4 tips to help build your professional brand

Your personal brand must be built by design, otherwise it'll be constructed by default. Here's how to get it right.

In today's digital world, building your personal brand isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. And if you don't craft your personal brand by design, it'll be constructed by default.

"With digital media, the 24/7/365, hyper-connected social media-enabled lifestyle nowadays, having a polished, professional personal brand is absolutely a necessity, not just for employees and job-seekers, but for C-suite executives," says Karen Tiber Leland, founder and president of Sterling Marketing Group and author of The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand.

Personal branding is a critical part of how today's professionals present themselves in the workplace, and it shouldn't be left to others to define that personal brand, Leland says. If you were developing and defining a business brand, you'd want to focus on the mission, purpose and value that brand signifies -- and the same is true for your personal brand, she says.

"If you're not defining your own brand, it's certain others are going to do that for you, so you need to take control of it. Something like 77 percent of people you talk to are going to Google you to find out more information, and you need to make sure your personal brand reflects who you say you are, not who others say you are," Leland says.

Leland uses a brand matrix to identify the four critical areas of personal branding you need to focus on: Reputation management; personal executive presence; content management and thought leadership. In an ideal world, you'd be completely on top of all of these areas at all times; in reality, Leland says, many of her clients are continuously working to improve one or more of these areas at any given time.

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Reputation management

The first area to address is your online reputation. There's an incredible amount of data available to anyone with just a few clicks, so make sure the information out there is accurate and -- to the extent that you can manage -- flattering to you. You always should claim your name, Leland says, regardless of whether or not you plan on creating your own website, and you always should maintain an "authority" site specific to you. This can be a personalized web site or it can be your LinkedIn or other professional networking page.

Stay on top of search engine results, too, Leland says, so that you receive alerts every time you're mentioned or quoted.

"Set a Google alert about yourself so you can keep track of what's being said about you, and of course, make sure your social media presence is showing your best, most polished and professional self," Leland says.

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Personal executive presence

This aspect of personal branding is less tangible, but just as important. Aligning your purpose, mission and values with your personal brand means first identifying what your purpose, mission and values are and how you can exemplify those in your daily life, says Mel Carson, founder of Delightful Communications and a digital strategy consultant, keynote public speaker, personal branding expert and author.

"When we're working with clients to build a personal brand, we ask a lot of questions around what their purpose is. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What drives you to pursue this field, this role, this industry, beyond the paycheck?" Carson says. This also ties into strategic updates of your social media profiles to reflect that presence, he says.

"Personal executive presence is about having a clear vision and being able to communicate that vision; inspire and motivate others toward that same vision. It's about making sure your company's a great place to work and focusing on global success, and then making all these things known to the world at large," Leland says.

[ Related story: How to build a strong employee referral culture ]

Content management

Once you have those kinds of insights, you need to share them with the public to further build on your personal brand. This is how thought leadership and credibility starts, Leland says.

"This can take the form of whatever medium you decide is the best way to get your thoughts and opinions out there. You could speak at industry conferences, write a blog, be quoted in magazine articles, write a book, record a video -- you decide," Leland says. But you must also manage the content you create to make sure it's getting plenty of visibility to positively impact your personal brand.

"You must make sure your content is searchable, accessible, discoverable and sharable across various mediums, or you won't get the same impact. We focus on strategic, SEO-based headlines and keywords that will increase exposure. And make sure to look at your 'competition,' too, for ideas and ways to position yourself," Carson says.

Much like businesses do competitive research, so, too, must professionals, Carson says. Do regular searches on job sites, like LinkedIn and search engines to see how others with your same experience, role or aspirations are positioning themselves to see what's successful and what isn't, he says.

Thought leadership

Finally, establish yourself as a thought leader in whatever area you choose. This requires planning, strategy and execution; first to decide what space you want to "own," and how best to reach others within that space, Leland says.

"Be accessible as a source to the media. Make sure you're actively participating on social media in forums, Twitter chats, LinkedIn posts and that sort of thing. Be visible on your web site. Sign up for speaking engagements, go to conferences, publicly take a stand on issues that affect your industry, your company and the areas you're interested in," Leland says.

Personal branding isn't about exaggerating or showing off, Carson adds, it's about making sure that your best, most polished and professional self is accurately reflected in the public sphere.

"This is about making the best impression possible to the most amount of people you can, before you even meet, before you interview, before you interact at all. This is something everyone needs to do," Carson says.

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