Category: Communication (Page 1 of 6)

What LinkedIn is Not

Photo By: Abigail Frances

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced some frustration. When I’ve logged into LinkedIn to endorse friends for their talents, update a few things, and generally keep informed of things happening in my industry, I’ve also had to encounter those who weren’t using the network the way they should. This happens on all social networks, but, I feel strongly enough about this to post something.

LinkedIn, in my opinion, is not the place to:

  • Start introductions with phrases like, “Hey, nice profile pic.”
  • Spam the hell out of your services.
  • Post long winded rants about your personal life.

Hey, I get it. Like Facebook, LinkedIn is to some degree about creeping, but don’t be a for real creeper , please? This isn’t a dating site. I’d really like it if wouldn’t use it as such.

Please, don't be a creeper on LinkedIn.

I repeat: Please, don’t be a creeper on LinkedIn.

I also understand that you want to promote yourself. That’s fine too – but use the 12:1 ratio or similar.

linkedin-is-livejournal-essentially

As for personal stuff, leave it somewhere else.  Be mindful that what you post, whether on LinkedIn or any other network, can and will be seen.  Better yet, if you’re upset about something, pick up the phone and talk to a friend. Go for a walk to blow off some steam. You’re always on and how you conduct yourself is a reflection of who you are to the world.

If I know you, have met you in person or on social media, or have a connection in common, fine, I’ll add you to my network. If I don’t, don’t take it personally. I just don’t know who you are in any capacity yet – and I’m not about to respond favorably to any sort of baiting of flirtation.

For the sweet, sweet love of personal branding, please (oh, pretty please) at least try to use LinkedIn in the way that it was designed.

 

It’s BlogCon Kick Off Party Time!

NEPA BlogCon Kick Off Party

Summertime is a pretty great season in NEPA. There are festivals pretty much every weekend, county fairs, and of course, nice weather!

But one of the things I love about summer is the start of what I like to think of as BlogCon season.

Last year, three amazing women and I planned NEPA’s first blogging and social media conference, NEPA BlogCon. We brought together more than 120 bloggers, tech types, students, and professionals to connect with and learn from each other in an all-day event that included a keynote by Gala Darling and presentations from Kris Jones, Shenee Howard, and many more talented pros.

We started the journey in the spring of 2012, hatching a plan to bring NEPA out of the technological dark ages (we hope it’s working!). After nights of Google Hangouts and plenty of email, we built a brand, started promoting, and organized a Launch Party for our website at The River Grille. After that, it was a summer of bloggy goodness.  It was a blast – and now, we’re returning to the River Grille to do it all again.

Tonight at 6:00 p.m., the Fearsome Foursome (a.k.a. Karla Porter, Michelle Hryvnak-Davies, Leslie Stewart, and I) will be hosting the NEPA BlogCon 2013 Kick Off Party to kickstart BlogCon season with aplomb. We’ll be hosting giveaways, mixing and mingling with all of you fabulous folks, and offering up free appetizers, thanks to our awesome party sponsor and location, The River Grille.

I’d love for you to come out and say “hello!” to us tonight and see what we’re all about. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of the work we’ve accomplished so far. There’s plenty to do in preparation for the 2013 NEPA Blog Con (psst…it’s October 5 at LCCC Conference Center), but we can’t wait to hear your ideas tonight to make this event even better. So, stop in, enjoy the FREE appetizers, and meet us.

I’ll be so happy you did!

Building The Brand: LinkedIn

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

So, when I sat down to write this post on building a personal brand using LinkedIn, I had a few false starts. Over the course of the past few months, LinkedIn has played a pretty big part of my activities online, so I needed to find my focus before writing about how I actually utilize this network. First, it started with someone sending me information about a job that I should apply for. Then, a friend asked me about how to beef up her profile and another asked for help on using the LinkedIn advertising network. Finally, last week, I got a promotion at work. Needless to say, my profile needed to be spruced up.

As for what to do with your LinkedIn profile, well, therein lies the challenge. If you’re already active on Facebook and Twitter, you might not want to jump right in to being active on another network. But if you’re job searching and want an opportunity to get some attention, you should absolutely be a presence on LinkedIn. For me, LinkedIn is where I get my industry questions answered. It’s also a place for me to establish a bit of credibility because really, at the end of the day, that’s what your online reputation is all about.

So, let’s dive into the three main parts of LinkedIn that I think are critical to personal branding: your profile, LinkedIn Answers, and LinkedIn Groups.

The first thing that you should know about LinkedIn is that it allows for you to announce your skills to the world, as well as the network you’ve built on there. Skills such as public speaking, writing, and marketing are just a few of the things you can emphasize when you put together your LinkedIn profile and luckily, this is a network that is very flexible. With tons of apps to be added to your profile, searchable skill sets, a resume-like setup, and the option for people to recommend you with testimonials, LinkedIn is a job searcher and networker’s best friend.  This is where professionals find each other. 

So, if you:

  • Are looking for a job,
  • Want to expand a skill set,
  • Need to build up your network,
  • Just graduated and need to start building a personal brand,
  • Want to improve your online visibility and reputation,
  • Want to establish yourself as an industry expert,
LinkedIn is the place to be.

LinkedIn Answers

One of my absolute favorite features of LinkedIn is the answers community. It’s sort of like Yahoo! Answers, only without the teenage drama. Most of the questions are industry or professional base, so in a way, you get to use this feature to pick the brains of people in the business without having to pay for a consulting fee. In the past, I’ve asked questions about copywriting, public relations pitching, and what books I should be reading outside of school, but really, you could ask about anything. If you have a question about what you should be doing or how to handle a professional or work-related issue, then this is a wonderful and free resource to consult. Plus, it’s a great way to expand your network.

When you participate in the LinkedIn Answers, you have the option to not just ask questions – you can answer them too. Answering questions and connecting with other professionals in this community is a great way to expand your personal network and show off your expertise. If someone sees that you’re a frequent presence in the Answers, they may come to know you as an expert in a particular subject or a resource in another. If they see you asking lots of questions, they may think that you’re someone who is always learning and inquisitive – two skills that can be a great match for a variety of positions. I mean, there’s no way to really tell how you’ll be perceived, but one thing is for sure: activity on LinkedIn will keep you at the forefront of your network’s minds and if you’re looking for a job, being on someone’s mind is a good thing.

