It’s that time of year when we clean the slate, dust off the past, and set our intentions for the new year. We sharpen our focus and list our resolutions in an effort to right the mistakes we made last year and drive our intention towards things that will make us more successful personally and professionally.
What we typically overlook, however, are those social landmines that can torpedo all the good work we’ve done to build and grow our personal brand and reputation. While the calendar might show a new year, our past has already established our reputation, and the perception (brand) we’ve built in the minds of others sticks with us until proven otherwise.
As you look to become more relevant and compelling to the target audiences that matters to you — the people who hold the opportunities you desire — consider becoming mindful of what not to do as much as you focus on what to do. For instance, we often look at a game plan as if we’re operating from a clean slate. In personal branding, however, your actions, interactions and beliefs have already set the perception that other people have of you. It doesn’t change just because you want to be known for new qualities or you wish to move your reputation to a more positive experience.
Make sure to avoid these personal branding land mines:
1. “It’s All About Me” Syndrome
When networking, avoid talking about yourself the whole time. Yes, we know that you are your own favorite topic (and I am mine), but networking is a two-way street, a dialog of shared information. When we network, we learn about the other person so we can follow up, provide input and refer resources as appropriate. If they aren’t given the chance to share, the person you’re networking with misses the opportunity to tell you what they want and need — and to talk about their favorite subject: themselves!
2. “I’m Not Who You Think I Am”
Did you go a bit wild at those end-of-year holiday parties? If I Google your name, will I find photos of you acting reckless and inappropriate? What about posts and comments on blogs or social networks, where you told people how you really feel about them after a few cocktails?
When your behavior online doesn’t match the perception you want others to have of you, you create brand confusion. Visitors to your social networks or blog find themselves confused as they try to assess who the “real you” is. In instances where you can untag yourself from an embarrassing photo or remove a post or comment you made to a blog or Facebook wall, do so. This is your reputation, and it matters. While your opinion and actions might be funny to your friends, they might be offensive to your employer, colleagues or clients, and you could lose the opportunities you desire.
3. Manners Mean Nada
Manners are actually crucial! A person who interrupts as people try to speak, disregards others because they’re not important enough, or checks a smartphone while in a conversation sends the impression that they’re not engaged, professional or respectful. I have yet to meet a person who desires to be known as someone who is sloppy, insensitive and impolite.
Making a few changes to your behavior can make a big difference in how you’re perceived. Look at people when they speak to you (even if your phone is buzzing with updates to your Candy Crush game status). Take the time to send a well-thought-out email acknowledging someone’s contribution and effort (instead of just saying “got it”). Acknowledge everyone in a group, not just the person with the fanciest — or highest — job title. And so on. Small changes that are focused on others around you give people the impression that you’re interested in more than just yourself.
4. “My Friends Want to Hear From Me… About Everything!”
Just because someone becomes your LinkedIn connection, Facebook friend or Twitter follower, that doesn’t mean they’re interested in every detail of your life, no matter how interesting it might seem to you.
We connect on platforms like LinkedIn and Google+ primarily for business. On these sites, we share business, professional and industry information with our personal perspective sprinkled on top. On the other hand, Facebook is a social site, where we have more liberty to discuss our holiday plans and show photos of the babies/puppies/remodeled bathrooms that join our lives.
At the same time, there are unwritten rules of etiquette on Facebook, too. Resist posting too many bragging statements disguised as humility (“Oh, my, another client told me how wonderful I am today!”), overly depressed statuses (“Not sure I’ll make it through another day…” or my favorite, “Why? Just why?”), and complaints about your coworker or job (“My boss needs a reality check. Anyone up for the task?”). All of these can create the impression you’re someone you are not. Remember, many people scan Facebook once a day, while others check once a week. If all they see are your depressed, complaining or boasting posts, you’re building a personal brand as a depressed, complaining or boasting person.
5. “But She Was Rude First!”
I knew a senior executive who always interviewed new employee prospects by taking them to lunch in a crowded restaurant. His goal was to see how the candidate treated the wait staff. If they were rude or disrespectful to the server, the executive believed they could be rude to his team, and that meant they weren’t going to be a good hire.
Personal branding is about setting the expectation of the experience of working and being with you. (Click here to tweet this thought.) That means when I see you in action, when I read about you online, when I experience you in public or private, I form a judgment on how you will be to work with, live with or share a cubicle or project with.
6. Forgetting the Art of Appreciation
In our fast-paced world of business and life, we can overlook the simple gratitude that makes others feel validated and appreciated. Did someone take a call with you and share some good advice? They deserve a handwritten thank you note. A colleague picked up a project you couldn’t finish? Maybe a gift card to a local restaurant is in order. Your client referred another client to you? How about a donation to a charity in their name as a sign of appreciation?
Too often, we miss these opportunities because we think others are just as busy as we are. I’ve sat with CEOs of companies, however, and they’ve pulled out from their desk personalized, handwritten notes sent by people they helped or supported. When these notes are personalized, they’re memorable. And, no, an email is not the same. Your note should include specifics: where you met or how they helped you, what you learned from the discussion or advice or referral, how you will use the information or guidance, and when you might be back in touch. This note stands apart and leaves a powerful, memorable impression about you, your values and your personal brand.
Oh, that awkward moment when you meet someone at a networking event and they share the horror story of a mole gone awry… or their son’s recent arrest for Minor in Possession (MIP) charges while at prom… or their last job, which ended in a grand jury investigation.
What happened to boundaries? What happened to not sharing “too much information” (or “T.M.I.”)? Personal branding is the practice of building trust by creating and managing your reputation with intention and focus. As you build your visibility and your network — in person and online — the perceptions other people have of you can directly impact the opportunities they assign you. As employers, clients and prospective business partners interact with you, they’re judging you based on what you say, how you act and how you look. Unfair? Somewhat. Reality? Yes.
As we enter the new year, let’s all start with a clean slate, knowing that our past behaviors, relationships, interactions and activities are guided by our values and working to create an impression of who we are and what we hold important. Instead of leaving such an important thing to chance, let’s start becoming in control and intentional about who we want to be.
Are you falling into any of these landmines? How can you change to fix your personal brand?