Keeping it human. The message of my last two blogs was that it is hard work developing and maintaining a consistent personal brand in the online world because there are no boundaries between public and private, and the overall climate is so judgemental. While it sounds somewhat intimidating, it’s probably a good thing—you will need your wits about you.
But don’t run away with the idea that the online world is so very different from the real world. The real world is just as judgemental and intrusive. In many ways, it’s just that those characteristics have less scope in it than they do in the digital world. It’s much harder to research the history of what people said or did, and expensive to take them to task: taking a full-page ad in the Sunday Times or briefing a lawyer are eye-wateringly expensive, not to mention time consuming.
This brings me to the point of today’s blog: don’t forget that the human/real world has to mesh with the digital one. Your personal brand may be moving online along with much of your business and social life, but you continue to exist in the real world as a flesh-and-blood person.
So do the people with whom you are building your personal brand.
In short, building a long-lasting and authentic personal brand will be much more successful if as much of it takes place as possible in the real world. We still need to look into each other’s eyes to gauge sincerity and we still need to read the subtle cues concealed in body language. All of this is particularly true when becoming acquainted with a person for the first time.
As an aside, I wonder how long-lasting the “everybody is going to work from home” strategy is going to last. At least part of me thinks it works well for those already in a job and fairly well established because the people they are interacting with on digital platforms already know them. It may not be so easy for new hires, particularly if they are young, to make headway in the company if most or all of their interactions with new colleagues are digital.
A second important point is to do everything that you can to make digital meetings and interactions as close as possible to real-world ones. Make an effort to connect on a human level—for example, at the beginning of a meeting, if you’re the host, resist the temptation to get straight down to business. Spend a bit of time asking each participant how they are feeling, what their week has been like—just as you would have done at an in-person meeting.
It’s also very important to project yourself well on a digital platform. Do not forget to dress in a way that supports your brand, even it is more casual that it might be at work. It’s also critical to become mistress (or master) of the medium itself. If, as seems likely, we are likely to be spending more time interacting with colleagues and clients online, make sure that the picture they are getting of you underpins your personal brand. Is the lighting unobtrusive but flattering? Is the background appropriate? Are you speaking directly into the eye of the webcam to establish eye contact?
Be aware that, as in a real-life meeting, if you don’t turn on your camera and remain silent, you are still branding yourself. Make sure you have something constructive to add to the meeting and interact with the other attendees in ways that support your personal brand. There may be occasions when you don’t want to turn on the webcam because you’re not turned out in the right way, but that should not stop you contributing. Meetings are one of the places where your brand is actualised.
Paradoxically, one of the keys to building a strong personal brand online is to make it all as human as possible.
In the next blog, we’ll be looking at some guidelines for evolving your personal brand in line with your own development.
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