The concept of personal branding is gaining a lot of traction in marketing media. The concept is straightforward: your activities on the web leave an indelible mark that says something about you. Or, worse still, your activities on the web are so insignificant; they barely leave a mark at all.

For marketing and PR leaders this presents an important question: what is your CEO’s personal brand equity?

Whether you work for a consumer-facing brand or a business services firm, it’s important that your boss has a positive online reputation. If you can help get it right, there are three upsides for you personally.

James Dyson - a prime example of personal branding at its best

James Dyson – a prime example of personal branding at its best

  1. It’ll help with media relations – When a journalist Googles him/her, they’ll find lots of glowing articles and credible references. He/she will be seen as being important and influential. Have you ever wondered why the likes of Sir Richard Branson, James Dyson and James Caan always get used over and over in entrepreneurship pieces? They take care of their personal brand – through the media and online.
  2. It’ll help with business objectives – A leader with a positive online reputation can only help with sales, new product development, recruitment and any number of business objectives. We all know how important leadership is to the success of a business. Then why not sing it from the rooftops (or the web)?
  3. It’ll make you look good – Most PR managers and directors – at least in large firms – have little day-to-day contact with their CEO, so opportunities beyond the regular media relations role to add value cannot be ignored. I would be really surprised if your CEO hasn’t Googled himself/herself. Imagine the effect if his or her number became the number 1 Google search research.

Online audit

The first step is to audit your boss online. At a basic level, this is Google his/her name. Also, Google his/her name, plus your company name (advanced reputation building also considers attribute keywords, such as “venture capital expert” or “cloud computing commentator”).

  1. Is the name on the first page of the search results? If it’s not, it’s next-to-nowhere as far users are concerned.
  2. Are references there positive, negative or neutral? If there are negative pieces on there, then it’s a different ball game. It’s not insurmountable, but you’ll need to invest in some PR/SEO to overcome this.
  3. Do you ‘own’ any of the sites featured? (e.g. a biography page on your website) These are incredible useful, especially if they have a high page rank.
  4. Does he/she have a common name (let’s face it “Phil Szomszor” is much easier to optimise than “Phil Smith”)?
  5. What assets already exist that you can boost? These can include media results, such as interviews or op-ed pieces
  6. Does he/she already use social media sites, such as Twitter or LinkedIn?

There are other search analysis activities that can also be deployed here, such as looking at the Google page rank of sites that you own and adding his/her name to your keywords that your search function is working on.

Thinking about digital footprint and reputation

Having completed an online audit you’ll see that some of these aspects contribute to establishing a presence – in other words, the “digital footprint” – and some are about the content and what it represents, “the reputation”.

While it’s important to begin by building the digital footprint, you must consider the brand attributes that your CEO stands for. I’m not talking about obvious stuff – like honesty and trustworthiness as that’s assumed – it needs to be what he/she wants to be known for. For example, being responsible for introducing a new online security product to market, or having strong views about exporting to emerging markets. This will really help you with your media relations work, too.

The easy personal branding wins

A full personal branding programme can be a mini PR campaign in its own right, but you can still make a difference with a few quick wins.

  1. Polished LinkedIn profile – Let’s assume that he/she is on LinkedIn. Is the profile properly populated and looked after? Essentials include full job history, a photo, links to the company website, vanity url and a biography that matches the company messaging.
  2. Website biography – Does your CEO have a page on your company website? If not, that’s an easy win. If so, then make sure it has a photo (remember image search results are important too), a url that includes his/her name and text that represents their personal brand values.
  3. Regular company blog posts – Assuming you have a company blog, make sure your CEO has a regular presence. There’s lots that can be repurposed from your PR engine and attributed to him/her. Examples might include new products and services, new business wins and hires.
  4. Google+ presence – Not surprisingly having a presence on Google’s own social network has a positive impact on search results. Although Google Authorship seems to have died a death, having a populated Google+ page – with a biography, links and images – is still useful for footprint building. Better still if he/she will allow you to post links to your company blog posts (although that might get tricky if he/she uses Gmail personally)
  5. Ensure a consistent image – Try to get your boss to use consistent images across online assets, especially if they use multiple services, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ (we’ll excuse them for using something more personal for Facebook). Make sure all images are named personally (e.g. “Phil-Szomszor.jpg” not “IMG5761.jpg”).

Finally, this wouldn’t be an article on personal branding if we didn’t mention Wikipedia. The short advice is: be very careful. It’s against Wikipedia’s neutral point of view principles to write articles on behalf of yourself or someone you may have a “conflict of interests” with. You can engage with the Wikipedia community to make it happen, but it has to conform to a set criteria, so this is one that I would put in the “advanced” personal branding camp.

These are just a few of the basic tactics. If you’d like more in-depth advice or would like to find out about some of the advanced options to really help your CEO to stand out from the crowd, get in touch.

Further reading:

I went to an old school reunion last week. We were regaling the mischief we got up to and one of my friends admitted (30 years after the event) that at a particular house party, his father got the kegs muddled and instead of letting us kids drink the watered down mead, we got stuck into the adult’s keg that had ‘substances’ added in for some extra punch. No wonder my memories of that party are hazy (it was the late 70s!).

How thankful I am to have survived the party with no photo evidence stored for posterity on social media. We took silly photos, regretted it the next day and thankfully shredded the negatives (didn’t we?). Surely I’m not alone in having cringing recollections of my teenage years, and some memories are better kept that way – unrecorded and perhaps forgotten.

How is it for kids nowadays? Despite knowing how to set up their privacy rules properly, my kids’ reputations are at the mercy of their (700?) close Facebook friends! Are our kids going to be constantly drawn back to their pasts with a record of all their teenage escapades on social media? Will they find it harder to forget their foolish moments, their dumber-than-dumb comments or to lose the silly nicknames they earned at school (fruitbat/smellie/poo-face/lucy-lastic/stinker/contrarymary/dopey/droopy). For many people, there comes a time when you need to break with your childhood or teenage past either temporarily or indefinitely to make a go of a new relationship, to fuel a career or to initiate some sort of reinvention of yourself as a sensible adult.

Will society become more tolerant of youthful misdemeanours? Will our kids’ job applications get overlooked because rightly or wrongly they’ve been made a scapegoat on Facebook or because they were a member of a dubious political party when 19 years old? Will our kids resort to taking on new identities with a clean Facebook record in order to get a job?

Tolerance gets my vote. I hope a colourful life history in photo, video and commentary, all perfectly preserved on the internet, shows spirit and character and hopefully an occasional depth of thought, as well as the occasional depth of debauchery.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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