Also, people want to connect with other knowledgeable people in their industry. When you show that you’re knowledgeable, people notice and may seek you out to connect with you to pick your brain, offer you a job, or just say, “hello.” All good things.

My Profile

Now, when it comes to your LinkedIn profile, this is where the personal branding business comes in. If you look at my LinkedIn page, you’ll see that I’ve filled it out almost in its entirety. Taking advantage of the space it offers is a good thing for me, since it gives you a much more well-rounded and complete picture of someone. There’s only so much a resume can tell you. LinkedIn lets you be creative and more importantly, expand upon those resume items that you usually note in your online profiles: position name, company, dates worked.

As for best practices, here are my biggest takeaways:

  • Underneath your name, in the headline, that’s reputation gold. Most LinkedIn users will notice your headline, name, and photo in quick succession and those are the things they remember (in my ultimate geekyness, I actually read a study about this a few weeks ago). So, for that headline, make it count. Most people go with their current job title, but you can also get creative with it.
  • In your profile, I think it’s also good to list some of your responsibilities and experiences to go along with your job, just like you would a resume. Maybe put 3-5 or so points below each position held, detailing what you did as well as any significant successes (e.g. Aided in coordinating Project X; grew budget by 50%, etc.).  This gives dimension to the jobs you’ve listed and can be a great way to emphasize what you can do.
  • Don’t forget about the Skills section. Add in specific skills, like Microsoft Word, as well as more “abstract” skills, like marketing, communication, project management, organization, public speaking, etc. These are things that people look at and say, “Hey, this is someone that could really fit well with the organization.”
  • Choose a professional picture. For the love of God, this is not Facebook. A simple head shot where you can clearly make out that it’s you will do. Aside from the headline and your name, this is one of the most heavily viewed areas of your LinkedIn profile.
  • Beef up your additional information too. Don’t be afraid to share a wide array of interests. If you love cake decorating, say so! Really into yoga? Note it! Again, this is something that people can connect with you over. Plus, it gives a much more “human” side to your professional achievements.
  • Link to your Facebook, Twitter, website, etc. If content is part of what you do,  having touch points for people to find it is important.

You can also play around with different LinkedIn add-ons, like WordPress, SlideShare, Amazon Book List, etc. to add dimension as well as portfolio material. Anything that you can share to show another user who you are and how you’d fit in their network makes a difference.

Using the SlideShare LinkedIn app, I’ve added a copy of my portfolio. Granted, my portfolio is always a work in progress, but this was a great way for me to show a little bit more about the work I’ve done without cluttering up the page. My portfolio is just your basic PowerPoint presentation. I’ll get into my portfolio in more detail in another post, but the goal is to convey examples of some of my best work in a variety of media. That media option is HUGE when  you’re job searching because it eliminates that extra step for people finding your work. You put everything you want right in front of them. Convenience is a powerful thing.

Finally, get some recommendations.  People may give these to you without asking, but don’t be afraid to ask for them if you need them. You’ll want to reach out to your connections and try to get recommendations for your work personally, academically, and professionally. There’s a reason that word of mouth is so powerful. Recommendations make you more than a resume – they make you a person. They establish trust. They give a feel for what you’re like.

LinkedIn Groups

I love the groups feature. Just like Facebook Groups or Facebook Business Pages, LinkedIn groups is a place where you can connect with others, expand your network, and again, show off your industry expertise. If LinkedIn Answers is like the library, then LinkedIn Groups is like that coffee shop you really like. Conversation is the name of the game in Groups, so if you want to have some more in-depth discussion on a particular industry issue or get some thoughts or feedback on some of your recent work, a Group may be the place to do it.

Most groups are divided into categories based on geographic location, industry, interest, professional society, etc. There is no shortage of opportunity for you to connect over something you have in common with others. Groups (as well as Answers and your profile) can sometimes lead to job offers or introductions to new people. They can also result in real-life connections, speaking invitations, collaborative projects…the list really goes on and on.

I’m sometimes bad about participating in groups. I would say about 80 to 90 percent of the time, I’m a lurker. I’m observing the conversations taking place. I should really chime in more, but sometimes, it’s just nice to listen.

As for developing your LinkedIn presence, I could write about how I manage my page, how I expand my network, etc. But I’ll save those topics for other posts in the future. These are really the three core features that I feel are most important if you’re just getting started with LinkedIn or want to start making something of your page.

Thoughts? Feedback? Discussion is welcomed!

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My Favorite Ads of 2011

When I was an undergrad, one of my favorite things to do was critique ads in my classes. Usually a solid sampling of good, bad, and ugly, the ads we critiqued were great examples of what to do and what not to do in advertising. When I taught an introductory advertising class last spring, critiquing ads was a big part of what we did in class. I wanted students to have the same experience I did because the way I look at it, you learn a lot when you actually engage with something and think about it beyond the point of memorization. So many students just memorize things to get by the exam. I’d like to think that it’s more effective to actually THINK about something when it comes to learning, but hey, that’s my opinion.

So, when I was sitting down at Brent’s parents’ house in Vermont thinking about what to write, I got struck with a good idea. Well, actually, Brent’s Dad was sort of where this one came from. He was talking about how there are so many terrible commercials but every now and then, one or two come along and are really, really good. The one from 2011 that came to mind for both of us was the Volkswagen Darth Vader ad that aired during last year’s Super Bowl. If I had to pick the best ad of 2011, that would be the one. And I’m not alone on that one.

After deciding on my favorite ad of the year, I started thinking about some of the others I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months. BAM! There was my post idea. Here are my favorite ads of 2011 as well as a few thoughts on each.

Created by Deutsch Los Angeles and entitled, “The Force” this ad was by far the best of the bunch for the year. What I loved most about the ad was the sense of fun. Appealing to a wide demographic with two of everyone’s favorite things, Star Wars and kids, this spot told a story that simple and charming. You remember what the ad was for (the VW was clearly featured) and that warm, happy feeling you got while watching it stuck with you. When it all comes down to it, the best ads are those that tell stories. This was a story I enjoyed being told.

