Build a Better Online Persona: Four Steps

How can you manage your personal brand online with an eye to career success? Dan Schawbel discusses his new book and shares practical advice that doesn't just apply to Gen Y.

Social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have enabled everyone to become instant publishers. As a result, the content attached to our names will continue to shape perceptions of us both professionally and personally.

This has been a particular challenge for Generation Y, the group of individuals that grew up with Facebook when it was limited to "@edu" e-mail addresses. After people in Gen Y's future workplaces got their hands on the technology and "friended" the younger set, college students had to rethink the content posted to their profiles at various social networking services, says Dan Schawbel, author of the new book Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success.

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Schawbel has made a name for himself in the field of online reputation management through, among other things, his blog, the Personal Branding Blog. While blogging, he drew upon personal experiences gained during the rat race of competing for internships and eventually landing his job of choice working in marketing at EMC. Not only has he produced an extensive body of advice for people looking to "manage their brands" online, but also, he has brought a level of credibility to the topic as it concerns Gen Y: Schawbel is only 25.

But while Me 2.0 is aimed at the younger demographic, Schawbel says the book applies to workers of all ages, and based on the broadening social networking landscape, that's good. Facebook claims its fastest growing age demographic is users who are 35 years old or more, and the number of 18 to 24-year-old Twitter users is nearly the same as the 55 to 64-year-old crowd. Knowing how to communicate your professional persona on the Web — and maintain it — will be critical for all generations.

me-2.0-cover.jpg's C.G. Lynch talked with Schawbel about the book and how it might help you protect your good name on all the Web sites we use daily. Check out his four practical strategies for improving your online persona.

CIO: How did you decide to get into personal branding? Was it based upon your own experiences?

Schawbel: In high school, I gained two very significant skills. One was Web development and the other was graphic design. I had my first internship as a high school senior. It was in Internet services. My job was sales-related and I did cold calls. From that, I quickly realized that I wasn't interested in front-end marketing. I was more interested in the back-end, doing things I'd studied, like graphic design and Web development.

In college, I had my first marketing internship at a promotions company. After that, I realized it was going to be really difficult to get a job after I graduated from Bentley. So I formed a development plan that aligned me to various internships that were all across marketing. I developed this personal branding toolkit, though i didn't call it that back then. I had a business card, a website, CD portfolio, custom cover letter, and references.


I did internships at Reebok, Lycos, LoJack and Techtarget. Before I graduated, I thought getting a job at EMC Corporation, where I currently am, in product marketing wouldn't be too difficult. But it was for me. A lot of people who had already interned there were getting the jobs. I discovered something then: Even with a good resume, eight internships, seven leadership positions in school and good grades, networking reigns supreme. I hadn't focused on networking. I had promoted myself in the traditional methods, so it was really hard for me to get a job. It took me eight months to get a job. In the end, I still got the job I wanted, but the lessons learned there were interesting to me. To get a job, it wasn't a simple phone call to my father. I realized the importance of building a network.

So I started my first blog, called Driven to Succeed, in October of 2006. It was about helping college kids get internships and learn how to market themselves. Then on March 14, 2007, I read Tom Peter's article in Fast Company, Brand Called You. Then it clicked for me: I realized that it was the same type of advice that I'd been preaching for years, but I couldn't put it into a concept that I could evangelize. I did research, and saw that no one my age was talking about this. So I quickly positioned myself as the personal branding spokesman for Gen Y.

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