We have all heard it. Personal brands, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook fan pages, Twitter messages, Snapchat videos, you name it. The internet seems to be yelling “Get out there! Show yourself!”. This may leave many people wondering whether they really should participate in the seemingly endless race for top digital celebrity, be it in the professional or social world. Not everyone must be confident that this is something for them. But is digital personal branding really a must in the XXI century?

Branding Always Played a Role

Let’s move back to the prior-digital era. We don’t even have to move far, even in the 90s, with the internet already in its rolling phase, social media was not a bit as popular and as desired as it is today.

However, the personal need to brand oneself was not any less common. Basically everything people do (or did back then) was part of creating their personal brand – even if they never saw it this way.

The way you talk, the posture you hold, the color of your clothes and the cut of your hair, the car you choose in the dealership and the books you read and place on your bookshelf – all these things are part of your personal brand.

Of course, before the internet connected us all the impact of any personal brand was very limited. Unless someone turned up on the cover of “People”, the influence of his or her brand would have been limited to friends, family, coworkers and perhaps some random people met on the subway.

As much as the internet has changed all that, the way personal brands have been created, the way they have been perceived and the impact they had on one’s life was roughly the same as it is today.

You Already Have a Digital Personal Brand

It’s true. Whether you like it or not, you already have a digital brand. Whatever you do online leaves a thread which can be followed and which will leave an impression on the people who choose to follow you.

Most of you will have Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn pages. You follow your favorite blogs, write an occasional comment (in most cases to articles you don’t fully agree with) and tweet your momentary thoughts. It’s a brand. You are who you are and you show it to whoever wants to look.

Or maybe you chose to ignore the most common tools online and refuse to create a profile on any social media platform? Well, this is branding as well. It may feel safe when no one can find you online, but this also tells them something. And, additionally, someone else may write about you and that information will then become part of your digital brand.

There is no escaping it. The virtual world exists and all of us play a part in it. Even if only unwillingly or unknowingly.

Personal Brand Management

If you already have a personal brand (and you cannot do much to avoid that) it would be rather unwise to leave it to chance. Just as you dress differently for work than you do while doing your house chores, it may well pay off to make sure that the image you are offering to people online depicts the best side of you.

Employment seems to be moving away from what once used to be considered a steady career, meant to last for a lifetime (or at least some 15-20 years). It is likely that many of us will be switching jobs every few years or start their own micro businesses and become freelancers in their field of expertise.

I believe most (if not all) employers do a quick check in Google about a prospective candidate. And if you’re a freelancer – there’s a close to 100% chance that your future client will try to gather as much information about you as possible. Managing your personal brand is making sure that they see the best in you and can make a correct (honest) opinion on whether you are suitable for the work they have to offer.

Never in history was it easier to create a meaningful personal brand. Also, it was never easier to create a completely wrong impression. The tools are available for everyone for free, anyone can use them. However, like with many other common use products, there is always a numerous group of people who don’t fully understand how they work and how they can benefit (or harm) them.

The Benefits of Managing Your Digital Personal Brand

There are vast benefits to having a properly managed and correctly created digital personal brand. They will become visible in various aspects of your life, from professional, through social and all the way up to romantic and altruistic.

Modern business is all about networking. As a matter of fact, business has always been about networking. But the origin of interpersonal connections has been different then than it is now. Connecting with people through LinkedIn, for example, is a fantastic way to learn, drive your business or seek employment opportunities. But how successful you will be is highly dependent on the digital brand you have to show.

Social engagement is thriving. We are free to engage socially with almost anyone, support any cause and try to have our voice heard in any matter. We do it, but so do millions of other people. If you want to stand out from the crowd, be heard and make an impact you need something that will draw people’s attention. That something is nothing else but the effort you put into your personal brand management. The more people know about you and the things which you consider important, the more likely they are to identify you as a potential partner – be it a partner in discussion, a partner in business or a partner for life.

This is, of course, not to say that anyone should neglect the importance of personal, physical meetings. They are crucial, perhaps even more so now, when so much socializing is being done online. However, just as you “dress to impress” for one of your black tie affairs, you should also consider the same for all your digital ventures.

The Difficulties in Managing and Sustaining a Valuable Personal Brand

There are seemingly no technical difficulties in creating and sustaining a proper digital personal brand. And yet, many people seem to struggle with the process, perhaps a bit overwhelmed with the amount of possibilities they are being offered and the distinct features which differentiate different social media platforms.

For some people, it may be difficult to make the leap. It often takes some internal courage to start a digital profile in social media or indulge into writing weekly blog posts. Just consider how many LinkedIn profiles don’t have an uploaded picture. For some reason, there may be an element of fear or shame associated with the idea of publicly posting even your picture. This is certainly not helping the branding process.

Also, digital personal branding takes time, patience and – if you really want to get out there – quite a bit of work. Very often people start caring about their online personal brand when they happen to be looking for a job. Once they find it, they forget all about their brand, probably believing that the new position will be forever. Of course, it’s not. They are forced to come back to where they left off some years ago. Personal branding is an ongoing process and it is much easier to create a coherent and honest brand when you are employed rather than when you are urgently looking for a new position.

In all cases, digital personal branding will take a lot of time. Regardless of whether you are writing a blog or engaging in some professional forums or LinkedIn groups – perseverance and patience is key. Unless you happen, often by sheer luck, to write a viral going post which will give you millions of views in a single day, you will need to be well prepared and just let time take it’s course. That’s how the internet (and Google) works. So does the human mind. The often people see something, the more it sinks into their minds. And the opportunity you are waiting for my become available several months from now.

So is Digital Personal Branding a Must?

Basically, yes. It is not possible to escape from the fact, that employers, business partners, friends and even loved ones may be checking up on us online. Technically, one can try to make sure that not a single piece of information is available online, but this leaves open space for someone else to write about us. And considering that most people do use social media platforms for different purposes, it is safe to assume that you already have a digital personal brand. But is it really properly managed?

Michal Swoboda