Plus, the stats on it are pretty sweet. Adweek reports that the spot had 44 million views on YouTube, a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide, and more than $100 million in earned media. Wowzers.

Wieden + Kennedy’s “Born of Fire” ad for Chrysler was one of those ads that didn’t strike me as good at first. The first time I saw it during the Super Bowl, I thought it was a little overdramatic. But after seeing it a second time, I saw it for what it was: one of the best ads of the year.

This ad won the 2011 Emmy Award for best commercial and as Adweek noted, this was the “year’s toughest, proudest, most defiant advertisement.” Imported from Detroit was the tagline, blending together the two core concepts the ad wanted to convey: luxury and American heritage. It’s dramatic, yes, but not in a way that’s overdone. It comes in with a swagger and you can’t help but be impressed.

When Google came out with it’s “Parisian Love” ad for the 2010 Super Bowl, I saw one of my favorite ads of all time. I’m a sucker for sentimentality, but this was an ad that wasn’t overly sweet and sappy. It was creative and understated, telling a story of a romance through screen shots of Google searches. This was part of the Search Stories campaign (one of my favorite campaigns of all time) and was really, really badass – especially for someone who works in search.

In 2011, Google hit another one out of the park with “Dear Sophie”, a collaborative piece between Google Creative Lab and Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York. This ad showed a young father using Google tools to fill a digital scrapbook with keepsakes of his young daugher, which he wants to share with her someday. It’s a very human ad and it’s easy to get choked up.

Okay, okay. This is technically an ad from 2010, but I love the Old Spice guy and his integrated marketing campaign. Speaking of integrated marketing, how ’bout those Muppets?! The Muppets had one of the finest marketing campaigns I’ve seen all year, and I’m not the only one who thinks so:

When I heard that they were making another Muppet movie, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. For one thing, I was really disappointed with some of the Muppet movies they put out in the 1990’s. My mind was changed when I started seeing this campaign. Viral YouTube videos, media appearances, Google+ Hangouts, a powerhouse Facebook page, sweet merchandise and The Green Album? THIS was The Muppets for my generation and lately, I’ve seen a lot of crappy campaigns targeted right at my age group. This was a campaign that worked because it was grown up, not overly complicated, and best of all, fun! It reminded me of why we fell in love with The Muppets in the first place.

You know that episode of Mad Men where Don talks about nostalgia while pitching Kodak? Well, he’s right. When we look at things like Star Wars, The Muppets, digital scrapbooks, and our scrappy histories in commercials, we’re connecting with parts of our past – of our selves – that we miss. And that, in my opinion, makes a good ad.

Which ad from 2011 was your favorite?

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Building My Brand: Twitter

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Image via Wikipedia

I have two Twitter accounts. @mandyboyle is my personal/professional account. @Cactus_Mandy is my Solid Cactus Twitter account.

On @mandyboyle, I’ll post personal updates, conversational tweets, photos, blog post links, and references to material that I find interesting. Subject covered can rage from recipes and comics to public relations and marketing. It’s a lot like my blog: a patchwork of topics. This account has allowed for me to connect and build upon my relationships with other NEPA bloggers, friends, colleagues, and industry professionals.

On @Cactus_Mandy, it’s mostly SEO and internet marketing tweets. My @Cactus_Mandy account is used for work, so this is an account that has connected me with e-commerce merchants, colleagues in the industry, and current SC clients. I also don’t update this as much, so from a branding perspective, this isn’t always the best reflection of me.

For the sake of this post, we’ll take a closer look at @mandyboyle since it’s the one that I use the most. I usually update this a few times a day, sometimes missing a day and not posting very much on the weekends. I like to unplug somewhat on the weekend, so if I use Twitter, it’s usually from my phone or late in the evening when I have some down time.

Being Human

There’s no magic number of tweets to send per day. Some people have built a successful personal brand on tweeting 100 times per day. Others get the same impact from tweeting 19 times per day. In my case, I only post when I feel like I have something to share – even if it’s just what I ate for lunch today. Tara Hunt wrote an AWESOME post about minding the gap between business and personal and I have to agree with her. Seemingly boring posts can actually reveal a lot about ourselves, so keep that in mind the next time you’re following or making an update. What you eat, what movie you saw, or where you just were can give you an opportunity to connect with someone over a common interest just as much as a blog post you wrote. When I tell you about where I was, what I ate, or what I wore, I’m letting you know that I’m human. I’m not just a blog post tweeting machine who only cares about marketing and SEO. I also like Star Wars. And cooking.

Twitter in a Crisis

Subject matter in tweets is important, so I always make sure to proof a post before update. Like I said in my previous post, all it takes is a few seconds to ruin a reputation. There are countless case studies and examples of what not to tweet about. Remember Kenneth Cole and the Cairo tweet? Yeah, not good. But then again, there’s also the case of the American Red Cross and #gettngslizzerd. I guess the biggest take away from comparing these two cases is to consider what you post and if you make a mistake, deal with it in a way that doesn’t ruin your rep. Sometimes, that means an apology. Other times, it means laughing something off and just moving on. You’ll have to use your judgement in those cases.

On Content

Content is also a big part of personal branding on Twitter, so I try to post a variety of things. Most of my updates are links to things I find interesting, but I also offer up some thoughts here and there too. I’m from Northeastern Pennsylvania so often times, you’ll notice that I’m tweeting about a local event I’m attending or looking forward to. Here are some of my thoughts on tweeting topics:

  • If you build your personal brand around a business, be transparent. Show off your good work and let people know what you do, but don’t turn your stream into an endless plug.
  • If you’re local, tweet about local events. It gives you a way to connect with people nearby, which can be just as cool as connecting with people who live in another part of the world.
  • Don’t be annoying – and don’t try to constantly sell people crap. Just doesn’t work.
  • Be mindful of your reputation. Just like Facebook, Twitter can be indexed by search engines and found by employers. And yes, Twitter can get you fired.
  • Use hashtags. It’s a great way to start or participate in larger scale conversations. Plus, it’s fun to be part of the crowd from time to time.

