How effective is your current personal online branding strategy? This exercise can help you leverage platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook to advocate on behalf of the most significant brand - you.

When you want to know about someone, what's the first thing you do? You check them out online. 

You'll find a LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, maybe a Twitter feed and a personal website. How do they tell a prospective employer or client about you to convey more than a résumé? They really don't - unless you know how to manage your personal online brand. It directs you to what you should be posting online.

The "what" should be very focused and is based on how you want to be perceived. As anyone who took Marketing 101 remembers, if you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to anyone. It's been 17 years since Tom Peters wrote the seminal article, "A Brand Called You," published in Fast Company. His call to arms was, "Each of us aspiring to success must take a lesson from the big brands, and do the personal branding required to stand out and prosper in the new world of work." (In the old world of work, mergers and executive layoffs were rare. Many people spent their entire careers at one company.)

To be successful in business today -  whether as an employee, a consultant, a business owner or an entrepreneur - "your most important job," wrote Peters, "is to be head marketer for the brand called You."

Just as Chevy must stand out from Ford, Lexus from Mercedes-Benz, the Apple iPhone from the Samsung Galaxy, and Burger King from McDonald's, "Brand You" must stand out from colleagues - also known as your competitors.

In each of these (Read more...) either brand would do a perfectly good job. But it's the perception of one over the other that guides a purchase decision.

Now, back to you.

You have a good education, a good résumé, and good references, but so do the hundreds of others that want the same opportunity you want. How do you get on the short list? The good news is, it's much easier to do now than it was in 1997, when Peters first generated awareness of the need for "Brand You."

The subsequent ubiquity of Internet content, professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and industry-focused websites makes it easy for anyone to create an identity online that can be found by anyone looking for the 411 on you. Savvy career builders rely more and more on personal online branding, and so must you if you want to compete.

Where Do You Start?

The Internet provides a lot of free or low-cost relatively simple options for this. 
I say "relatively" because you still have thinking to do and decisions to make, and you need to dedicate the time to do so.

The first step is deciding that personal online branding is something you need to do to distinguish yourself and achieve your career goals. Then commit. Prior to any undertakings, commit to a big chunk of time up-front to mapping out your strategy, and then spend an hour or two each week maintaining your personal brand. 

In this exercise, you'll create the brand positioning that will define all other efforts for "Brand You."

Step 1: Pick Your Three Best Skills

The first step is to define your top three skills, strengths, and areas of expertise. If you think for a moment about your LinkedIn profile, every time someone visits your page, they are asked to endorse your skills and areas of expertise at the top of the page. Based on the skills you've listed, there may be dozens of choices to choose from, but which three apply most to you?

The short answer is: your true and verifiable strengths. These are the skills that define where you are now and where you want to go.

If you've been working for 10 years or more, chances are you've developed expertise in several areas. For example, even if your diverse work history includes experience as both an account director and the head of strategic planning, you need to put a stake in the ground by choosing how you want to be known now. Of all of your skills, what are most relevant to your prospects, potential bosses, or clients? What about you is different and/or better than your competitors? These will become your brand keywords.

If you're having difficulty with this exercise, you're not alone. Ask your colleagues or clients, "What's different about me? What are my skills and strengths?" An easy way to do this is to hand them a sheet of paper on which you've listed your different skills, and ask them to select and rank the top three.

This is how you get your keywords, which will provide the basis for how to position yourself.

Step 2: Write a Positioning Statement

The next step is to write a positioning statement. Positioning is the conceptual place you want to own in your prospects' minds.

Thus, to adapt the traditional format for a brand positioning statement:

For [prospective employers], I am the best [what you are] to deliver [your two or three key benefits].

Then, write down the support for the benefits claims by listing achievements and other information relevant to them.

The analogy with product brands isn't a 100 percent match. First, they stand for only one thing. Second, you won't be able to create a unique ownership claim of a benefit, as Volvo did for safety and Apple did for innovation. But you can become one in a group of short-listers that also claim the same two or three benefits and have the facts to back them up.

The branding exercises that will follow stem from this positioning statement. Just as every decision you'd make for a branded product must support its positioning, everything you do online should support your personal brand.

I hope you enjoy the positioning exercise. In the next segment, we'll apply your positioning to that universal business reference website, LinkedIn.

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