In a world where people do their homework online before doing business with you, how do you stack up? Do you have the right visibility?
‘Doing business with you' could mean literally that: Buying products or services from you personally, or your company; it could also mean employing you, or appointing you to an advisory position on a non-profit board.
Of course, I'm going to check you out.
If I Googled your name, what visibility would I find?
Would I be validated in my mind that your business is the right fit for me, or that you are by far and away the best person to hire? Or would I be underwhelmed with what I find?
Please note I'm not talking discovery here, that is, I don't know you from a bar of soap and somehow stumble upon you while Googling. The scenario I'm trying paint is more around word-of-mouth referral, not SEO per se i.e. I've heard about you from a third party, or have met you at some point around the traps and am doing my homework to get a better understanding of who you are, what you know and, importantly, what you stand for. You do stand for something, yes?
What I find in my online search could well (and probably will) influence my thinking ahead of contacting you. Will I be excited with what I find, or disappointed?
I believe professional people tend to fall into one of four categories of visibility:
ONE: ‘The Ghost'
Professionally, this is the worse case scenario. I punch your name into Google and nothing comes up, or if it does, there's but a skerrick of information about you that adds negligible value. In essence, you're a ‘ghost'. Hmmm. Doesn't fill me with confidence.
If personal privacy is important to you, this is cool. Ditto if you secretly are a spy, or have aspirations to work for ASIO. But if you're wanting to get ahead professionally, you might want to start taking steps to boost your online visibility.
TWO: ‘Social Presence'
LinkedIn is the place online you obviously need to have the strongest presence, and most likely the first place I'll look if I'm checking you out online.
But critically, don't stop at using LinkedIn just as a place to ‘hang your resume hat'; that won't fill me with confidence.
At the very least fill out your profile with an interesting summary that does the professional you justice; upload Slideshare presentations and/or videos, and contribute regularly to your LinkedIn blog. These are all things that will help you stand out that little bit more and potentially might give you an edge in the marketplace.
Twitter, like LinkedIn, tends to come up high in searching engine rankings. As an added bonus, Google now pulls in recent tweets (I say “now” because Twitter and Google fell out of love there for a while, but the relationship looks to be back on track now).
If I was a real sticky beak, I might check you out on Facebook. Does this worry you?
THREE: ‘Present & Accounted For'
Okay, now we're talking. You have left some digital breadcrumbs for me to follow (and follow them I will!). I'm looking forward to being impressed!
Being present and accounted for online means having your suite of social channels all stitched up plus a clutch of other web pages where you are mentioned. Some examples are:
- About.me page – Not a hundred percent sure how this works from an SEO perspective, but it's a great (free) way to aggregate all of your various links in the one place so you can provide people with the one web address and they can go from there. (Here is my about.me page – I always try and secure my name on sites such as this).
- Public speaking – Speaking at organisations that in turn promote you on their website is a savvy way to start building foundational visibility online. It also shows you're out and about and have (perceived or real) authority in your field of expertise.
- Medium – If you start breaking out into a sweat at the mere thought of starting a blog on your own domain name, why not try opening an account on Medium.com? Sure, you're still going to need to blog to make it worth your while but Medium takes care of the rest. It really is an easy-to-use blogging platform; the fact it has its own built-in audience is a bonus!
- Writing articles for other blogs – Penning the odd article for industry blogs or online publications can be helpful in getting your nose in front profile-wise. If the publication you write for has some authority in your field, I might just discover it – and you – in my research. If your articles are republished on LinkedIn, so much the better!
Being present and accounted for is a good place to be and if executed steadily and strategically over a period of time, it's probably all you need to put yourself ahead of the pack.
However, if you want to take things up a notch and really give your personal brand the edge in the marketplace, you're going to need to strive for omnipresence.
Online omnipresence is when you start popping up all over the place (in a good way). You are, in effect, omnipresent (“widely or constantly encountered”).
Done well, you will not only have greater visibility across your social channels but also potentially will start making headway in Google searches as well. But it's not just about visibility for the sake of it. It's vital you demonstrate professional substance via the content you produce; this can only come about by freely sharing your ideas, knowledge, insights, opinions and expertise with the broader online community, without the expectation of getting anything in return.
Building omnipresence online takes planning and commitment.
Firstly, you need to nail such things as the key social channels in your own name. Speaking at industry events will also be a help here, as will writing the occasional piece for relevant blogs and online publications in your field. With this foundation in place, things get a bit more serious.
Ideally, you will have a dedicated blog-based website that either bears your name (ideally within the domain, or otherwise is sprinkled throughout your blog's metadata. N.B. I'm not an SEO guru but I've seen first-hand how this can work a treat).
A good example of this is workplace culture expert, Tristan White. Tristan White is also the name of a well-known Australian field hockey player with a Wikipedia entry. But ‘workplace' Tristan has a website with his name in the URL – tristanwhite.com.au – so he wins! It has also worked with me – my name is pretty common, but having a website bearing my name in the URL works a treat!
The thing with building omnipresence is you need to show up regularly; you need to approach your personal branding efforts with passion, purpose and strategic intent. For example:
- be active on social media (particularly LinkedIn and Twitter)
- speak at public events
- write for industry blogs and publications
- blog regularly (preferably on your own domain)
- publish videos to YouTube
- create a podcast
This is not for everyone, of course. But if visibility and having a credible personal brand is important for your business and/or professional goals, then elevating your efforts from ‘Present & Accounted For' to ‘Omnipresence' might just be worth the effort.
As an aside…
If you have a very common name, your visibility may be high, but it might take some time to accurately track you down, and I might not have the patience for that! If you're at the start of your career and believe personal branding online is A1 critical for your future professional success, you might want to think about how you can alter your name online in order to stand out.
Granted, this is extreme, but something to think about if you have bigger plans down the track.
UK PR agency owner and recently published author of the book Myths Of PR, Rich Leigh, started his professional career as Richard Smith. Chances of cutting through the informational clutter with a name like that? Not great!
Swapping his surname with his middle name – and shortening Richard to Rich (“kind of my stage name,” he writes in Myths Of PR) – gives him greater leverage not just online but with his dealings with the media. From where I sit, this was a pretty smart move.
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