If you’re graduating this coming May, you’re probably telling yourself two things: “Boy, does this economy suck right now” and “Dude, finding a job is gonna suck even more.” Yup, there will be fewer jobs available and competition will be much greater. A good résumé may no longer completely seal the deal — today, companies use the internet to make sure they’re picking the best candidate for the gig. According to Careerbuilder.com, 24 percent of employers made hiring decisions based on Facebook profiles and 33 percent have decided not to hire someone after reviewing a profile’s content. With the popularity of online social networks and a variety of web tools, these percentages can only go up. It’s time to establish your image on the internet as one of a worthy job candidate and stand out from the crowd. It’s time you developed your personal brand.
Your Digital Image
I have sat in two classes with Saunders College of Business assistant professor Dr. Neil Hair, and I’ve never seen him wear anything but black. That’s just the way he rolls, I guess. As odd as it may seem, the lack of color in his wardrobe just screams “Neil Hair” and remains imprinted in my brain — and the brains of every other RIT student he’s ever taught. That, and the fact that he’s on every online social network imaginable.
Hair has given numerous talks on personal branding and believes the issue is of high importance to students these days. “Never before have we seen so many touch points available to the graduating student,” says the professor. “As soon as you leave, you have many ways that an employer has to assess your capabilities, to judge you in terms of your competition ... There’s never been a better time to evaluate an individual before you even bring them in for an interview. Branding oneself is important to show how effective you are and to show what your competences are.” So how do you go about developing a brand online, anyway? Five simple questions can get the job done.
The Five Questions
Asking yourself these questions is a great way of identifying a solution to this problem. “There’s absolutely no limit in the way you can use questions as a problem-solving device,” informed Hair. In this case, the problem is that your personal brand is underdeveloped and your online presence is either seemingly nonexistent or something you’re not too proud of. What your online identity should be is the most logical place to start.
1. Who am I?
Not your name, silly. First of all, you need to figure out what your message is and why the heck anyone should listen to you in the first place. Almost everyone has some form of online presence these days — even my neighbor’s teddy bear has a Facebook profile. That’s why it’s best to be a niche player; find your own specialized audience to appeal to and build up from there. Don’t be just any photographer — be the one who takes black and white stills of nudes with fruit covering their private bits. Look at what your competition is doing and find a way to top that or put your own spin on it. The more unique your message is, the better you stand out.
Make a list of your real strengths, your brand’s weaknesses, your future opportunities and your competition’s (other graduating students, for instance) advantages. The idea is to brainstorm ways to use those strengths to overcome your weaknesses, take advantage of your opportunities and best the competition. But to get this brand revolution underway, you’re going to have to set goals.
2. Where do I want to be?
Idealize where you want to take your personal brand and set objectives to guide yourself there. “Setting goals are very important. You can’t leave anything to chance. At the end of the day, your brand is who you are, how you compete and how people perceive you. If you leave that to chance, then you’re setting yourself up for failure,” says Hair. For best results, these objectives should be specific, measurable and time-related. Instead of “I want people to visit my website,” think, “I want 2,000 unique visitors by June 2009.”
3. How might I get there?
Now it’s time to consider all the options available to you and throw out some ideas. So what online weapons of mass destruction can you bombard your target audience with? Luckily for you, we’re in a day and age when the internet allows anyone to be heard anywhere, at any point in time. Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, Twitter, YouTube — the list goes on. We’ll discuss these networks in detail later on, after a few more questions.
4. Which way is best?
After you’ve thought of all the options, you have to select the ones that will serve you best. “There are only so many hours in the day that we can devote to promoting ourselves online,” says Hair. “We have limited resources — time, money and energy — so we need to spend time and devotion on the option that gives us the highest rate of return.” Create a table with particular criteria that are most important to you in one column, and your available options in another column. Using a scale from one to ten (ten being the most effective), rate each option based on how effectively it will satisfy each criterion and total the scores. The higher a particular option scores, the more attention you should pay to it.
5. How do I ensure safe arrival?
So you’ve taken the internet by storm and think you’re a surefire hit with your future employers, but how do you know for sure? It’s important to frequently analyze your presentation after you’ve implemented it. “This can involve little things like asking people how they view you, asking a complete stranger what they think about your site and if it is giving the right impression you’re looking for,” says Hair. “It’s an iterative process; you need to go back over what you’ve done on a regular basis to make sure your objectives haven’t changed, your strategies and tactics are still working effectively and you’re doing what you said you were going to do.”
Maintaining The Image
Now that you’ve built your online empire, it’s time to make sure it doesn’t crumble; you must keep your image squeaky clean. Hair suggests googling yourself everyday, as modest as that sounds. “Reputation management is absolutely critical. If you google yourself once a week, that’s fair enough, but it’s not enough,” says Hair. Everyday, new, and sometimes negative, information about you can show up at any moment and you need to respond swiftly. “It’s no good behaving like an ostrich and sticking your head under the digital dirt. People are going to draw their own conclusions about you and saying nothing is not the right way forward.” He’s not just talking about typing your first and last name in the search bar, either; google your email address or any online pseudonyms you may use so that you can get a 360 degree view of what’s being said about you.
