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Tips for Personal Branding (and Protection) in a Digital Age

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Branding is no longer for Fortune 500 companies and Madison Avenue agencies with excessive budgets and inadequate tracking.

Personal branding is about managing your name -- even if you don't own a business -- in a world of misinformation, disinformation, and semi-permanent Google records.

Going on a date? Chances are that your "blind" date has Googled your name.

Going to a job interview? Ditto.

Here are 4 tips for preserving or promoting your name, whether personal or business, in a digital world:

1. Get Google insurance:

Register the URLs for your name and variants, and consider creating a blog. The objective here is to own the first 1-5 results that appear on search engines if someone searches your name. I don't think most people should be bloggers, but having a Google-friendly and SEO-rich blog platform like Wordpress or TypePad that is updated even twice per month as an online journal is worth the investment for having first say in your image. This recommendation comes from Mike Fertik, CEO of the much-buzzed ReputationDefender.

2. Remember to maintain positive "cache-flow":

Twittered a drunken message after a tequila shot or five? Put up a webpage with text or photos you now regret? Even if you delete a webpage or portion of a page, this deleted content can often be found via a cached version of the older page on Google. Think before you commit something to semi-permanence on the Internet with an impulse "publish". It's easier to put up than it is to take down. Good dirt hunters -- or just head hunters and job interviewers -- will find your MySpace page and related "private" pages, and I'd suggest you do similar research in kind before initiating serious business relationships. I found the MySpace page of a vice-president at a PR firm I was considering once, and it contained racist remarks, sexual innuendo, and all manner of incriminating descriptions... and it was the second result on Google for her name! Do you think that more than a few media have Googled her name from her e-mail signature? Do you think that could affect if her calls or email are returned, and how much your retainer produces? Of course.

3. Check Wikipedia for character assassins and review as needed:

Wikipedia is the low-hanging fruit of choice for novice character assassins. It's amazing Pagerank and sheer incoming link volume will put it at the top of Google searches, so be sure to review it for personal and business misinformation and disinformation. If the vandalism is rampant, nominate the page for deletion. Don't be caught unawares like one great journalist I know who was shocked to find appalling misinformation and sexual references in her Wikipedia entry several months after someone had initially published it as a slanderous joke.

4. It's better to create a category that to fight in one.

Being first and then striving for perfection -- instead of fighting to be best in a crowded space -- is the fastest path to mindshare.

I didn't want to be pigeonholed in the broad and boring "work-life" or "career" categories for several reasons, so I needed to create a more appropriate label. This is how "lifestyle design" emerged, which offers me the ultimate calling card: one I dominate as I define it. The concept is not just about working less but about designing an ideal, often aggressive, lifestyle. I produced a simple and understandable label for both media and people looking for an alternative to the current options. From The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, one of the few "marketing" books worth the investment:

Miller Lite was the first domestic light. It took an importer five years to say 'If there's a market for a domestic light beer, maybe there's a market for an imported light beer.' The result was Amstel Light, which became the largest-selling imported light beer.

Create instead of imitate. From an SEO standpoint it's more effective, and from an intellectual and explicative standpoint, it's more much accurate. The current collection of labels are often to broad to encapsulate an innovation you want to turn into a meme or movement.

Get smart and get real. You, Inc. exists whether you want it to or not.

Manage your personal brand so you can benefit from the new digital landscape instead of suffer from it.

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