I met recently with a large Silicon Valley venture fund. My company is not raising money at the moment, but the fund had heard about Posse and reached out to me online. Since I was in town anyway, I decided to meet with the fund’s investors and build a relationship. I showed them some slides and talked about our vision for Posse. They seemed engaged. They asked questions about the various insights we’d gained and pivots we’d taken. And then one of the executives leaned toward me and said, “You’ve shown a lot of persistence. Just like when you were seven years old selling flowers on the side of the road.”
His partner then started talking about my experience building a radio station in my early 20s and the various bands I’d managed in Australia. I was floored when they asked me whether, before our meeting, I had done the power pose I had written about in a previous blog post about body language. Two senior executives from the other side of the world knew my life’s story and didn’t mind reciting it. I felt naked.
The first time anything like this had happened to me was four years earlier, when I met with a music company in New York. That time, someone whom I didn’t know asked about an event I’d organized several years earlier in college. The question was relevant but a surprise — he had researched me on the web before our meeting.
That night, I did a web search for myself for the first but not the last time. I discovered links to a handful of articles that mentioned episodes from my time as a band manager. Some related to nonprofit work that I’d done but all too many quoted me saying “no comment” following misbehavior by some of my bands. That was not the brand that I wanted to present. Knowing that such web searches before meetings would become more common, I decided to take control of my online brand. Here’s what I’ve done.
1. Think about why
If your only concern is that people will conduct searches on you before meetings, you may just need to create a LinkedIn profile so they will find something that you want them to see. For me, though, the purpose of building an online brand was bigger. I wanted to raise the profile of my company in order to win clients, attract users and raise capital.
I have also decided to be open about the company’s struggles so that those who are interested will come on the journey with me. As a result, they are more likely to be supportive, rather than critical, when we experience those inevitable difficult times. Finally, I wanted to raise my personal profile to set myself up for whatever I decide to do next.
2. Define your brand
In 2008, a close friend shared with me a notebook in which he’d written down his personal values. This made me think a lot about my own values, and I decided to write mine down, too. The process forced me to focus on who I was, how that would affect my decision-making and what persona I would project to the world.
As entrepreneurs we create brand values for our companies but often not for ourselves. By writing down my values, I defined my personal brand and made it easier to make sure that my values are projected across everything I do online. This included the way my own blog is written, the types of other publications I write for and what I post in social media. As with a company brand, I try to ensure that the message is consistent.
3. Understand that social networks are the new calling cards
If you are on social media, people are going to check out your profiles. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will come up first, often in that order. LinkedIn is a great opportunity to showcase your achievements and connect with prospective partners and clients. I now do all of our recruiting through LinkedIn, searching through profiles based on current or previous employment. When I reach out, I’m aware that everyone who considers replying will read my profile, too. On Facebook you can set your posts to private but, since my brand is about being transparent, I’ve made my profile public. Of course I have to be careful not to put stupid photos up.
An old boyfriend once became annoyed with me because I refused to set my Facebook profile to “in a relationship” with him because I was embarrassed by some of the photos he had on his profile. The photos weren’t of me, but I worried about how they would reflect on me. Maybe I was too sensitive (he certainly thought so).
4. Pay attention to what comes up first in Google
One reason to write a blog with your name in the URL is that it’s likely to pop up first on any Google search. It’s also helpful to have a name that isn’t common. I’m lucky with my first name, which has a less common spelling, and my blog ranks high if you search “Rebekah Campbell.”
If I had a more common name, I might elect to include my middle initial to make it easier for people to find me online. I would try to get the .com URL address for the name and then build sub pages using other terms that people might search for when looking for me. For example, people might search for “Rebekah Campbell Posse” and so I have a web page at rebekahcampbell.com that should rank first if anyone searches that combination of words.
If there were bad things written about me online (there aren’t), I would try to create new listings that would rank highly in Google and push the old links to the second page of search results. If you search your own name and nothing comes up, or if an early link displays something you’d prefer to keep under wraps, consider creating a LinkedIn page. It always surprises me when I see politicians who have problem headings on page one of their Google results don’t have a LinkedIn profile.
Of course, transparency does have its downside. In the same venture capital meeting I mentioned earlier, one of the executives brought up my interest in American politics. He suggested we might want to discuss my views at a future meeting. I smiled and, without thinking, let it slip that I’m looking forward to 2016 and that I’d love to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The room went silent, and I could tell instantly that they didn’t share my enthusiasm.
Over all, I’ve found building an online brand to be a great investment in time. It can be disconcerting to be reminded that anyone who’s interested can find out pretty much anything they want about me online. But the positives have outweighed the loss of privacy. In any case, I don’t think any of us can choose not to pay attention to our online brand.