The most important thing to remember about content is to be true to who you are. If you find something interesting, share it. If you don’t, don’t. It’s really that simple. By only sharing what you find valuable, you’re using social media the right way. There are far too many people out there who just RT a post for the sake of joining the crowd without ever bothering to read it.

Conversations Make It

Speaking of crowds, Twitter isn’t about the number of followers you have. It’s more so about the conversations you can have with people. Chris Brogan recently wrote about how he went back to zero after trying to keep up with thousands of people. It’s difficult. No, it’s impossible. There is no way for you to be able to catch every tweet and respond to every message when you’re working with a crowd that large. Instead, my advice is to follow people you feel you can connect with or get value from. Right now, I’m pretty comfortable with the amount of people I follow. I have lists that make it easy for me to sort through the din and I can jump into streams of conversation whenever I feel like it. That’s the really fun part.

Conversations are what makes Twitter for me. I’ve been able to get feedback, ask questions, have a few laughs, and even meet people. Like any other social network, people make it truly worthwhile. It’s not about how many times you update, what you post about, or how cool your background looks. It’s about the people that you get to share and interact with.

10 Twitter Confessions

    1. I’ve been on Twitter since 2008. Originally, my username was @mlb217, which wasn’t a great branding move for me. After people getting confused about who I was and thinking I was a baseball fan, I switched over to my name instead. Since that switch, it’s been easier for people to find me and trust that I’m a real person. Most spammers tend to use random numbers and letters in their usernames so at first glance, my original approach looked like spam. I’m glad I switched.
    2. My user picture is an actual picture of me. I’ve found that in my travels across Twitter, I can spot a spam account based on the stock photo – or lack of any photo for that matter. Putting a real picture up can build some trust. Plus, people want to know what you look like.
    3. I’ve made about 5,098 tweets since starting my account. It’s a lot, but there are times when I wish I would have made more. But I have to remember that social media is very instantaneous and that there will always be more opportunities to share.
    4. I have about 1,900 followers. Most of these people have never met me in real life. A fair chunk is probably spam, but hey, that’s unavoidable. I follow most of these people back because they’ve connected with me for a reason. They either know me personally, have something in common with me, or can offer me value. As for etiquette on following, it’s all up for negotiation. Some people say follow everyone, other say follow only people you know. I follow companies as well as individuals. I say it’s pretty much the same thing as your Facebook: follow what you find interesting. 
    5. My bio is pretty short and sweet: “SEO Manager for @solidcactus. Freelance Writer. Marywood Grad. Cupcake enthusiast. Resident Nice Girl. In Love with Communicating. From NEPA.” I have a really hard time writing about myself. I think bios are probably the most difficult things to write, so if you have any tips or feedback for me, I’d love to hear it! As for what to do with your Twitter bio, fill it out with something. It’s essentially your elevator pitch for any possible connection.
    6. I have a personalized background. You can get fancy with something branded or  you can keep it simple. The key thing to remember is that your background says something about your personality.
    7. I participate in Twitter chats from time to time, namely, the #PRStudChat. It’s a public relations chat that connects students, professors, and industry professionals. If you’re new to Twitter and are looking to build some new connections, Twitter chats can be a great way to do that. Plus, it’s an awesome way to show that you know your stuff, which connects directly back to your personal brand.
    8. I don’t pay a lot of attention to Klout. I’ve seen Klout, Kred, and other social currency platforms debated back and forth. In my mind, I think it’s unfair and a little subjective to assign someone a number that represents how influential they are. I think if you know your community, you should be able to tell that right off the bat. Plus, numbers like these can always be incorrect or changed. Why should a number indicate whether or not someone is worthy to connect with? That, to me, isn’t what Twitter should be about.
    9. I use URL shorteners when I post links. It makes my posts RT-friendly and easier to digest. I’d recommend bit.ly or t.co, but Hootsuite’s built-in shorteners (ow.ly and ht.ly) are great too, especially if you want analytics to go along with your shortened links.
    10. If someone says they’re a guru, expert, maven, or otherwise, I probably won’t follow him or her. In my experience, 99% of those people aren’t actually experts – they just like to think they are. Plus, nobody likes it when you’re social media douchebag.

Twitter Takeaways:

  • Be human.
  • Be transparent.
  • Tweet when you have something to say – not just for the sake of tweeting.
  • Don’t be spammy.
  • Proof your posts before you hit update.
  • Made a mistake? Apologize and laugh it off if you can. The point is to keep moving forward and do right by your followers.
  • Follow what you find interesting.
  • Participate in the conversation.
  • People make it all worthwhile.

 

Additional Reading

Personal branding on Twitter is a big deal and there are other bloggers and writers who have covered the subject much better than I ever could. Here are some great posts with additional info:

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Building My Brand: Facebook

I have your basic Facebook personal profile, like most people. On here, you’ll find my interests, favorite quotes, connections, links to my website, a short bio…basically the essentials for a social media page.

Facebook wasn’t my first social network. Before I went to college, I had a Myspace page and a LiveJournal account. At the time, it’s where all my friends were and I wanted to be part of that. I, like every other teenager, slathered on the angst and went to town with emoticons, surveys, and quiz results. It was a messy time, but looking back on it now, it was my first foray into personal branding.

I picked usernames that hid my identity but still “said” something about my personality. They were usually similar to my AIM screennames and could best be described as words mashed together. I wasn’t much of a numbers person, so I left off the customary digits at the end of my name. The way I looked at it, everyone else was using numbers and I wanted to be different. I kept it simple but lofty. Oh yes, I was quite the lofty teen. All those poetry books…

When it came to content, I was a sparse publisher. I had friends who would post to their online journals or Myspace pages daily. I was more of a weekly or whenever I would remember sort of person. As time went on, pages were abandoned and I became bored. The things I had created were basically out there in the ether and based on my comments and page hits, no one was reading.

I moved into Facebook at the start of my freshman year at Marywood. Some of my classmates talked about Facebook, saying it was a better alternative to Myspace because it was only for college students. Fewer creepers and less spam. Sounded good to me.

