Managing Your Online Persona, Part I

by Brandon Giles (republished from his personal blog)

Why Care?

It is becoming more important than ever to actively manage your persona on the internet, particularly if you operate in the fields of entrepreneurship, venture capital or marketing. In general, persona management is more crucial in industries where your value and success depends on personal human capital and others perception of that value. However, digital footprints have a material impact on everyone. Beginning back in 2007, an ExecuNet survey found that 83% of recruiters already used internet searches to evaluate job candidates, with 43% of recruiters eliminating candidates because of what they found.

“How-to” Guide

As an aspiring entrepreneur I sought to learn more about the tools, platforms and best practices before busting out onto the Blogging scene. I heard from nearly every guest in my Launching Tech Ventures entrepreneurship course at the Harvard Business School (#hbsltv) that blogging was critical to establishing yourself, but had no idea how to start. Intimidated at first, I decided to read up on the subject and present a “how-to” guide for those new to the concept or looking to break into the blogging world. This post is the first in a three part series through which I will present a “how-to” guide and draw upon the knowledge of those who actively manage their online personas, serious bloggers, entrepreneurs and VC’s. This post specifically focuses on the first steps of managing your online persona, pre blogging.

Managing Platforms

Multiple mediums exist through which to manage your online image. This universe includes Linkedin, Facebook, your personal blog, your personal website, Twitter and Quora, among many others. To begin you want to get a feeling for what information about you currently resides on the web. Here is a list of some easy steps to get started:


1) Open up Google and search for “your name”

As my Technology and Operations Management professor and former CEO of Arrow Electronics Steve Kaufman would say, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure”. Similarly, you have little hope of creating and shaping your persona if you don’t know what is out there. After all, this is exactly the first thing a potential employer, financier or potential date is going to do. Based upon what you find you may spend time disassociating from someone else with your same name, reshaping inaccurate or unflattering information about yourself or taking steps to prioritize information about “you” vs. those that share your name. If I type in my own name “Brandon Giles” I immediately learn that I shares names with a professional country singer and multiple college basketball and track athletes. Therefore, I need to spend time improving my Search Engine Optimization (“SEO” discussed below) and creating new, high value content.

To get a feel for your current online persona use the free tool provided by Reach Branding Online ID Calculator, www.onlineidcalculator.com. This tool is easy to use, takes about 5 minutes to complete, walks you through the standard Google search process, and upon completion provides a 4-quadrant matrix depicting the level or relevance and volume associated with “you”. Based on these findings, the site also provides suggestions on how to increase the purity and diversityassociated with your persona.

2) Familiarize yourself with how others you respect present themselves

There is no shame in asking for pointers or copying the process or style of others. Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora and blogs all have un-written etiquette rules. By imitating their ethos you don’t take the risk of straying too far from center early on. Don’t worry, over time you will begin to develop a unique voice as you pick up on the things you like and dislike. What you should care about is the tone that you present. Be aware that different platforms exude different tones that will shape how your message is consumed. However, the most important aspect of tone comes from the blog posts, tweets, etc. that you make. Try to make this tone balanced and consistent. This means being authentic and not overly professional or personal. Your audience likes to see that you are human and multi-dimensional. If you look at your blog posts or twitter feed and see that 95% of what you share is one or the other, make an effort to share more from the neglected area.

3) Monitor changes to your persona

Go to www.google.com/alerts and set up a tracker to alert you when new content is posted with your name. This way, you won’t need to manually perform or remember the Google check (discussed above) in the midst of your hectic life. This is a proactive approach to managing your persona and knowing what information is in the cyber universe without being caught off-guard. As an aside, Google Alerts is also a great tool for tracking a developing industry or keeping tabs on a competitor.

