Advice from Gen Y about managing your online persona

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

And you had a day job in marketing at EMC. How did you align those two elements of your life?

EMC had no idea what I was doing outside of work. I was working in e-services support and online support tools for EMC, talking with customers and getting that type of experience. Well, our vice president here, Chuck Hollis, he has a blog too. He wanted to move in the direction of social technologies both internally and externally.

Around that time, PR got ahold of an article in Fast Company about the fact I was launching a magazine on the topic of personal branding. They found it because EMC was mentioned. So PR forwarded the article to him [Hollis], and then I was recruited to be the first ever social media specialist for EMC.

My experience, in many ways, shows the change, or evolution, that people are going through in the whole recruitment system. Now, it’s not all about what you do at work. It’s also what you do outside of work. If you build a powerful brand outside of work, people will know about you and you’ll have that added visibility.

The book gives some practical tips for someone looking to get started at building a better online persona. Can you share them with us?

It’s basically a four step process.

Discover your brand: People should lock themselves in a room and jot down some thoughts about how they’d describe themselves. Go talk to people who know you, and ask how they would describe you. To brand yourself properly, you want your network to agree with you. If you say you’re intelligent, you want other people to say you’re intelligent too.

At every point in your life, you’ll be asked, what do you do? In the book, I have a personal development plan. The personal development plan is a personal vision for yourself. It should help answer the “where do you want to be in 20 years?” types of questions.

Create: You want to use the same type of picture and writing for all your content on the Web, and what you create will very much depend on your audience. While I started with Gen Y as my audience, for example, now a lot of people who read my website [are older]. So I have to be conscious of that in the things I put on my website and on social networks. It must be consistent across all sites.

Then you need to think about your name on Google. Maybe you need to use a middle initial so your name sticks out, because a lot of people have common names and they struggle with it. Whichever you use, you want people to be able to find the content you’re creating when they use the search engine.

[For advice on how to use Google’s new profiles feature to help people find you, not someone with a similar name, see the review of Google Profiles]

Communicate: You need to be a good communicator and decent [at writing] because everyone is a content creator now. For example, the more you blog, the better your writing skills can become. I wouldn’t consider myself a natural, gifted writer, but I think it’s because I blogged that I got better at it. By writing constantly, it’s like practicing a sport.

Maintain your reputation: Use Google Alerts. Track your name, keywords for your niche, or the companies you work for or might be interested in. It’s all about using those comments made around [your content] to help you be better at what you do.


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