Personal Branding and Online Social Media Etiquette


In the PwC The Future of Work A Journey to 2022, 46% of HR professionals expect at least 20% of their workforce to be made up of contractors or temporary workers by 2020 and 2 out of 5 people around the world believe that traditional employment won’t be around in the future. Instead, people will have their own ‘brands’ and sell their skills to those who need them.

Welcome to a small glimpse of the potential future of work, which will be based on personal brands and HR professionals building their talent strategies around the rise of the individual, not long-term employees.

Yet in spite of the rising awareness of the importance of the personal brand for the skilled workforce, those same highly educated people are not taking the time to establish an online image or using social media correctly. Instead, many are falling foul, by behaving online in a way that does not promote their reputation, but hinder it.

To ensure you safeguard your online personal brand, make sure you stick with key social media etiquette guidelines. Your future could depend on it.

Be respectful

The 2016 Presidential election between Trump and Clinton was unprecedented for many reasons, including the use of social media and the abusive exchanges online. Social media allowed us to voice our opinions and on many occasions this turned to online hate, including smug elitism, overt racism and misogyny, naked hate, virulent anti-Semitism and rage. Whether you experienced a dose of Trump outrage, a lack of understanding of those marginalised in regional and rural America, or responded with utter disbelieve as to the results, I’m sure many of you were compelled to comment and sometimes comment in a way that was not respectful to others.

Not all Trump supporters were bigots, racist and misogynists. Not all Clinton supporters were rich elites closeted from the ravages of globalism and declining manufacturing.

Our online brand depends on coming across as respectful and not having to be right. Be tolerant, block haters if necessary, but don’t become a hater, as this potentially impacts on your image and individual brand.

Be authentic

So often we feel like we have to play a part, rather than be authentic. Often the higher up the corporate career ladder we go, or the higher the risk, the more we feel like we have to act a certain way, or become part of a tribe (think pin stripe suits for London bankers and T-shirts for start-ups). Yet authentic, genuine people are seen as the trust worthy – and people including employers, gravitate toward authenticity. So be yourself and if in a corporate situation, or online, be the positive version of yourself.

Authentic personal brands are important and they resonate. Of course adaptive behaviours in the workplace should occur. For example, you might swear a lot in a home environment, which would not be appropriate at work. But if you feel you need to mask the whole real you online, or imitate someone else, you won’t come across as authentic and this will be detrimental to your career and personal brand.

Don’t post copyrighted information

Share useful content by sharing the link or social media post, but don’t copy other information without their permission, or take action that violates the law or infringes group or intellectual property rights.  Even if you can’t find authorship online, it is still under copyright protection.  Anytime someone creates written material, graphics, code, images, audio they automatically own copyright in such material. Also those images you source online don’t use them, unless you have purchased them and they are royalty free. Otherwise you risk receiving a letter of demand from the copyright owner.

Apart from copyright issues, it is important to develop your own voice and own content. While this involves more work, it will ensure a strong online brand now and into the future.

Keep your cool

I have been trolled and criticised and I’m not the only business owner, or woman that has been trolled online.  With such hate online, sometimes it can be hard not to react, but don’t. Either respond in a controlled way, or simply block, it is not worth your reputation or the ensuing fight.

Occasionally a provocative comment is someone just venting steam and sometimes it can be best to ignore the comment and others will defend your reputation. But no matter what goes down, don’t react negatively and lash out.  Always keep your cool!

Use the right language

Online is such a unique forum and what you post online can be misconstrued. Research shows that because social media lacks the formatting of print and the body language of in-person communications, the words themselves carry more feeling. And because messages are read quickly, an inappropriate tone (too formal, or too familiar) can distract your reader or obstruct what you are saying online. Some general rules:

  • Don’t scream online: As soon as you use capitals, or the high priority symbol, you are screaming for attention. I PERSONALLY HATE BEING YELLED AT.
  • Write to a controlled tone:  Your tone is very apparent online, so keep it conversational and stick with your natural language online (unless you swear like a trooper).
  • Write in the active voice: When you write in an active voice, your tone won’t sound bureaucratic, the way a passive voice does.
  • Use positive affirmative words: The use of positive affirmative words in posts enhances your appeal online, such as masterful, terrific, brilliant and champion.

Stay timely

If you are using social media to build a brand, then keep posting regularly and stay up-to-date. If you are trying to build an online social media brand, a twitter account that has not been touched for the last 6-months is not a good look.

Be careful with personal information

Keep personal or private information to yourself, as social media platforms are public spaces. Do you really want people to know the very private details of your personal life, such as a messy divorce?

Now I do know individuals that are very open about their private lives and this has not impacted on their reputation, or business. But generally speaking, these individuals base their brand on being very open and are working with other business owners, not employers. If you are not a successful entrepreneur or business owner, being so frank on social media could work against you, so be careful.

Never discuss proprietary information and protect all confidential information

The simple rule is don’t put anything online you wouldn’t share with a client, competitor or journalist. Make sure you never violate any non-disclosure obligations. You also need to avoid identifying and discussing others, including customers, employers, or other employees, unless done with their permission, or you have forged a positive relationships with them and you are promoting them online.

By following social media etiquette, you can start building a creditable online profile that will ensure that are top-of-mind when it comes to recruitment and hiring decisions.

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