To be successful in any industry, you have to differentiate yourself from the competition. With new technology, building a personal brand has never been easier, and “Brand You” is what will make you stand out from your peers. “Brand You” is a concept that I learned from my mentor, Professor Bob Batchelor, at the University of South Florida.
You can build a spotless personal reputation with hardly any financial investment, but it’s setting aside the time that might prevent some students from developing their own brands. Here are 10 easy ways that you can start building your brand, even as a busy student or young professional:
1. Spring Clean your Social Networks: You’ve heard it before, but let me reiterate how important it is to maintain a professional appearance on Facebook and MySpace. It doesn’t matter if your profile is set to private, you should still take pride in who you are and the image you are portraying. Remove those keg stand pictures and tasteless bumper stickers now, please!
2. Use Google Reader: This is a valuable tool when it comes to starting a personal brand. Subscribe to news sites that are industry-related or about current events. I suggest PR Newswire, PR Week, the New York Times, and BBC, especially for an international perspective. To be a proficient communicator, you must know what’s going on in the world and in public relations. The only way to do this is to educate yourself. Google readers makes it simple—it’s free and easy to navigate, plus almost every site has an icon that allows you to subscribe to their updates.
3. Add to your Reader: After you subscribe to news feeds, search for blogs on topics that interest you, such as marketing or public relations. Read a few posts and see whether the material interests you enough that you’d want to read it on a regular basis. If so, subscribe! Some blogs that I suggest you read are: PR Squared, More with Les, Teaching PR, copyblogger, and the Bad Pitch Blog. Each of these sites link to other great blogs that will keep you entertained and informed.
4. Comment on Blogs: Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion! Bloggers love receiving comments, and most will respond back to you. Always comment using your full name so you can start building your personal brand. The more you comment, the more people will start to recognize your online presence. Make sure you bring value to the conversation—don’t just say “great post!” Tell the blogger why you agree or disagree, or point out something he or she may have overlooked or did a great job explaining.
5. Create a Digital Portfolio: It’s a lot easier than it sounds, especially if you use www.freewebs.com. The site has tons of templates that you can choose from, and is self-explanatory. It’s easy to upload your résumé and writing samples, which allows potential employers to view all your work online. Since your Facebook and MySpace profiles should be professional, link to them so that employers can see your other interests and get a glimpse into your personality. Potential employers are people, too! Most enjoy people with intriguing personalities, and you never know when you might share a common interest with the person interviewing you. Any possible connection could be to your advantage!
6. Make Business Cards: Personal business cards are a great way to pass on information about yourself when you first meet someone. Include your basic contact information, but also links to any sites you have created for yourself, such as a blog, digital portfolio, or LinkedIn profile.
7. Join LinkedIn: This social networking site is more professional than Facebook, and is a great way to interact with those already in your desired career. Check it out at www.linkedin.com, and then make a profile. I actually landed a couple of interviews through this network, including ones at Ogilvy PR and Fleishman-Hillard.
8. Experiment with Social Media Tools: There are a lot of interesting tools at there that can help you make your presence known. Twitter is simple, and helps initiate conversations with people you might never get the opportunity to speak to otherwise. It can be found at www.twitter.com. Another tool you should familiarize yourself with is www.ning.com.
This site is a group-based community that allows you to search for those with similar interests. For example, I am a part of the 20 Something Bloggers ning, which has helped drive traffic to my blog and allowed me to communicate with other young bloggers around the world. Another great forum is the new PR Open Mic, started by Professor Robert French at Auburn. The site has only been up for a couple of weeks, but it’s already a remarkable resource for students, professors, and professionals. I highly recommend joining!
9. Just do it! Start a Blog: Maintaining a blog is easier than you might think. Most of my posts are less than 500 words and take me no more than an hour each week to write. This minimal commitment has been one of the most beneficial and fun things I’ve done as an undergraduate student. The benefits are innumerable: I’ve received job offers and freelance requests, I’ve been able to communicate with top-tier professionals and professors, I’ve enhanced my knowledge about the industry, and I’ve been able to practice my writing skills.
10. Ask for Help: Building a personal brand can seem overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to ask for help. Both professors and older students are excellent resources to guide you through this process. It is never too early to start building “Brand You,” and I hope that all of you will start soon so that you can impress potential employers with your outstanding reputation.
(This article was originally published in the University of South Florida’s chapter of PRSSA’s newsletter, imPRessions, which can be viewed at our Web site: http://www.prssausf.com. It has been edited for the Internet and updated since the original publication date.)