Standing out in a digital world


We’re generally drawn to the familiar, the recognized names and appearances of products we know, trust, and are more likely to buy. Think restaurants, canned goods, clothes, electronics, and even cars.

This is the power of a reputable brand name.

And so it goes with people as well.

In what may seem an Orwellian nightmare for some, our digital presence via social media is an easily accessible open diary for employers, clients, and others to learn more about who we are — often before we’ve met. That’s not necessarily a strike against us until a candid conversation or photo shared between family and friends is seen by someone outside our immediate circle. It’s called “digital dirt” and it’s hardly a new concept — I wrote about it nearly five years ago.

What is new, however, is the idea of reversing digital dirt by making Facebook and Twitter work for us rather than against us through harnessing social media to create a positive image — in effect, a personal brand. Companies have been doing this for years and now individuals increasingly see their online brand as being just as important as a resumé or reference.

Larry Burns, the University of Toledo’s vice president for external affairs, feels strongly enough about this that he helped organize a one-day seminar May 10 at UT to help others. The uHeart Digital Media Conference runs 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in the Student Union on UT’s Main Campus. Registration is $50 and $20 for students. To register, visit uHeartDigitalMedia.com, or contact Amelia Acuna at 419-530-5874 or amelia.acuna@utoledo.edu.

“First impressions many times are lasting and so people need to realize, particularly in the professional venue, every impression someone has about them is about the brand,” Burns said. “How do you want to be perceived as a professional?”

The answer is a three-part process.

“You need to have a brand that needs to be thought out, that needs to have a strategy, and you need to follow that strategy that is consistent in what you want to be,” Burns said. “You need to pay attention to it and at least have a strategy in place and not leave it to luck or by chance. If you have a strategy, you have a very good chance at creating a brand you will be happy with.”

And don’t worry about mixing and matching work and personal. Like most of us, Burns merged both in his digital portfolio.

“I think the hybrid is a good idea,” he said. “I reflect an image that I have a personality and that I’m not just a work person. But I also keep it consistent with what I want people to think about me as a UT employee.”

Let’s face it, for most of us the idea of branding is really about our improving our professional: landing jobs, securing promotions, and attracting clients.

But is there a risk that an individual brand can outclass the company’s brand?

As the former publisher of USA Today who helped guide the publication through its expansion into digital media platforms, Dave Hunke once worried that reporters and columnists would overshadow their publications.

“There was a time when I thought it was going to be a bad thing with the individual bigger than the whole,” said Hunke, who is presenting the conference’s keynote speech. “Now I’ve got to tell you, you can look and see individuals who are so well versed in their topic and so influential and it’s because of the quality of their reporting. They as a brand are one of the most significant aspects of the newspaper where they’re reporting.”

Personal branding isn’t going away either, but will only increase as digital media expands into more facets of our lives. The good news for those who haven’t joined the social media revolution, let alone created an online brand, is it’s not too late to start.

“It’s basically free,” Burns said. “You can’t hurt anybody by just trying.”

Joining Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms also will help keep you current as “the next big thing evolves,” he said. “And God only knows what that will be.”

Contact Kirk Baird: kbaird@theblade.com  or 419-724-6734, or follow him on Twitter @KirkABaird.