There has been an increasing emphasis given to personal branding, online reputation management, and personal image management in recent years. Numerous websites, blog posts and articles have been dedicated to the subject, which has generated debate on Twitter and elsewhere over whether this is a good thing.
Many feel that ‘branding’ smacks of over-commercialisation, and that it is uncomfortable to try turning something as complex and nuanced as a person into a ‘brand’. There may also be a feeling that having a focus on image or branding means an unhealthy focus on something superficial.
The fact remains that a person is going to have a reputation, for good or ill, whether they make any attempt to ‘manage’ it or not. People will have perceptions and will form opinions about someone based on what they see and hear, either first hand or reported by others, whether in person or online.
Given this fact, and assuming you are concerned about how others might react to you, whether in your current job, when seeking promotion, or when looking for a new role, it makes sense to take some steps to ensure the perceptions people form are positive ones.
As with most things in life, too much of anything is a bad thing. No one wants to create a ‘false front’ or insincere brand or image; the very idea of putting on an act like that makes most people cringe. However, making no effort at all and being oblivious to your own reputation can be equally damaging – who likes someone who swans through life giving no thought to how they affect others?
Perhaps it is more sensible to think about taking care of your reputation, rather than trying to create a ‘brand’. All the things that you do or say, at work, at external events or online, has an impact on your reputation. It therefore makes sense to give some thought to how those words or actions might be perceived by others.
To give an example: what would your conclusions be if, on arriving at an evening seminar and networking event, you noticed someone standing by themselves, wearing a shabby, shapeless jumper with messy hair, who made a beeline for you and announced “I hope tonight is worth it, the last one of these things I came to was useless”.
Now it could be that this person is a dedicated librarian, who does a great job and is committed to the profession, but has simply had a bad day and did in fact have a bad experience at their last networking event – but those are probably not the first thoughts that went through your mind!
Looking smart, being positive and professional at all work related events, and saving the moaning that we all do for family and friends, are small steps to take but could make a world of difference to your reputation. Similarly, being aware of the impression you are creating at meetings, while chatting around the water cooler/making a coffee, or even just when talking to colleagues during your day to day work is worth the effort.
The same principle applies online; just a few tweets, list-serve posts or comments on blogs which appear unprofessional, overly critical or negative, can have a significantly negative impact on your reputation. On the other hand being professional and friendly, sharing links and information and making positive comments to posts can have the opposite effect. It can be as simple as saying "...people could do xxx" rather than "people shouldn't do yyy".
Worrying about your brand might seem narcissistic, but being concerned to develop and protect your reputation is simply being sensible. As with most things, getting the balance right is the key to success.