By Dean R. DeLisle - Special guest author
If you're running a business these days, you know how critical your online brand can be — both professionally and personally. People are only one click away from choosing you or moving on, and many times you will never know about these missed opportunities. People can gain or lose millions of dollars of business over their digital footprint.
This article covers some of the fundamentals that can help make that shift from getting passed over to getting found and ideally, being chosen. These core principles apply to everyone, whether you are a business owner, a sales professional, a CEO, or the parent of a digitally savvy child. For any type of online presence, these simple steps described below can help you build a solid digital presence to stand out in this noisy virtual world.
There are two kinds of digital footprints: passive and active.
A passive digital footprint is any trace you leave about where you've been online, e.g., shopping, chatting with other people, being tagged in photos you may not be aware of, or even being part of a news article without realizing it. We all tend to forget we've set up various online accounts and profiles; this causes your footprint to become fragmented and not intentional about who you are as a thought leader.
An active digital footprint can be created by taking ownership of and controlling what's out there on the internet, e.g., things you post or publish. You can control this content, and by following the steps below, you can make sure it is consistent with your purpose and your brand.
Define your objectives
KNOW YOUR GOAL. The first step in the process of building a personal brand is to know the goal, i.e., define your desired outcome — what are you working towards and why is it important? For career minded individuals such as consultants or corporate employees, that goal is typically getting hired, being promoted, or simply becoming more valued in your professional role — building an executive presence. Sales professionals may want to build a reputation as a trusted ally within their network by establishing themselves as a thought leader in their industry. Greater brand awareness is a common goal for both corporate professionals and individual business owners. Everything you do online should drive toward a destination or outcome.
DEFINE YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF (YOUR STORY). Knowing your story is also critical, and it is perfectly okay to start with a draft and adjust it along the way. Don't wait years to get it perfect; the key is to pick a point and simply begin. I tell the professionals I work with to find some trusted allies who will provide feedback and even some subject matter experts to help you as well. People are very willing to help. You might also have some colleagues you work with that might have gone before you.
As you define your story or brand, ask yourself this question: "What do I want to be known for?" Craft a short narrative, typically 300-500 words; this will help you stay on point. It's common to want to tack things on as you go, so make sure everything about you is relevant, purposeful, and strategic. Stay targeted.
Build a solid digital presence
IDENTIFY RELEVANT KEYWORDS THAT WILL REPRESENT YOU. When writing and building your profiles and bios, look at your story, analyze your target audience, then determine which words people would use to find you on the internet. Think about how you want to be found. Sometimes the words are not always what you would choose; however, they are what people would use to find you. Keywords and phrases are typically made up of one to three words. The ideal digital profile has ten keyword phrases, but it is okay to start with five, if needed, to get out of the gate. Once you have them, weave them into your story. You should do this after you draft your story so you can flow with your ideas before worrying about keywords.
KNOW YOUR IDEAL TARGET. Think about your ideal audience, the people you want to attract and who you ideally want to do business with. This should be at the level of knowing your industry, titles, types of companies, geographic locations, size of organizations, years in business — whatever matters most to you as part of your goal. This can be tough for many of us as we sometime want to keep adding to our story. However, the tighter you can make this, the better your story will be, and in turn, the less effort it will take to generate new business or advance your career. Questions to consider when defining your target client / partner:
- What do they look like?
- What industry are they in?
- What size company do they work for?
- Who do they know?
- If they are consumers, what are their interests?
- Who will you be talking to?
UPDATE YOUR ONLINE PROFILES AND WEBSITES. Even if your goal is not social selling or career advancement, you should do this next step at least once a month for your own protection.
Google yourself. First, search for your name and any variations on Google. This could look like your name + your company name, etc. When you Google your name, you are looking for things that you are NOT aware of and making sure that all social profiles, websites and content are in alignment with your new brand (story).
Review at least the first two pages of your search results. The first things that should appear are any social network accounts, websites and high-traction videos. Once you have these, you can simply replace your old profiles with your new, more mindful profile. You might want to delete any old or invalid profiles as well. When my clients do this for the first time, I tell them to look at the first ten pages of results — do they reflect who you want to be today? You may be surprised at what you find.
Next, set up Google alerts with your name, brand names, company names, etc. This free tool will alert you when your name shows up on the internet. Have Google alert you at the frequency you desire; I recommend daily. You can do this for your entire family. You will need a Gmail account to set this up, which is also free.
Social support network. I also encourage my clients to look at their connections on LinkedIn. Odds are you set up your LinkedIn profile years ago, perhaps when you were new in your career, and haven’t done much to it since. People tended to connect with everyone they could at that time, but in order to create a more thoughtful and strategic online presence, ask yourself if that network serves your current destination, or do you have to swim through 1000s of people to find the few that will really help you achieve your strategic goals?
I like to use a sports metaphor to illustrate the importance of having a small group of people whom you support and who support you: Think of your top five connections in LinkedIn as your starters. These should be the most important contacts for your professional goals. The next 10 people are your bench players, a social network that supports your objectives.
ENGAGE IN RELEVANT ONLINE CONVERSATIONS. Once you've updated your profiles and taken ownership of your digital presence, you can start to become a digital thought leader. Anywhere online — blogs, video, podcasts, social media sites, online news articles — make sure you get your name and your brand attached to the content that is most relevant to your story and that fits the keywords you want to be known for. This will take some practice.
You also can engage (like, comment, share, retweet, etc.) with the content of others. This will give you reach and visibility into their social networks. This can only be good for you. As an example, on LinkedIn, even just a handful of "likes" and comments on a particular post can reach thousands of news feeds as people keep engaging. Keep playing with this and have fun; it’s networking right from your smart phone!
As you take ownership of your digital presence and build a reputation as a thought leader within your industry, remember these key takeaways:
- You can start now with these first few steps; it only takes a few hours to get out of the gate.
- You can make simple adjustments as you grow, just remember your other profiles.
- Be mindful, thoughtful, and strategic.
- Do this with others; you are not alone, nor should you be.
Once you begin this journey you will be surprised at the people that will notice. That next opportunity may only be a few clicks away!
Dean DeLisleis the founder and CEO of Forward Progress, a Chicago-based digital marketing solutions firm, and the creator of a digital thought leadership development platform known as Social Jack™, which trains professionals on social selling and digital thought leadership, focusing on business owner and investor acquisition marketing. His curriculum includes best practices on the effective use of social networks, digital marketing, streaming, and video. Dean also hosts his own podcast, Influence Factory, where he conducts exclusive interviews with leading business influencers. His recent book, "FIRST, The Street Guide to Digital Business Influence," gives readers proven essential steps and tools to develop thought leadership and recognition in their industries.
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