I signed up for an account and started adding friends. I filled out a pretty thorough bio and added a user picture. As time went on, I’d join groups, create events, and share things with my friends and professors. By this time, I had learned that Facebook was an awesome way to network and communicate with other students, teachers, community leaders, industry professionals, and yes, businesses.

I majored in Advertising & Public Relations in college, so I was no stranger to discussing social media in the classroom. Most of the time, we looked at Facebook through a lens of it being a communications tool. How did it perform in a crisis? Which brands used it well? Which ones didn’t? Who held the copyright for the photos posted? How did creativity and digital publishing come into play?

As I started using Facebook regularly, I became much more conscious of the things I posted. Maybe it was because I spent time talking about it in my classes and how my Facebook page would impact me getting a job or internship. I spent time looking at my profile, finding areas that could be tightened up to sound more interesting, or at least make me sound more interesting. I began to transition from strictly personal to more professional updates. Around this time of transition, I also started working in internet marketing. That’s when my eyes got opened.

Working with client pages gave me awesome experience in social media. I got to update statuses, post photos, and best of all, watch how those updates affected web traffic, leads generated, or conversions (TRANSLATION: YOUR ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES). It was pretty awesome for a geeky chick like me.

This experience in social media for business equipped me with a lot of tools to use when it came time to start developing my own personal brand more. As I was given more opportunity to showcase my skills and experiement with new communications tactics, I saw a need to become more noticeable. I meshed together what I learned in the classroom about public relations with what I was doing at work in the social media sphere. As for what popped out? Well, that’s what we’re discussing. Trust me. I can go on about this for days.

But to keep things simple, let’s just dive into the biggest part of my Facebook brand: my profile page.

My Facebook Profile

If you look at my Facebook profile, you’ll notice I’ve done a few things to enhance my visibility and at the same time, paint myself in the best light. We all want to look our best. It’s just the way we are. Anyways, when you look at my profile, you’ll notice some of the following things (and lessons for personal branding):

  • My Photos:Yes, I have embarrassing photos of me on Facebook. I’ve been photographed in scenes that are less than flattering, but not so much that I have to worry about my professional reputation or career. Most everyone understands that people get caught in unflattering positions from time to time. We’re human. We look like complete idiots on occasion – but that’s okay. However, there’s a fine line.A few posts back, I wrote about social media following you well after you’ve posted. When it comes to the photos, there’s definitely an argument there for keeping things clean. Teachers in particular are faced with harsh scrutiny over the kinds of pictures posted on their pages. We’ve seen photos lead to lost jobs.My perspective on photos is to keep things professional, but still show some personality.If you are covered in vomit and look like a hot mess, don’t post it. If you’re doing something illegal or if you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, don’t post it. If you’re scantly clad doing a keg stand, don’t post it. If you’re marveling at your physique in an Anthony Weiner-esque moment, you probably shouldn’t post it. Unless you want a scandal on your hands, of course.
  • My Info: I give links to my website and list my interests, as well as my relationship status, schooling, employment, and a few other tidbits. It’s basic information that serves as my elevator pitch. Anyone who looks at my info tab can get a pretty good overview of who I am and what I may know about.So, when it comes to your info tab, say something. Anything. It drives me crazy when people leave all bio information blank. We, as human beings, thirst for more information. The more you provide, the more we’re likely to consume. So, when it comes to your personal brand, be aware that your bio is one of the first forms of information consumption, next to your photos. Take the time to put something together that’s worthwhile or in the very least, put a link to your website so people can learn more about you.
  • My Links: I give links to my other social media profiles, my work, and my website because it’s good cross promotion. I get a fair bit of traffic from Facebook, so something is telling me that it works. If you have an online presence on other sites or have good work to share, post a link – but do so in moderation. I’ve followed marketers and marketing agencies that just throw craptons of links at me. I hate it. I know all of their other connections hate it too. So don’t be that guy. Post links to your stuff and give yourself a shameless plug every once in a while – but don’t make it a habit.
  • My Status Updates:I tend to update a few times per week. When I was in college, I updated daily. No, several times per day. Now that I’m in the 9-5 world, I have less time to update my Facebook. Instead, I update other people’s Facebook pages for a living…hehehe…Back to status updates: keeping your Facebook page updated is a great way to demonstrate your humanity. The things you post can relate back to your expertise, your knowledge, your interests, or even what you’re doing that day. All posts are a gateway to connection and making an impression. If you want to brand yourself a certain way, think about posts that go along with the image you’re trying to promote.Also, be helpful. I’ve built my personal brand around being a helpful person, so you’ll usually find me answering questions, posting resources, or giving feedback when asked. I’ve seen the rewards of being helpful come in a variety of forms. Give it a try. In the meantime, focus on posting updates that reflect YOU. If you’re a writer, post a link to your latest blog post. If you’re an artist, post a photo of your latest work. If you’re a marketer, share a tip. There are plenty of ways for you to demonstrate who YOU are.
  • My Contact Information: This is where personal privacy and preference come in. You’ll have to use your judgement, but for me, I only give some social media networks and an email address to contact me. I don’t want to give other information because, well, it’s just too personal. From a branding perspective, I think giving an email address or an alternate social media profile should suffice. There should be one alternate way to contact you listed besides Facebook.
  • My Likes and Interests:My likes are pretty diverse. You’ll find that I like musical theater and blogging. But I also like Blair Candy. The brands I’ve chosen to like on Facebook are ones that I’m connected with in one way or another. Sometimes it’s a client that I’ve worked with at SC. Other times, it’s a brand I’ve purchased and was pleased with.  Like it or not, people make assumptions and judgements based on the brands you like.People who like Apple products are a great example. Apple has found a way to make their products appear cooler than all others on the planet, and because of that fact, they have troops of brand loyalists spreading iGospel. Anyways, your likes say a lot about you, so consider them when you’re building up your Facebook presence. Seeing that someone “likes” a page can be a great segue into discussion and interaction.
  • My Friends: My great-grandmother use to tell me, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are.” A phrase like that sticks with you, so when it comes to my Facebook page, I’m conscious of who I connect with. If you have a friend who keeps posting things on your wall that make upset, you don’t have to be connected with that person. If you have a Facebook friend who thinks it’s funny to tag you in an obscene photo, well, have your 15 seconds of laughter and then deal with it appropriately. The friends you surround you on Facebook are just as important to your online reputation as you are. Trust me – people notice those posting around them.
This is what works for me in terms of my profile. What’s been working for you?