4) Optimize your personal Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”)

  • Claim your own name on LinkedIn. You NEEDto have a LinkedIn profile. While Facebook embodies your social life, LinkedIn represents your professional avatar. My friend Katharine Nevins (@katharinenevins) pointed out this easy and FREE trick to claim your own name on LinkedIn. Log into LinkedIn, click on “profile”, “edit my profile”, then “edit” to the right or your “public profile” domain name. Change the existing domain name to claim your own name. For me it is http://www.linkedin.com/in/brandongiles. This will allow my profile to climb on internet search engines. Also, your profile should include descriptive content, explaining what your responsibilities were in a given position and the type of work your company performs. Think of your LinkedIn profile as your online resume. To risk stating the obvious, everything you state on LinkedIn should be accurate, without gross exaggeration and you should also complete your profile as completely as possible. 
  • If you don’t yet have Twitter, set up an account. Complete your profile, “follow” your friends, get them to follow you too and then start tweeting. Then tweet about things that you find interesting in your professional, educational or personal life and that you think others would find interesting in as well. University or graduate programs are fertile grounds for creating tweeting material from class take-aways, guest speakers and student debates. It is also important to get re-tweeted. This is easy to do when you have a core base of friends with similar interests that “follow” you and then you want to get into the conversation mix of a hot or up-and-coming topic. Examples would include tweeting about a keynote speaker at a large conference or at interesting events such as at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (“TED”) conference or South-by-Southwest (“SXSW”). A good way to get found by people not in your immediate friend group is to use hashtags (#symbol) which others search for such as #hbsltv (HBS Launching Technology Ventures Class), #sxsw (South-By-Southwest Festival). This is the Twitter equivalent of SEO. Also, following others will often lead them to follow you back, improving your credibility. Finally, referencing other people using @ mentions (e.g. great blog post, @bjgiles) gets them to follow, retweet, or @mention you back. Remember, one of the greatest features of Twitter is the ability to get up to speed on and industry and learn from thought leaders. Take advantage. See best practicesand etiquette guide from thought leader Chris Brogan @chrisbrogan. 
  • Start a Quora Account. www.quora.com. Just as in Twitter, set up an account and start following your friends. The key is to be helpful and answer questions intelligently. When you sign up you have the ability to link your profile to fields that interest you. For example, I chose entrepreneurship, skiing, Men’s Health, running and Marquette University because these are areas I am interested in and passionate about. 
  • Protect your privacy. This is an angle to protect your SEO. Check your Facebook privacy settings and be sure that at a minimum your photos are available to “Friends Only”. Then, review the groups to which you belong and things you “like” to verify they don’t paint you in an unflattering light. “HBS Bus Stop Flipcup Champions 2010” or “Tea Party Patriots” page links in your profile will cause viewers to judge you in one way or another. Why take the chance? Buy your own Domain Name. If it is available buy your domain name. For example mine would be brandongiles.com . Unfortunately for me, the country singer I mentioned above already owns the rights to that domain name. If you are in this position be sure that your first and last name are somewhere in the domain name, and consider using a middle initial. I purchased www.brandonjgiles.com. Godaddy is an easy place to both lease the rights to the domain as well as have the company host your site online. Note that you can first buy only the domain name and then have another provider host your site. There are also many more cost effective options to buy domains out there. No matter what site you chose to buy your domain, go to RetailMeNot to search for coupon codes to save between 20-70%. My purchase of a 10 year lease of www.brandonjgiles.com cost me $76.70. For those less math inclined, that’s only $7.67 a year. 
  • Links: Create links on your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other profile pages back to your personal website or blog. This is not a one-time task but an ongoing process. The link back to your website should be exactly the same as Your Name. For example, my links should read “Brandon Giles”, not anything else. You also want to encourage friends to help you with this process as well. Even if placed in a less prominent place on their site, it still adds tremendous value. Your group of friends can support one another in this process and increase your SEO’s at the same time. 
  • Share your work. If you have timely, well written papers and projects, share them online. The broader the topic and greater the relevance to a large audience, the better. By posting these work products online you not only boost your SEO but demonstrate to potential employers or investors that you are competent or have a passion for a given space. Sites that help facilitate these postings include Slideshare and Scribd.  
More to follow in the next 2 posts on getting started in blogging, etiquette and best practices. What are your top tips for persona and SEO management?

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