12 Most Sure-Fire Ways to Damage Your Personal Brand
Donald Trump had a choice. Marilyn Monroe didn’t. And neither do you.
Personal branding, once optional for everyone but celebrities and the ego-obsessed, has become a fact of life for anyone who maintains an online presence. Most entrepreneurs and CEOs, accustomed to living in quiet obscurity, aren’t prepared for the public scrutiny that comes with writing a blog or opening a Twitter account.
Without a public relations expert or branding coach to help you navigate the murky, sometimes dangerous Internet waters, you may unwittingly taint your reputation in these ways:
1. Wear sunglasses in your profile picture
Maybe you’re just sensitive to daylight, but shading your eyes in your profile picture makes it look as if you’ve got something to hide — evidence of a hangover, a bar fight or the fact that your face is on a Most Wanted poster. Or that your ego’s as big as your oversized frames. If you don’t want anyone to know what you look like, keep away from social media. If you do want to promote your personal brand online, put away the Ray Bans, Oliver Peoples or any eyewear that makes you look like a fugitive or highway patrolman.
2. Boast about your drinking habits in your Twitter bio
There’s nothing wrong with sharing a post about a wine-tasting event or your favorite Friday night hangout. But when you use up half of the 160 characters allowed in your Twitter bio to tell the world what — and how much — you imbibe, people are going to worry about you. They might even volunteer to be your AA sponsor. Don’t let your relationship with alcohol define your personal brand.
3. Confuse a social media invitation with sexual attraction
When someone invites you to connect on social media, it doesn’t mean the person wants to bed you. You may very well find love via Facebook — it offers at least as much potential as an online dating service. But don’t confuse requests to connect with someone on multiple social media sites as an invitation to the prom. Be friendly but professional with the people you meet on social media until — or unless — someone does more to encourage you than send you Facebook and LinkedIn requests on the same day.
4. Attach your byline to bad content
Google Authorship provides a tremendous opportunity to promote your brand and improve your website’s ranking. But, if your name appears as the author of a poorly written article or blog post, this will damage your personal brand. If you’re not a strong writer, hire a ghostwriter. And choose someone whose work will improve your authority and reputation. Most important, read the content before the piece is published. Proofreading saved the CEO of an enterprise technology firm the embarrassment of having his environmentally-friendly app described as “green apples.”
5. Ignore the aesthetics of your website
About 90 percent of the information that comes to the brain is visual, according to News Cred, based on research by Zabisco and Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. If your website looks cheap, generic or outdated, visitors will think the same about you. They may not take the time to examine your impressive credentials on your About Me page or to read your insightful blog posts if your website lacks visual appeal. Give your website a makeover if it needs one.
6. Make your website difficult to navigate
People won’t reach out to you if your Contact Us page is hard to find or difficult to use. Remove clumsy drop-down menus, broken links and anything else that gets in the way of a stress-free user experience. If visitors can’t easily navigate your website, they won’t blame your designer or your programmer — they’ll blame you. And your personal brand will suffer.
7. Display arrogance or rudeness
If you feel someone is unworthy of inclusion in your social media circles, simply ignore their invitation to connect. Don’t send people notes explaining your reason for rejecting them or why you might reconsider their request in six months or six years. The Internet gives your unkind words permanency. If you’re slighting people with the written equivalent of pig’s blood,prepare for at least one real-life Carrie to seek revenge. And for a lot of people to simply dismiss your brand.
8. Fail to apologize
We all make mistakes. We tweet something when we’re in a bad mood. We don’t deliver on a promise. Or we, in all innocence, say or do something hurtful. When it happens, apologize. This is important offline and absolutely critical online. The simple words, “I’m sorry” redeem your brand. Demonstrating an earnest effort to remedy misbehavior strengthens your personal brand. Reformed sinners are often more likable than saints.
9. Be stingy
It’s natural — and practical — to seek a return on your investment in promoting your brand. But if you make every gesture contingent on a returned favor — “I’ll share your content if you share mine” or “I follow anyone who follows me back” — you harm your brand. Generosity will deliver its own rewards. Give for the sake of giving — share content you genuinely like and recommend professionals you admire. Give without asking for a payback and you’ll quickly find yourself rich with help and referrals.
10. Abuse the comments section of a website
If a person, company or news publication asks you to comment on their blog, this is not an invitation to hawk your wares or share your hostility. Keep your product pitches and hateful rants to yourself. Posting thoughtful, funny or relevant comments enhances your personal brand. Use the comments section to show writers you read their words and that you have something of interest to add to the conversation.
11. Trick someone
People don’t like to be fooled or made to feel foolish. A young Hollywood director pretended he went to college with someone he’d never met in the hope that she’d attend his film screening. A venture capitalist makes a habit of comparing new writers to literary legends in order to con them into becoming his marketing pawns. Whatever trick you have in mind — from buying followers to making impossible claims — forget about them. The truth always wins out — and the truth about you could go viral.
12. Forget that you’re writing your brand in indelible ink
If you’re using the Internet as part of your branding strategy, take a deep breath before you hit the “send” or “submit” button. Because every sentence, every word — every comma — becomes a permanent part of your brand. Yes, you can delete something, but the information is still out there — and someone may have captured the gaffe in a screenshot before you took down the regrettable comment or photo. And it only takes seconds for someone to snap a picture of you and upload it to Instagram. Protect your brand by monitoring your public behavior and protect your privacy by keeping some parts of your life off limits.
Digital marketing gives you unprecedented opportunities to connect with key influencers and target audiences. And a strong personal brand can hasten your success in any field. How do you successfully gain the attention you want — and avoid the kind you don’t? What makes you judge others harshly or favorably? Are you comfortable living in the Internet fishbowl or do you long for the days of closed-door meetings and private conversations?
Please share your thoughts about personal branding. I’d love to know what you think.
Featured image courtesy of Gavin St. Ours licensed via Creative Commons.