In the late 90s, Tom Peters famously declared that we were all CEOs of our personal brands. In Fast Company he wrote:

"Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. It's that simple - and that hard. And that inescapable."

This is even more true for professionals today and no group more so than entrepreneurs. When you talk to investors, partners, customers and most potential new team members one of the first thing all of them are going to do is get a sense for who you are and what you've done. When you first start a company, the corporate brand hasn't yet developed a reputation or any customer momentum, so most early-stage companies leverage the brands of the individuals involved for credibility. If you don't believe me, think how many times have you described a startup to someone by first describing the background or people involved? Therefore, for those of you planning to be serial entrepreneurs your personal brand is an invaluable asset.

One quick but important note - similar to managing any other type of brand - it's not a sustainable strategy to try and cover up terrible products with a good brand. For more information on this or inspiration check out one of my favorite marketing books, Seth Goodin's Purple Cow which he describes as:

"(A) plea for originality, for passion, guts, and daring. Not just because going through life with passion and guts beats the alternative (which it does), but also because it's the only way to be successful. Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.

If you're not focusing on being remarkable, the rest of this is irrelevant! With that out of the way, I'd like to get to the heart of this post:

How do you highlight things that are remarkable about yourself to build your online brand? Or put another way, how do you manage your online identity or brand?

What we mean by brand in this post?

Evan Williams wrote a post back in April about Five Easy Pieces of Online Identity in which he summarizes a different things that could be called branding. In this post, I mean what Evan calls "representation." The whole post is worth reading if you missed it back in April, but to quote the key point from representation:

"Back in the day, us web geeks thought everyone needed (and would want) their own website with a custom domain. Turns out, that's a pretty high bar, and not even that useful for a lot of people. But most people online have 'profile pages' on one or more services. People also choose profile pics/avatars and usernames to represent themselves.

"Obviously people care a lot about how they appear to others in the real world. Turns out, they do online, as well. They spend tons of time (and sometimes money) working on representing themselves. Representation is a large part of any social network, but some more than others."

Four key strategies

While the specific tactics you take for each of these will be certainly different depending on the tools you choose to use, I think everyone needs to take steps around the following four strategies:

  • Refine your personal elevator pitch
  • Monitor what's being said about you online
  • Proactively do content marketing
  • Aggregate and curate to reinforce

I'll spend a little time expanding on each of these 4 strategies, but would love to hear other key strategies in the comments below.

Refine your personal elevator pitch

Before you start trying to figure out what you want to do with your online brand, it's worth stepping back and thinking about how you want to position your experiences and goals. As you've probably experienced, in a startup your elevator pitch can be a great management technique for clarifying the things your organization should focus on. In the same way, this is your personal elevator pitch that similarly can help clarify what activities you should focus on doing. There are tons of tips for developing your startup's pitch.

An interesting question to consider for your personal elevator pitch is: how would you want someone to describe you (professionally) at a cocktail party? In talking to entrepreneurs, I have found this forces them to keep it simple and concise when thinking about their personal brand.

Monitor what's being said about you online

Again similar to the advice many good brand consultants would give for a company, it's important to make sure you know when people are saying things about you online. This is not a new recommendation. In fact, ReadWriteWeb first wrote in 2008 about tools to monitor what's being said about you online and later in 2009 talked about the future of social media monitoring. Most of these tools are still making it possible to easily monitor what's said about you today online. However, the important thing is to actually make the investment of time to do it.

Proactively do content marketing

Content marketing is creating relevant and valuable information for prospects and customers as part of a brand's overall marketing mix. It's becoming a bigger and bigger part of the way many brands allocate their marketing budgets. In fact, according to CMI:

"B2B marketers allocate approximately 26% of their total marketing budgets to content marketing initiatives. 51% of B2B marketers plan to increase their spend in content marketing over the next 12 months."

In the same way that companies are using these techniques to improve their position in the marketplace, individuals need to think about speaking, writing, commenting and generally contributing their expertise online to improve and reinforce their brand.

Aggregate and curate to reinforce

Finally, many people end up leveraging a tool to serve as the central place they aggregate and curate certain content to reinforce their brand. This can be everything from setting up a website to just creating a compelling about.me page. For example, our Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Richard MacManus, leveraged WordPress to setup his own personal blog to aggregate personal and professional information about himself as well as links to other social profiles at ricm.ac (screen shot below) If you're active across a number of sites, this central location pointing to all your profiles and selected links and personal blog posts seems to make a lot of sense. Even if you don't setup a homepage, you can be intentional about the "atoms" (in both senses of the word) that are being broadcast across your social communities.

It's worth pointing out that the landscape is changing with frictionless sharing. Richard MacManus, Joe Brockmeier and David Strom all diagnosed the implications of these changes. Richard's post pointed to a great analysis by the Atlantic, The Problem With Facenbook's Frictionless Sharing, which captured this implication perfectly:

"The problem with that, of course, is that it eliminates the curation aspect of our self-presentations. It would be as though I told everyone that I was wearing blue jeans and a somewhat worse-for-wear t-shirt right now in addition to revealing that earlier today I wore a sharp, tailored suit. Both are accurate, but only one is the impression I'd like to leave with people. (The latter.)"

Obviously if this becomes a trend or you trust Facebook to maintain your key profile this is something you need to be aware of.

Conclusion

As stated at the beginning of this post, it's extremely important for anyone manage their personal brand. However, as entrepreneurs this is even more true then usual. I'd love to hear other strategies or techniques you have found valuable in managing your personal brand.

Thanks to Paul Watson for moleskin image.