Managing your personal brand isn't just about monitoring your reputation, it's about achieving recognition and visibility within your company and positioning yourself for future job opportunities, says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0: Four Steps to Building Your Future.
"In today's world, you need to brand yourself for the career you want, not the career you have," Schawbel says. "It's all about visibility—visibility online creates opportunities. Brand yourself according to a niche and you'll attract the right opportunities."
Developing a strong personal brand is especially important in this economy, Schawbel says, because it's becoming harder and harder to move up. Cultivating a strong brand and online presence will help you become more valuable within your company, and possibly propel you to a higher position.
"If you can show more value—that you're a thought leader or an expert in a field, for example—without being paid more right away, you'll start gaining recognition within your company. Brand management is really a lifetime investment in yourself."
Managing your brand can be as simple or time consuming as you want, Schawbel says. You get out of it what you put into it. The key is experimenting and finding a balance of actions that suits your personal needs.
So where do you begin? Schawbel recommends these three actions to start building a brand that reflects who you are and what you want to achieve.
1. Generate Content
The need for an online presence is more important now than ever, Schawbel says. If you've been resisting joining social sites like Facebook and Twitter or starting that blog you've always thought about, now's the time to do it.
"People need to start looking at the Internet in a new way. It's a global talent pool. People are looking you up on Google before they look you up on LinkedIn," Schawbel says. "That's why you need to have strong profiles and a strong online presence. That way when they search for you on Google, they'll find you. Otherwise, you don't exist," he says.
[Looking for LinkedIn tips, tricks and analysis? Check out CIO.com's LinkedIn Bible.]
Joining sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—and publishing a blog—will usually populate the top 10 search results for your name. Those top 10 results are important for managing your personal brand because rarely do people search farther than the first page, Schawbel says. Because you control the content on these sites, they're an excellent way to fine-tune your brand.
If you're active on social sites and already maintain a blog, ask yourself how you want others to see you. Then, revisit each of your profiles and assess how you're actually portraying yourself, Schawbel recommends. Do your tweets and posts reflect where you want to be next in your career?
2. Monitor Your Name; Interests
One of the most useful free tools out there is the Google Alert, Schawbel says. Google Alerts are e-mail updates about a topic or phrase that are sent to your Gmail inbox or Google Reader feed as frequently or infrequently as you choose.
To set up a Google Alert, visit http://www.google.com/alerts. Schawbel says that creating one for your name is essential because you need to keep track of what people are saying about you on the Web, on blogs and more. Creating alerts for your company's name, key industry buzz terms and other stakeholders can be helpful, too.
"If I didn't spend some time each day looking at my Google Reader and reading what people are saying about me and my industry, my presentations would be outdated," Schawbel says. "By centralizing alerts in Google Reader or e-mail, you'll be able to stay up to date with your brand and your industry."
A handful of other brand- and keyword-monitoring sites are useful to keep tabs on your name and industry news from across the Web, including Twitter.
3. Build Relationships With Your Evangelists
As you develop and manage your online brand—and stay active on your select social sites—you'll begin to build a group of people that frequently read your blog posts and converse with you on Twitter and LinkedIn. These are your "evangelists," Schawbel says, a very important part of your personal brand.
[For LinkedIn tips, tricks and analysis, check out CIO.com's LinkedIn Bible.]
"You find these people by putting yourself out there and sharing your opinion," Schawbel says. "These are the people who will alert you if they find something negative out there about you—or if there's something good out there about you." Then you can address the situation or thank someone for the positive feedback and share it with others, Schawbel says. Promoting the good and addressing the bad, when appropriate, will help you grow and shape your brand, he says.
Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Kristin at email@example.com.