Personal Branding in the Digital Era – Networking and Relationship Building for the PR Professionals.

This post was written as part of my Digital Media assignment at University.

According to Coombs and Holladay (2010); “Public Relations is the management of mutually influential relationships within a web of constituency relationships.” Brand Management and Reputation along with Relationship Building and Communication are core principles of the Public Relations profession; elements of our future job roles and crucial for the companies we wind up representing after graduation – and in a digital world, there any many avenues and opportunities in which to do this.
But, taking a step back, before we land that dream agency job, or get our hands on the twitter handle of that social media-phobe company, what about our own personal branding? How has the digital world changed the way we develop our own brand and communicate with industry insiders – and do strong handshakes and body language really matter, when first impressions are made way before meeting with a quick Google search?

In a digital world full of Justine Sacco’s and Paris Browns, even without studying a Public Relations degree, it’s easy to see why you should “think before you tweet” and ensure your social media activity isn’t offensive enough to lose you your job!
At a recent Chartered Institute of Marketing event, specifically on Personal Branding, Deborah Ogden, a Positive Impact Coach, recalled the quote from Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room” and there is nothing superficial about investing in your personal brand – you “have to back your work up to be credible, you must walk the walk and talk the talk.”

Everything from your email signature and style to your blog posts and social media voice, must all carry the same consistent tone. With most impressions being made prior to ever meeting physically, it’s important that you also broadcast how good you are – share photos of the events you are attending, the talks you are giving and the successes you are having.

Dave Pannell, spoke more specifically about digital personal branding and even suggested that this is more important than face to face.
Unsavvy people are not online. He told the audience, “If I google you and you don’t come up, you are either unremarkable – or have something to hide.”
You must take control of your online brand, this is where people are ‘meeting you’ and it means that half the work is done before you meet people in person.
He encouraged professionals to have platforms that they can control including personal websites and blogs, social media profiles and profile pages on company websites. You should also take the time to follow new contacts on twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

With all the noise online, it is desirable to establish yourself as an expert within your field. Pannell recommends, ensuring that you share your blog content to Facebook, Twitter and Linked In and with a couple of months of constant updates, people will begin to consider you an expert. Sharing the evidence online of your event and conference attendance, may lead to you being invited to talk at professional events and being introduced as an expert to new clients by someone they trust. Dave spoke about how all these actions meant his visibility and credibility had improved significantly and he no longer had to prove himself and his capabilities.

However, connecting and following is only the first step and place where a lot of people mistakenly stop. Once you have made these connections, it’s imperative that you get involved with posts and discussions, utilize popular hash tags and industry conversations as a way of identifying yourself to other professionals and communicating with key brands and influencers.

A final note on Facebook. My previous opinion of keeping Facebook personal and keeping the PR chat to LinkedIn and Twitter has been somewhat 360’d thanks to Dave’s insight. He insists, you can mix business with pleasure. You shouldn’t – and in this digital world, can’t, switch off. Share what you do and what you are up to on Facebook in order to utilise your existing contacts – there are potential clients within your current social circle and in turn they have contacts they can put you in touch with. As long as you remain professional at all times, refrain from selling on Facebook and avoid reacting to emotional posts immediately, Facebook can be an incredible tool for generating leads you would have otherwise overlooked.

Personal branding is a big deal and in a digital environment, you can either be scared into silence and let someone else do the talking for you, or you can take the lead, build up your brand and manage your own reputation online. Of course, this applies to all the businesses you will ever work for, but for the sake of practice – and in order to get the job in the first place – make personal branding a priority.

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