’s perception of them and reach thousands of people.  They know where to find their desired audiences interacting, they join in, they offer value, and they link back to their blog where they publish more great content on related topics.

Someone who makes a name for themselves in an industry by blogging not only gains tremendous value in the industry as a potential candidate or consultant, but they also accomplish a few more great things:

  1. They hone their industry skills and knowledge through research and regurgitation.
  2. They make tremendously more connections throughout the space than they otherwise could.
  3. They enjoy themselves (assuming they like what they do).

The best product in an industry rarely wins; the best positioning and distribution strategy wins.  Same goes for marketing yourself.  Craft the best story of yourself you could possibly pitch, and spread it like wildfire.

Do future you a favor.

Maybe you don’t need the benefits today, but you could be kicking yourself a year from now.  A presence can’t be established immediately.  As with accomplishing most great things, success in online presence requires foresight and persistence.  It doesn’t happen overnight, so you do future you a favor by starting now.  And you commit an hour, two, maybe ten a week to consistently building your value and reach.

Starting takes 10 minutes of your time and less than a dollar a day.  So grab a cup of coffee and get to work.