That Awkward Personal Branding

Posted on April 23, 2013

personal brandingOver the last little while, I’ve had quite a few people ask me for help with their LinkedIn profiles. They have asked where to start, what to do and what to say. The exchange generally starts with their reluctance to include a photo and is followed by a hesitation to post projects or examples of their work. As for the summary statement, well that conversation is usually a real treat, complete with bashful looks and sometimes real resistance.

Initially I was a bit flabbergasted by the requests. I’m not in HR, I’m not a techy and I’m certainly not a social media guru. For me, LinkedIn is generally a case of trial and exploration. I have a basic understanding of what I want to promote about myself and what I would rather avoid based on years of reputation management and profiling of issues for other people and organizations. After that, I look to LinkedIn itself for clues. It offers an array of options that you can adopt or ignore.  They even provide a handy rating scale to tell you if your profile is complete. If it is, you’re a super star, if it isn’t, LinkedIn points you to suggestions for improving. In fact, there are so many tools and tips associated with using, improving, modifying and enhancing your LinkedIn profile, it begs the question, why would anyone ask for advice?

It all comes down to personal branding. People want help because it’s weird tooting your own horn in public. It’s not so much that the concept of personal branding is new as much as it’s new to most of us.  Hollywood stars, corporate leaders and political candidates to name a few, worry about personal branding and so they should, but the rest of us?  Well, we may want to maintain our good reputations but we never had to take out an ad to do it and it feels weird, awkward…like bragging, but with more reach.

Our resumes are generally discreet documents.  They are shared with potential employers and human resources employees but you don’t post them for just anyone to look at.  At least we didn’t use to.  Now we have LinkedIn and it can provide far more information about us than any resume ever has.  What’s more, potential employers are eating it up.  In fact, HR professionals will often look at your LinkedIn profile before they even consider looking at your resume.

It’s also where colleagues go to find you.  Unlike Facebook, there’s no awkward role confusion. I don’t generally want to talk about my weekend away with my LinkedIn contacts or my latest project with my nieces. So, when people ask for help with their LinkedIn sites, they are generally looking for the public relations support that used to be the purview celebrities.

Clever photographers have figured it out, and will offer suggestions to clients for the perfect LinkedIn photo. Information graphic companies are offering the use of programs that can transform all that information into a poster, which can be added to your profile. Perhaps it’s inevitable that communications people would start to assess and suggest how to achieve a better digital persona. In any case, I would suggest this:

  • The same rules apply to LinkedIn as apply to resumes, times ten.  If you include false information on your LinkedIn page, someone, somewhere will spot it and talk about it.  I’ve had no less than four people approach me about a particular colleague’s “inaccurate” LinkedIn page. I use the word inaccurate, they used words like, liar, faker, self-centered, conceited, who does that jerk think …well you get the picture.  That can have a serious impact on your reputation, the very thing you are trying to protect and promote.
  • Do include a brief description of the jobs you held. Titles can bear remarkably little resemblance to the work we actually do. For instance, my title is Senior Director Communications and Relations.  If I asked fifty people to tell me what they thought I did, I’d be lucky if I only got back 50 descriptions and amazed if any of them actually resembled my job.
  • Do take the opportunity to use the summary option. It is a chance to share a little about your personal style and your intentions, not to mention a great opportunity to make the different pieces of your background come together.

Feel free to make fun of me, mine is incomplete as I write this.

  • Engage in some of LinkedIn’s communities or groups that fit you.  Aside from expanding your professional network, and accessing useful information, you will meet some amazing people.There is more to personal branding than LinkedIn.  It’s an easy and obvious tool, but consider making it a gate way to other things like, personal projects, blogs/websites, PowerPoints, YouTube offerings, your imagination will provide the limits.
  • My best piece of advice is, don’t be shy. There are no prizes for the most modest LinkedIn page and no potential or current employer, client or colleague is looking at your profile to see how mediocre you are, so take the opportunity to shine and show your best sides. Showing your best includes always taking the time to be polite in LinkedIn’s various communities.
  • If it feels really weird then ask someone to help you fill it out so you don’t let unhelpful modesty get the best of you. Think about the new Dove commercial.  Your more beautiful than you think.

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Do you find personal branding  awkward?

How do you decide what’s appropriate to post?

What other ways do you develop a personal brand?