The "Me 2.0" Guide to Personal Branding

Dan Schawbel was the one who first introduced me to the term “Facebook whale.” This describes someone who has the maximum allowable number of 5,000 Facebook friends — and Schawbel’s one of the few. He also has 500-plus LinkedIn connections, and on Twitter he has nearly 100,000 followers and appears on more than 6,000 lists.No question, he’s mastered what it takes to build and leverage a personal brand that attracts attention, interaction and high regard from an ever-expanding target audience — and he’s built a business helping others do the same.His Personal Branding Blog reaches tens of thousands of global visitors monthly, and his book, “Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future” (Kaplan, 2010), details the entire personal branding process. He took time to share what he says is the very least you need to know about building your brand as you head into 2011.Personal branding isn’t an option“‘Me 2.0’ started as a book about my personal experiences, written to help young people build a brand to get a job. But as people from all generations took interest, it became a branding-strategy guide for everyone, including entrepreneurs, permanent workers and consultants,” Schawbel explains.“Personal branding is becoming less a competitive advantage than a mandate,” he says. “There’s an expectation across the globe that didn’t exist a few years ago — an expectation that you have to have an online presence and that what you communicate online has to be relevant to what you’re working to achieve. Personal brands position people for success.”

Start by investing in personal and brand assessmentsStep 1 in Schawbel’s book is titled “Discover Your Brand.”“Most branding work occurs before you jump into the brand-building process,” he says. He recommends doing a “personal and brand discovery” to assess what’s already being said about you, what short- and long-term goals you want your branding effort to achieve, and how you want people to perceive who you are — not in general terms, but in specific words.“For example, words like intelligent, concise, friendly, loyal, persistent, welcoming. Choose five words,” he says, “and realize that they matter,” because they describe your unique promise of value, allow you to stand out, and affect how you’re perceived and the relationships you forge.“A full 74 percent of executive-level jobs are now found through networking,” he says. “The online world is today’s global talent pool. You have to know the attributes you want to convey and leverage the Internet to communicate and connect with the right individuals in a way not possible five or seven years ago.”Take action to create and communicate your brand online“Buy your domain name. Establish a blog and website. Get involved in social media. Use keywords to optimize your sites and articles. Fill the top slots in online searches,” Schawbel says, adding, “There’s an opportunity cost if you’re not heard, if people see and hear others instead. So you have to establish and differentiate what you do and then build your brand online to attract opportunities.”Maintain your brandKeep your brand up to date by constantly managing your reputation:- Establish Google alerts for your name and company name, key buzzwords, and names of competitors and partners, so you can stay on top of what’s being said online.- Use to monitor Twitter conversations.- Track and compare mentions of your URL and others using BackType.“Awareness is important and you only have to set up for it once,” Schawbel says. “Just establish alerts that feed to an RSS aggregator like Google Reader and you can see them all in one place. Then if there’s a damaging mention, you can notify the news source, post a comment, or create new positive content to take its place, since newest posts go first and people rarely scan beyond the first three.”Empower employees to build personal brands as well, since the stronger their personal brands are, the stronger they’ll be as ambassadors for your business.“With a personal brand, you can leverage the Internet to communicate and connect with the right individuals,” Schawbel says, concluding, “Competitively, you have no choice.”

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of “Small Business Marketing for Dummies” and "Selling Your Business for Dummies," and the co-author of "Branding for Dummies" and "Business Plans Kit for Dummies."