Why I Keep My Page PG-13

The thing about my Facebook page is that I’m connected with a variety of people. Family members. Friends. Classmates. Clients. Co-workers. Industry professionals. Friends of friends. These are people who all hold a stake in my online and offline reputation, which I think most people fail to realize. Everything you put out there on Facebook is there. It will be seen and in some cases, it will be indexed on Google. I tend to keep things light on my Facebook page and always make sure to reread what I post. Some statuses are better left unposted.

Some people may think I’m weak of opinion because I censor my comments. I do use slang and occasional profanity, but for the most part, my Facebook is PG-13. That works for me. Some people build a brand around saying whatever is on their minds, like Redhead Writing. Other people choose to stay pretty vanilla. Personal branding is all about what works for you.

When I do express my opinion, I provide an argument to back it up. When I post about things that are controversial, I make sure that I’m passionate about it first. I’d rather see my Facebook connections disagree with me over something I’m passionate about then start up a personal branding mess with a subject I’m indifferent about.

A solid reputation takes years to build and only seconds to destroy. I wouldn’t want to throw something like that away because I couldn’t control hitting the update button.

Personal Branding Takeaways

I know I just dumped a lot on Facebook and personal branding in this post (and rambled), but the key takeaways you should remember are:

  • Be careful with what you post. Every photo, status update, comment, and interaction with your connections is a direct reflection of who you are. Make sure you’re sending the right message about yourself.
  • Take time to fill out your Facebook page. Give us a picture of who you are by providing us, your connections, with information. You don’t have to give your life story, but at least write down a sentence or two about who you are.
  • Actively network. Facebook is a social network –  so get social! Most Facebook users are lurkers, using the network to check in on old classmates and ex-boyfriends. Instead, maybe make a comment or two. Wish someone a “Happy Birthday!” Like the page of your favorite TV show. You get the most out of Facebook when you actually participate.
This may have been quite the rambling post, but I’d love to get your take. What’s your experience when it comes to building your online reputation and brand with Facebook?
P.S. – You can see (and connect with) my Facebook page in action here: http://www.facebook.com/mandy.boyle
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How I Build My Personal Brand

Research on Iran. by Negar Mottahedeh Social M...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about personal branding, but it seems like now is the perfect time to do so. After completing the #Trust30 Challenge and writing a few reflective posts, I’m ready to get back into marketing, social media, and branding. It’s what I know best and feel most passionate about.

In previous posts and in some of my guest posts, you may have read about ways to strengthen your presence on LinkedIn, blog successfully, or utilize social media tools like Facebook to grow your brand, either as an individual or an organization. In this next series of posts, I’m going to share a behind the scenes look at what I use to grow my own personal brand, both online and offline.

Here’s what you can expect to hear from me:

  • Why I keep things PG-13 on Facebook
  • What social network I’m still exploring
  • Why I have two Twitter accounts
  • What’s in my portfolio
  • How I pay it forward
  • How I was a guest poster even before I got into blogging
I’m not a celebrity in social media by any means. What I’m writing about isn’t gospel, but it’s what’s working for me right now. I’m just sharing my perspective. Other opinions and points of view are welcome!
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Starting a Digital Writing Support Group

I got out of bed to write this post. Let’s hope it’s a good one :)

Two weeks ago, I started rereading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. For those of you who might not know about her, Gretchen is the kind of person who makes you smile. Although I’m not nearly as organized as her, I can appreciate what she has to say in relation to happiness. Her best-selling book, The Happiness Project, details a year of happiness. Not the Eat, Pray, Love kind of happiness where you run off to an island paradise and have too much sex. The Happiness Project was a quiet but impactful year that was spent at home, in the environment where most of your happiness is found anyway. When I read it the first time, I loved it. I lent the book to friends. I wrote about it. But I needed a few reminders about happiness, so picking up her book was a balm.

A few minutes ago, I was in chapter 3: Aim Higher. This is the part of the project where Gretchen started her blog and resolved to work smarter. As I read over her start of a writing group, I had a thought. Maybe I should have something like this.

God knows that I could be more organized and having accountability to keep me blogging is a damn good idea. Words tend to run dry for me when I’ve spent a day working on freelance projects plus my day job, leaving little time for me to write for myself. I make too many excuses. I send myself too many email reminders but forget to act on them. It’s a cycle of suck.

Accountability as a writer is key. There aren’t many bloggers that I know of who can put a crap ton of content out there, stop, and then expect the blog to still be just as popular. Alright, there are a few, but I know I’m not one of them…yet. NEPA Blogs is planning on doing meetings locally, but with my schedule right now, it’s difficult to make them. Maybe I can set up something on the interwebz, independent of location and a bit more free with scheduling.

Anyone interested in starting a digital writing support group? The classified ad would go as such.

 

BLOGGERS & WRITERS WANTED

(say you’re a guru and you can keep walkin’, tiger)

20-something blogger seeking fellow writers for mutual accountability.

Friendly discussion, ideas, and brainstorming will abound. Group bitching likely.

Supportive environment for all bloggers, all subjects. Flexible scheduling.

Meetings monthly or bi-weekly on that screen you’re sitting in front of.

Interested parties: leave a comment.

 

Seriously. Leave a comment.

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Is Ripoff Report Banned from Google?

UPDATE: Search Engine Land is reporting that Ripoff Report was not banned from the Google index. A Google spokesperson says the site is not banned, but was removed after Google received a request to do so via Google Webmaster Tools. There’s now some speculation on the reasons why, but either way, it’s been interesting watching this unfold. Opinions have been shared on here, on Twitter, on Facebook, and countless other sites. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that many people have opinions when it comes to Ripoff Report.

