Stewart Brand, an American writer and businessman, once said: "Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road." The prevalence of social media on the internet is a clear example of how new technology, once established, can change the way we conduct our lives – and also of the way people who do not embrace the technology get left behind.
When people act and interact online, they create a trail of information about themselves that can, in most cases, be traced with frightening ease and accuracy. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘socially distributed life', an online reputation, personal public relations (PPR) or personal branding. Whatever it is called, it is important that every single professional person in the world start creating their own and managing it effectively.
Jude Mathurine, Journalism and New Media lecturer at Rhodes University, refers to online social media interaction as an "information game" in which people display different aspects of their character on different social platforms. "One shouldn't create different personas," he says. "But rather display different aspects of one's personality".
Having different social platforms from which to create an online image of yourself allows you to select which groups have access to which information about you. "It's like showing up at a party and only showing aspects of your personality or behaviour that you want people to see in that particular social setting," says Mathurine. "This will be different from, for example, a more professional or academic setting".
There are effectively two main ways in which the online social media can be used to help – or harm – your reputation as a professional. Social media can be harnessed to promote your work, your interests, your abilities and your skills. Making yourself visible online is a crucial step in creating contacts and maintaining them, and can also serve as an opportunity for you. Your online reputation, however, can run amok and wreak havoc for your personal and professional life if it is not properly managed.
People use the internet and specifically social media platforms daily to promote their personal brand. Jacob Share, a blogger at the website Personalbrandingblog.com, defines the purpose of personal branding simply. He feels that personal branding is used by individuals to make public a professional side of themselves and ‘sell' their achievements to a wide market – industry leaders in their field, colleagues, prospective employees and other professionals – while also staying abreast of the latest developments and news in their industry.
Following a few basic tips and pointers in creating and maintaining a positive personal brand and managing your online presence can greatly improve your visibility and could affect your chances of being hired (and not fired) for a position you are well-suited to.
"You firstly have to ask yourself how you would like to be known," says Mathurine, clearly delineating the first step in the process. Share says that, once this has been done and your desired personal brand has been identified, you should illustrate your expertise in this field as thoroughly as possible, and publicise those of your accomplishments that relate to your brand.
"There are certain tools and platforms best suited to some aspects of what we want to reveal in terms of our personality," says Mathurine. While Facebook is a very popular social network, it can act as a ‘walled garden', keeping any unwanted visitors out. A ‘social' profile would be best suited to this platform, as it helps you share information and stay in contact with family and friends and access to your information can be restricted.
A professional platform – such as LinkedIn – is the first stop in creating a personal brand and promoting it online. A social medium such as Twitter, which works best when it is public, can be implemented very effectively in advancing your online reputation. Mathurine, for example, utilises Twitter to promote his professional brand. "On my Twitter account, I share my work, and information that I've found useful and would like to share with other people". All social networks – of which Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogspot, Flickr and Myspace are but a few – are non-exclusive, which means that they can be used for any purposes. "There is a lot of emphasis on the online brand as a professional brand," says Mathurine. "But some would rather create a social brand that speaks to them, their in-group, and the things they like as opposed to a professional brand that speaks about them in relation to their job or a specific thematic area".
Managing your personal brand online can become difficult when you have been registered on numerous social media platforms you might have forgotten about. Abandoned profiles on social networks should be deleted or updated as soon as possible, says Mathurine. The threat of inconsistency in your online presence is a serious one – it could misinform audiences and damage your reputation permanently.
When individuals have tried to mix their personal and their professional lives online, trouble occurs time and time again. Employees who are ‘friends' with their bosses on Facebook or Twitter have insulted them and have also tarnished the reputation of the company they work for, and often with dire consequences. Mathurine warns against keeping different aspects of your personality entirely separate. "People still want to get a sense of the person you are," he says. "That's the beauty of the social media. If you strip out that veneer entirely, you will probably lose followers or people who are interested in your work".
Prospective employers have also been known to do deep internet searches of individuals that are being considered for appointment. "Take the example of wanting to date someone. You can use social media to get a sense of a person's interests, weaknesses and touch-points in the same way professionally," says Mathurine.
Websites such as Pipl.com as well as notification services such as Google Alerts can be used to monitor and manage your online reputation by regularly checking up on mentions of you and information about you on the internet.
Creating and maintaining a desirable personal brand on the internet is a crucial task, and individuals need to have a good understanding of how they control and grant access to certain parts of their life through the social media. Don't be a part of the road to the steamroller of social networks – through innovative thinking, creative problem-solving and full use of all possible channels online, you can steamroll your way to the top.