Today was my turn to give a main speech for the speaking club I belong to/help run at work. I spoke about online personal branding which is part of the reason I created this website and blog. There are reasons, but I’ll leave those for another post. The best feedback I got was from the timer who was so interested in my talk that he forgot to time me. I spoke without slides, and the following is the outline I wrote for the presentation, which should give you some insight into my thoughts about the digital world. (I don’t try to follow the outline exactly, it just forms a guide that I use to help structure my speech and transition between topics.)
My talk today is about personal online branding. But before I define what that it, let me start with a true story. I got married about 3.5 years ago. If you are wondering why you didn’t hear about it before, the answer is simple. I told Alex “if there is a cake, I’ll quit.” After the wedding, I posted pictures on my personal website, and being a nice guy, spent hours tagging people in the pictures so that people could easily find themselves. Perhaps a month later, I don’t remember exactly when, I got an email from someone who was there, asking me to remove her name. She had Googled her name, and found her pictures. She explained to me that she didn’t want someone to be able to find any information about her by searching online. I of course removed the name, but her approach helped to solidify an idea that has been brewing in my mind, and was part of the motivation for creating the website in the first place. The world is trending towards increasing connectivity and increasing availability of information online. In such a world, you have a choice. You can take a passive approach where you can let others define what information is available. That may be others speaking about you, or people with the same name, perhaps even living on the same block. Alternatively, you can take an active approach. The web is a medium unlike any in the past, where you can craft the message you want to present. You can define what information is available about yourself. It you don’t believe it is important, a recent survey by CareerBuilder of 2000 hiring managers found 37% used social networks to research job candidates. Of those, 29% found information that caused them to not hire an individual. A similar fraction found information that helped them hire an individual. My name being quite unique, it wasn’t hard to see how other people’s work could define me. There simply wouldn’t be a lot of noise. If you accept the idea that creating a personal brand is important, and want to take an active approach, how do you active that? The first idea I had was “how do measure success?” For me, I decided to define the meaning of success as owning the first page of Google results for my name. The natural consequence of that is you cannot be afraid to use your real name. That isn’t to say that I make all information public. Quite the opposite. I keep some personal information closely guarded, even removing “happy birthday” comments from Facebook a few days after my birthday. But in order to get Google results for your name, you have to use your name in public spaces. The second thing I recognized was that the old saying “content is king” still applies in a digital world. In the 2003, Dan Savage, a columnist and activist was offended by some remarks by a then-US senator Rick Santorum. In response, Savage created a website, and proceeded to redefine the word “santorum” with a particularly vulgar meaning, becoming the number 1 result for the senator’s last name. (Wikipedia) While I recognized the need to generate content, I struggled for a long time on how to generate content. I had multiple failures and false starts. How do you generate lots of meaningful content that is consistent with your brand? For me, that means content about software. I had started to figure it out when I read a great post on a website called The Sales Lion. The Sales Lion, whose name I never remember, stared a pool company in 2001. The pool company nearly went bankrupt during the recession – I forget which one – when he tried something new: blogging. What did he write about? Questions people had asked him about installing pools. If you guess the story, the result was successful, reversing the company’s trajectory in difficult economic times for a company that specializes in a luxury item. Online, technical people look for answers to questions. So whenever I am asked a question, I try to turn that in a blog post. Similarly, whenever I learn something, I try to turn that into a blog post. Those two things have garnered me a steady stream of ideas. The final essential ingredient you need is a home – a place to put the content. For that you have a multitude of options, from free hosting, shared hosting, and even running your own server. I have tried them all, but was never happy until I tried shared hosting. A three year plan with a reputable company will set you back a mere $100 dollars, including your own root-level domain name, and gives you complete control over the software stack, most importantly, the look and feel of your site. The final question you might ask is, after all this effort, have I reached my goal? You may remember that my definition of success if to own the first page of Google results for me name. It varies, but most days, content I’ve created occupies 8 or 9 of the first 10 results from Google, and I’m actively working on making that 10 out of 10.