Stay tuned – I know I will be.

****************************************************************

 

Search Engine People  deserves all the credit for noticing this. Their Facebook page is the first place that I’ve seen any report of Ripoff Report being banned from Google, so I decided to take a look for myself (site:ripoffreport.com). As of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 – they are not in the index. Will they come back? We’ll have to wait and see.

SEP Facebook Posting

Go to Google. Search for Ripoff Report. Surprised? So was I.

Whether you’re happy or sad about it, it’s important to remember that this is big news in online reputation management. Many businesses seek out help to combat a Ripoff Report and there’s a lot of money that goes into managing one’s online reputation. SEO services, PR firms, and even software has been utilized to battle the damaging affects of a Ripoff Report showing up when one Google’s the name of your company. Think about it – if you were a company and the first result for your company name was a Ripoff Report, what would you do?

I have mixed feelings about Ripoff Report. On one hand, many consumers go there to see a clearer view of a business. It’s a public forum to voice concerns about a particular company and usually, those concerns ranked well in the engines, causing companies to take action to resolve the claim. Google created a sense of urgency when it came to delivering better service or any service at all. In many ways, that’s a good thing.

However, there’s a darker side to Ripoff Report and it’s one that I’m not particularly fond of. Consumers are allowed to post their complaints on the site free of charge, yet when it comes time for a business to make a rebuttal, dollar signs start flashing.

According to Ripoff Report’s own site, a business can post a rebuttal for free, but when it comes down to removing a resolved complaint or taking false information down, it’s not free. Yes, I said FALSE information. A business can’t have a lie or a complete made up claim about their business removed without whipping out a wallet.

Ripoff Report offers something called a VIP Arbitration Program, where a business can prove that a claim against them is false. Here’s how it works (as noted on the official site):

You submit a written arbitration statement identifying the false statements in the report, or explaining that the report was posted by a competitor pretending to be a customer. You are also given the opportunity to support your position with documentary evidence and/or sworn affidavits. There is a filing fee of $2,000 to pay for the arbitrator’s time and for administration of the program. The author of the report is then given the opportunity respond and you are given the opportunity to reply (source: http://www.ripoffreport.com/).

What happens if the author never responds? Does nothing get resolved? How about small businesses? How can they pay thousands of dollars to have a false claim removed? This isn’t even counting their paid Corporate Advocacy program.

For a small business, it seems like an unfair fight. Few small businesses have the chance to have a negative comment removed. Yes, they can respond using the free rebuttal option- but that response is pushed down to the bottom of the page. Below the irate capital letters, exclamation points, and incomplete sentences that usually make up the claim. Below the last nail in their reputation’s coffin.

Why should a business have to pay for the ability to defend itself against someone who was disgruntled that day? Or a competitor? Or someone who just made something up? In my opinion, Ripoff Report should make a business’ rebuttal more visible and allow for false information to be disputed without having to pay a $2,000+ arbitration fee. But again, that’s a different discussion.

Don’t get me wrong. There are businesses out there practicing, well, bad business. They’re dishonest and they don’t value the customer. Sometimes they’ll flat out lie in their rebuttals. But for other types of businesses, the honest ones, Ripoff Report presents an unfair problem. But that’s another issue here. We’re talking about disappearing from the index.

From what I’ve seen in SEO, it takes some shifty work to get banned from an index. Sometimes it happens accidentally. Other times, it’s the result of shady SEO tactics that are best left dreamed up by the spammers and the black hats. I’m strictly white hat and when I see a business doing something unethical, it usually turns me off to doing business with them. Granted, some sites don’t know what they’re getting into, but most of the time, they do. They know they’re doing something they shouldn’t. There’s no report of why they’re missing. Maybe they’ll come back in an hour. Maybe they’ll be back by the time I finish writing this post.

Back to online reputation and Ripoff Report. As this Search Engine Land post notes, the options of dealing with a claim on Ripoff Report are basic and usually expensive. You can:

  1. Post a rebuttal to the report.
  2. Pay Ripoff Report for VIP Arbitration.
  3. Pay Ripoff Report to join its Corporate Advocacy Program.
  4. Sue the original author of the report.
  5. Sue Ripoff Report (with very little success).
  6. Get Google to delist the report from its index (as shown in this post).
  7. Hire an online reputation management firm to bury the Ripoff Report in the engines.

If you chose option #7, you’re not alone. Most online reputation management companies thrive on burying Ripoff Reports as well as other postings on customer advocacy or complaint sites. Sometimes these complaints are unfounded. Sometimes they are completely true. But either way, it means money for an online reputation firm.

The approach a firm usually uses is one where you beat out the report by creating more content that will rank ahead of the report in engines. Owning your search engine results, in a way. Using a combination of PR and SEO tactics, online reputation managers will issue press releases, blog posts, social media postings, videos, and other content to either refute claims or to keep them well hidden.  When done right, it can be very effective.  With Ripoff Report missing from the index right now, I wonder how it will affect the online reputation management industry, even if it’s just today. (See the Facebook posting on Search Engine People’s wall for discussion).

Online reputation management is something every business should be concerned about. Whether you have a public complaint filed against your or not, everyone needs to recognize the power that lies within a search query. For many people, Google is the first place they go when they want to know about a business’ history, reputation, pricing, commitment to service, etc. Hell, they want to know everything about YOU. Employers will search for you. Students will search for you. Your neighbor will search for you. Everyone will do it – what matters is what shows up in those listings. My best advice? Be conscious of what you post online, both the good and the bad. It makes a difference. (For more information on online reputation management, check out Outspoken Media’s Online Reputation Management Guide. It’s one of the best resources I’ve seen on the subject.)

I’ll be curious to see why Ripoff Report is missing from Google’s index at the moment. Were their practices unsavory? Time will tell. But it’ll be interesting to see the rebuttal they’ll issue to Google. Free of charge and a VIP arbitration program, I’m sure.

 

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Google Search Results

Google, NPR, and Why You Should Vary Your Marketing, Part 2

Google Search Results

In my last post, I talked about what the Google Panda update meant for most sites. This post is going in a somewhat different direction.

