Powered by the forces of the internet, brands are not just for companies and movie stars anymore. They now apply to everyone who wants to develop their professional network and bolster their job prospects.
There is a de facto spectrum of digital footprints, from the aggressively branded lifestyle blogger who posts daily outfits from pristine locations (#ad) to that guy from high school who rears his head once per year with a poorly-researched political opinion. But how to fall elegantly in between? For that, we talked to Ashley Cleveland, Senior Director of Marketing at ChooseATL and Founder of BrandUp Studio.
“My belief is that, as a professional, your digital footprint must be strong,” Cleveland said. “It’s no longer possible to make a formal first impression because clients, employers, and even potential mates are doing their research on you online.”
Ready to refine your digital footprint? Get started building your personal brand with these four steps.
Plan Your Brand
“Planning is important,” Cleveland says. “Anyone who has a vision should be setting goals. I do it twice a year — at the new year and about halfway through.”
Much like a corporation planning a brand or marketing campaign, Cleveland advises people sit down and think about what they want how they can leverage their digital presence to get it. Then, just like a business, reflect on what worked and what didn’t in reaching your goals.
“Strategize how youre going to get to that end goal,” Cleveland says. “If you’re creating a brand for the intention of getting a job or different opportunities, then you need to be as rigid as a business would be.”
For your brand, consider your vision of where you want to be a year from now. Is it in consumer product marketing? Financial technology? Figure out your purpose, and then begin molding your online presence to fit.
Execute and Engage With Style
“There should be a standard on how you communicate,” Cleveland says. “And if you want to become an influencer and work with brands, it’s absoultely important to align yourself with those brands.”
As a rule, people pay attention to pretty photos. Your headshot can be a good place to start.
“I absolutely recommend professional headshots,” says Cleveland. “LinkedIn should look professional, but that doesn’t always mean paying a lot. The portrait mode on the iPhone can shoot a beautiful photo. Just do not use a selfie from the car.”
After your headshot, consider the content you post. People tend to pay more attention to visual posts, but it matters what those photos look like. Photos that are clear, well-proportioned and relevant to your content will strengthen your message and increase chances of engagement. Across your public platforms, from social media to your website, there should be some continuity in look and feel too. Ultimately, it’s about looking like you take yourself seriously.
If your day job is not what you’re passionate about, do not make your brand about it.
“Your brand should be true to who you are,” Clevland said. “If you’re an artist, but you work a nine-to-five, you’re an artist.”
Your digital presence should reflect your true authentic self through hobbies, friends, and experiences, and sometimes that does go against the grain of what previous generations may think is “work appropriate”.
Using headshots as an example, Cleveland asserts that photos are subjective. It used to be a standard black blazer on a white back drop, but now there’s a lot more freedom. Cleveland says she has creative friends who prominently display tattoos in their headshots, but it works because the photos are design-forward and truly represent the person in the photo.
“It’s not a hand on chin photo,” Cleveland said. “It’s a chance to show powerful images that evoke something about you that wouldnt normally come across.”
…But Don’t Overshare
By nature, social media represents mostly the highlight reel, and channeling authenticity may mean including some downs with all the ups. However, we all know that person that shares a little much, going into all the gory details of arguments with significant others or how much they hate their manager.
Cleveland recommends a compromise between authenticity and oversharing by always making sure it represents your best self, what you’re interested in, inspired by, or entertained by. Rather than hitting send on a post about the deepest, darkest moment of your life when you’re in the heat of it, take some time. Afterwards, it can be something you share, but as an example of how you are resilient to challenges or came out of it at a better place.
“It’s my belief that anything you’re putting out about yourself should be inspirational, educational or entertaining for the audience who wants to learn more about you,” Cleveland said. “As long as you’re true to yourself, that will resonate with people.”