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How I Do It: Personal branding

How I Do It” is going to be a recurring feature on this site and you can read up on it at the link.

I was a little disappointed in the “Building Your Brand” panel at last weekends “Future of News” conference and I thought I might augment what was said there with some wisdom of my own. (For the record, a lot of good stuff was said and talked about on the panel—particularly from Art Thiel—I just didn’t think branding was really addressed all that much.)

I’m not a branding guru by any stretch, but I have managed to take firm ownership of my own name on the Internet, which is something that’s becoming increasingly crucial to individuals and brands. I’ve done so in a relatively short amount of time. I wouldn’t really consider myself to have “been on the Internet” any earlier than April 2008, which is when I began my first serious attempt at blogging.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve spent a lot of time falling down on my face and branding is no exception. That’s still my preferred learning method, but if you’re starting from scratch and are really serious about building up a brand, the following may be helpful.

Own your own domain

One of the easiest ways to point people to yourself on the Web is to say, “[yourname].com.” It’s like having a business card handy even when you don’t have a business card handy. I benefit from having a pretty rare last name, so nabbing my URL was just a matter of paying for it. You may have a more common name, like Chris Smith, in which case you’ll have to be a little more creative. Whatever the case, keep it professional and as simple as possible.

Keep a common identity

Visit any major social network and I’m paulbalcerak. That’s clutch, because if one of my contacts joins a new social network and wants to see if I’m there, I’m easy to find. The other advantage is that my SEO isn’t spread out across 10 different usernames. If I were paulbalcerak on Twitter, but cwugrad20292 on Google and newsguy400_34 on Delicious…you’d have to know all those usernames in order to find me. This way, I’m one person in a million places and when you do a Google search for that username, you get everything.


Go wherever you want...this is still me.

By the same token, I keep a common photo avatar across my networks (except for a few cases in which I use my company mug shot for company business). This has a twofold advantage: It’s easy to identify me online and in real life. Several of my Twitter followers who I’ve met in real life have told me, “you look just like your Twitter profile!” That’s kind of funny, but it also tells me that whatever I’m doing is working. (Note: I’m wearing this newsboy cap in my Twitter profile and I pretty much wear it everywhere. It’s just my fashion “thing.” If you don’t wear a hat all the time, don’t have one on in your Twitter profile. Etc.)

Own your username even on networks you don’t use

I have my name registered on a ton of social networks, even though I only interact regularly on a handful of them. Why? I don’t want anyone else to own my name. AT&T missed the Twitter boat and now they’re stuck with something at least a little awkward. I’m no AT&T, but that doesn’t preclude me from having my name taken. I woudln’t want a potential employer to look me up on LinkedIn and find a fake profile under my name. I wouldn’t even want them to find a real profile for someone I shared names with. This becomes a bigger deal the more common your name gets.

Keep track of yourself

Make it a point to Google yourself every so often, because that’s what people you don’t know are doing. What are they finding? Are they finding what you want them to find? If not, why? What can you do better?

You may even consider setting up a Google Alert—which lets you choose to be e-mailed (however frequently you like) whenever something new for a particular search phrase pops up—for your name. I get an RSS feed of Twitter search results for my name piped into Google Reader (more on this in a future post), which you can do even if you don’t have Twitter (people there are talking—trust me).

Be social

Choose somewhere (or many places) to interact online. Being present on a regular basis on some kind of social network or blog will help boost your rank in Google search results and it will establish your presence as something people can rely on. Drop a URL back to your “establishment” on blogs and other sites—the more links that point back to your site, the better. Don’t spam people, though; be a contributor and always ask yourself what the value is that you or your site is adding to a particular discussion.


This is all just a bird’s eye view of what you could do in terms of personal branding. There are a lot of resources out there from a lot of people who are much more gifted at this than me:

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