Let’s talk collateral damage, or, the sites that got hit. Whether or not they should or shouldn’t have isn’t the matter at hand. Google’s official position on the matter is that no algorithm is perfect, but in this SEO’s eyes, I think there’s a little bit more that we can take away from here.

Search Matters

Google controls the lion’s share of search in this country and we all know this. In fact, most of us utilize Google as a tool on a daily basis. We search for movie times, gifts for our Mom, directions to a vacation destination, or even just that totally random information that gets stuck in our heads. You know what we do. We surf. I do it a lot, especially when Brent makes the declaration that he thinks a famous movie actor is dead and I have to show him that he is, in fact, alive and making movies.

Anyways, back to search. We use it on a daily basis and as a result, it’s become a powerful place for people to do business. A lot of money can be found in the search and online retailing industry. Consumers searching for something to buy can usually be found trolling Google for product reviews, prices, different color varieties…you get the picture.

So, it’s no wonder that so many people put their marketing weight into search in order to compete. It’s a tough marketplace out there and certain industries can be downright cutthroat. Money, time, and/or effort has to be spent on strengthening search presence. But when it comes to choosing WHAT strategies are actually worth investing in, this is where things get tricky. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s look at what makes doing business online different.

It Pays to Be Different

Let’s say you’re a site owner that sells hand carved coconut shells. You make them yourself and started this business first as a hobby. In fact, you used to carve coconut shells with your grandfather every weekend. After some time, friends and family started requesting orders for coconut shells and BAM! Suddenly you’re a business owner. So you take yourself online. You’re not the greatest copywriter of them all, but you’ve got a pretty interesting story behind your brand, so you write authentically about why you started your business. You tell people how you carve your coconuts and what inspires you. You share your successes and appreciation for their business with every Facebook status update and tweet. You don’t do a high volume of transactions yet, but people who buy from you tend to be repeat customers. Your selection is really small and the prices are a little high, but in your mind, people are getting something special.

Now, picture this: you’re now another site owner with thousands of products. You don’t actually make them, but instead, you’re a drop shipper. Those product descriptions telling people about your products? They came from the manufacturer. It would have taken too long to write something unique. And the story behind your brand? Well, you’re not quite sure how it all started, but one day, you decided to open an online store and it’s been a wild ride ever since. You don’t really do Facebook or Twitter – you’re not really sure what the point is. But you’re big and affordable and you sell a lot of products to a lot of people.

Now tell me: which site would you rather do business with?

Getting Into Business

I’ve seen people getting into online retailing for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a sad number of people who believe that once you put up a site, people will come. This isn’t the .com of dreams. It’s a real business. It has a storefront. It has a brand. It requires work. But most importantly, it requires marketing to make things happen.

BOTH the coconut carver and the drop shipper are examples of the collateral damage the Panda update caused. Business owners (yes, people like you) who had websites of all different shapes, sizes, and types were affected. Just check out the Google Forums and you’ll see everyone from large , ecommerce furniture stores to small, holistic medicine information sites were affected. Some of the reasons why were discussed in my last post (thin content, duplicate content, spammy SEO tactics, etc.) but I think it’s more important to take a look at what the sites were doing before Panda. Did they have a marketing strategy? Were they putting too much stock in SEO?  Were they even trying to market at all?

Varying Your Marketing

Now with the two site scenarios we described above, we saw one that had a lot of products and one that had a great story behind it. The cool thing about marketing is that BOTH sites can end up being successful if the right approach is taken. It would take some time and strategy, but it’s doable. Now, with Panda, we saw sites taken down some notches. Some only got knocked down a few results. Others got buried. As for who is surviving, only time will tell, but I tend to think that sites with varied marketing approaches are holding on a bit stronger.

SEO is a huge part of getting found online and I can bet that most ecommerce store owners put at least some thought into what they should be doing for SEO. But I don’t think it’s wise for a site to put all of its marketing weight behind one tactic, especially if it’s an established business. If you were a brick and mortar store, would you throw all of your advertising budget into just doing print ads? Marketing has to be varied and targeted. You just have to see what works and where you’re getting a return on investment. SEO can be tough in that aspect. Tactics like PPC have a much better chance of getting the attention of a customer who is further along in the buying cycle. SEO may attract the larger numbers, but there are some less qualified visitors coming in too. Not to mention, calculating ROI on SEO can be a bit of a challenge.

But what if a store owner only has a limited budget? What if it’s not economically viable to invest in multiple tactics? Some businesses may only be able to start out with focusing on one tactic. I guess in this case, I would say that if you absolutely must do only one thing, make sure it’s the right thing and then be disciplined enough to use some of those early profits to diversify marketing as soon as you can so that you’re not relying on one tactic forever. Knowing the right thing is the tough part, but I think if a business understands its audience well, finding that right tactic might be easier than one thinks.

It’s About Paying Attention and Being Flexible

My two cents? If you’re an ecommerce store owner that was affected by Panda, I think it’s time for you to examine your overall marketing strategy. Where could you be spending smarter? What areas have been neglected? Where do you need boosts? The most successful businesses are mindful of the needs of their audience and the health of their marketing efforts. Using that knowledge, successful businesses are flexible in mindset so that they are more nimble and responsive to changes than any other competitor. Ultimately, it’s not just being flexible that counts; it’s what you do with that mindset.

Panda is a wake up call to businesses that have dabbled in marketing but have never fully committed. It’s a reminder that you have to be focused, organized, and willing to put in the effort to be different.  It’s also a sign that it takes more than a storefront to do business online. You need:

  • Content that engages and offers value.
  • A trustworthy brand.
  • A presence in the search engines as well as social media.
  • Varied marketing efforts.
  • Flexibility.

I put flexibility as the last point because it’s the one that I’d like people to walk away from this article with. Being flexible makes your business sustainable. Whether you sell furniture or carve coconuts, you need to be flexible to the changes in the business environment. Maybe change will come in the form of an algorithm update. Maybe it will come from a shift in public perception. Maybe it shows up as a law. There’s one thing for certain: change will come and you have to be ready for it.

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