You are your brand. I know that that sounds a bit marketing-speaky, but it’s true. If you run a business, people are going to look for you online as well as your business name. I can vouch for that, because I get loads of searches coming through to this blog for the people I feature in my Small Business Chat. Far more of them are looking for the person’s name than for their business name (if it’s different). Today I’m going to talk about my personal methods for maintaining a good and positive online image, with some tips which should be useful for you, too.
These tips mostly relate to social media, but you can extend them to anywhere where people see you, and your business, in operation, such as networking events, trade fairs, etc.
What do you mean by “You are your brand”?
This is particularly important if you run a small business or are a sole trader. However, even if you look at a multinational, the person at the head of the company and the reputation they personally have has an effect on the perception of the company.
Think about Richard Branson. What about Theo Paphitis and Duncan Bannatyne? Remember Gerald Ratner and how he ruined his business with one sentence?
In the same way, when you go out networking, or you do stuff online, and you run a business (or even if you don’t), people are getting an impression of you which extends to the perception they have of your business.
My personal dos and don’ts
This is of course a personal list. Maybe you disagree? I know that I’m ultra-careful about my brand and company reputation, but I’d rather be ultra-careful than too relaxed. Reputations can be destroyed in an instant!
This is not about manipulating your image to sell more of your product or service; it’s about making sure that you’re representing your company in a positive light and making sure you match in your behaviour the message that you want your business to get across.
DO be yourself
It’s no good trying to hide who you are. Yes, if you’re shy, you can project more of an image of self-assurance, but also kindness, respect and care often come with shyness, and they’re good things for your clients to see. Personally, I’m very open and honest, and I try to give something back through charity donations and helping people. Therefore I have made small business loans to celebrate Libro’s anniversary and help out other small businesses with my weekly features, etc. I also keep my blog posts linked to what I do and my own practices – someone mentioned to me just the other day that my posts are very personal and friendly – which is how I hope my business comes across, too.
DO stay true to your morals and ideals
As an addition to this, I try to make sure that what I do with Libro mirrors my own personal morals and ideas. This is why I won’t put ads on my blogs unless it’s a testimonial for someone’s work that I know is good, and why I am very careful about the guest blog posts I publish (I recently turned down a fair amount of money offered to me to mention a blog hosting company on a blog post, because I was asked not to disclose that it was a sponsored post. Not my thing). I have also turned down work through my personal ideals.
DO be human
If you have a personal presence on social media, and even if you only have a business presence, make sure that the person behind the business shows through. This applies especially if you’re sharing your business posts on your personal account. I have a Libro Facebook page (where I make sure you can see photos of me and ask for feedback as well as sharing my blog posts) and a personal page, and I try to make sure I post more personal than business stuff on the personal page. People want to know the person behind the business, and they particularly don’t want the friend they’ve followed to turn into a corporate mouthpiece all of a sudden.
DON’T bombard friends with your business message
It’s very tempting to repost all of your business blog postings, etc. on to your personal Facebook and Twitter streams. It’s even more tempting to shoehorn a mention of your business into every comment you make to your friends. We all know at least one person who does this (I’ve been accused of it myself by one person, but I do try hard to keep the balance), and what does it do? It puts you off buying their goods or service. Sorry, but it does. Do share your business stuff with your friends, but not at the expense of the normal friend stuff!
DON’T moan about your customers
This one is oh-so-tempting, too. Especially if you work alone, sometimes you have to MOAN. Here’s the thing: moan, but don’t do it in public. Really, don’t. If you only follow one of these tips, follow this one. If you moan about a customer, even “just” on your personal Facebook timeline, how many of your friends might have been going to recommend your services to a friend, and might now not be inclined to. It’s unprofessional.
Of course, we do all need to moan, but this is what you do: do it in private. I set up a local homeworkers’ support group and an “Editors’ Rah and Argh” group on Facebook – as private, invitation-only groups. If we want to roar, sob or moan, we do it there, or in an email to a friend, or in a cafe, not in public!
DON’T talk about your customers at all, actually
Not only the moaning, but be careful what you say about your clients in public. I have Non-Disclosure Agreements with some of mine, which means no talking, ever, but even with the others, I do not identify them by name, when talking in public or writing about them in my book. I don’t Tweet to my music journalist clients, outing myself as their transcriber, unless they specifically mention it in public first. I don’t put their comments on my references page and CV before asking first. It’s just good practice.
DON’T let people see the frantic paddling, just the serene swan
Cash flow problems or upset by something? I might mention in the most general terms that I’m feeling a bit stressed, but I usually won’t. Although it’s good to talk things out, if you run a business, you don’t know who is watching. If you would be worried if a customer or prospect saw what you were writing, do it privately – create a filter or a private group on Facebook. If in doubt, don’t talk about it in public.
DO be appropriate
If you manage rock bands and hang out at heavy metal festivals, by all means swear a bit on your public tweets. If you earn your living editing, try not to have spelling mistakes and typos all over your blog (this is really hard to do – I know. Collect a group of friendly people who will let you know privately if such a thing occurs). I lead a pretty quiet life, but I do try not to swear or have inappropriate pictures of me all over social media. Obviously that’s easier the older you are and the less of your adult life has been lived in the full glare of social media, but you can always politely ask people to untag you from that hen party pic or horrendous shot from your younger days. If you explain politely that your business is linked to your name, and you’re worried about affecting it, most people will surely comply with that! You can also untag yourself from Facebook posts and pictures and set up your profile so that you have to approve all tags, if you’re at all worried (thanks to Linda for that tip!)
My golden rule for maintaining a good online reputation
This is my golden rule. I’ve stuck by it ever since I started having an online presence:
Never say anything in public online that you wouldn’t be happy shouting out loud in the middle of Birmingham.
What if your reputation is already less than stellar? I think that’s a post for another day, don’t you?