Most importantly, be sure to take down “those” photos on Facebook. You know, the ones where you and your buddies pounded shots of Jaeger and got “waaaasted, bro.” Also check the less obvious footprints like the comments you’ve left on social networks, your email signature and even your Amazon wish lists. Those wish lists show up on Google more often than you would think. After all, we don’t want your list of “Best Movies for Worshiping the Anti-Christ” to catch up with you, do we?
Building Your Army
For every person, there are different tools out there to help you build and cultivate the image you are trying to create. Everyone has a niche audience they are trying to communicate with, so you need to know the tools that can help you communicate the best.
That Artsy Kid
A talented artist working on an online image as well as exposure for his or her work.
To the Michelangelos and da Vincis of the 21st century, the art world is a different game. There are many talented individuals out there and, due to technology, the world has become flat; competition is greater than ever before. You have to stand out. Every serious photographer or artist today has their own website that showcases their portfolio, so you have to go that extra mile and become tech savvy. If photography is your thing, Flickr offers an extensive API with cool ways to show off your work. Virb and deviantART accounts are must-haves because these communities let you sell your work, gain exposure and mingle with other like-minded people. What’s important is that you link these sites and accounts to each other so as to increase your online exposure.
A career-oriented individual who takes maintaining an impressive profile on the internet seriously.
For the briefcase-carrying and suit-wearing types, the internet has a vast amount of tools to make you look just how you want to be seen by prospective employers. LinkedIn is one of the most popular social networks for job seekers and employers. Essentially, you create a profile where people can learn about you from a professional perspective. Vault and TheLadders will give you even more of a presence in the job-seeking field. You may also want to create a website to control what employers might see if they google your name.
Someone who updates his or her blog regularly to distinguish his or her self in the blogosphere.
There are millions of blogs on the internet today that focus on everything from dumpster diving to the meaning of life. Nowadays, everyone’s opinion can be put online, but a serious blogger needs a firm platform for hosting their blog (such as WordPress) and a loyal fan base. Aside from frequent posting, you have to offer something personal that will build a connection between you and your reader. A Facebook account never goes wrong here, but Twitter is a must since it can be used to constantly update your fans. A 9rules membership would also help to increase the value of the brand you are trying to create. Use Google Analytics to monitor your traffic and other useful information that will help you tweak your message.
The Starving Musician
An unsigned band or musician trying to get exposure and present a certain image to their fans.
Due to the power of the internet, indie groups can be as popular as their signed counterparts. That’s why bands like Nine Inch Nails have the capacity to dump their record labels and promote themselves. To be seen in this overpopulated industry, you need a few handy tools. A MySpace account is essential. If there is one thing MySpace is known for, it’s hosting indie bands. However, PureVolume, which can be likened to a more elegant and cleaner MySpace, might be a worthy alternative. YouTube is great for posting behind-the-scenes videos or concert footage so that your fans can feel closer to you. A Last.fm account allows people who are interested in similar music styles to discover your music. Last but not least, a blog or website is necessary to keep your fans informed. It’s also handy in case someone is seeking information about your band. Do not leave this up to your fans or the people of Wikipedia — make sure your brand is all your own.
Here are some online social networks and web tools that will help you get the job done.
Facebook: With over 175 million active users, it’s the most popular social network in the world. Share photos, videos, status updates and just about anything else you could possibly think of.
LinkedIn: Think Facebook but for working professionals.
Twitter:A micro-blogging service that’s useful for quick text updates of 140 characters or less.
YouTube: The most popular video-sharing site on the Internet; also known as “the fuel that procrastination feeds on.”
9Rules: An online community created by RIT alums showcasing only the best personal blogs on the web (but pre-approval is required).
Virb: A social network for the more art-inclined.
PureVolume: A social network for indie bands that allows them to promote themselves.
Flickr: The most popular photo sharing site on the internet.
Vault: A site that connects job seekers with employers and provides them with inside information.
Last.fm: A music database and radio site that’s great for discovering new music and promoting your own.
MySpace: The fallen king of social networks which was first known for hosting the work of indie musicians and creating a platform for them to interact with their fans.
deviantART: A popular community where artist all over the world come to share, sell and discover art.
TheLadders: A website for people seeking jobs above the $100,000 mark (which is best if used by professionals or those who have very flattering GPAs).
WordPress: A simple open source content management system used to create and manage blogs.
Google Analytics: A service that offers a detailed analysis of your web traffic.
GoDaddy: One of the many domain name registrars and web hosting companies.
Digg: Congregates popular stories online. If your blog post picks up enough steam on Digg, watch your web traffic soar.
FeedBurner: Customizes your blog’s RSS feed to your liking.