(Money Magazine) -- Think branding is only for celebrities and cola companies? Think again.
Today whatever reputation you have is spreading quickly across the Internet, thanks to Google, industry blogs, and social-networking sites. (Even failing to turn up on search engines says something about you.)
That makes it critically important to take control of your professional image, or "brand," says William Arruda of Reach Personal Branding. Actively promoting the brand you'd like to be can help you get your name on the radar of industry leaders and advance your career. Here's how to do it.
Determine your trademark
First, figure out how you're perceived: Google your name, and ask former colleagues to give anonymous feedback about your strengths and weaknesses via reachcc.com/360reach. These tools can help you identify both any problems (the photo of you tipsy at JazzFest) and positive qualities to exploit (your efficiency).
Next, in 20 words or less, answer this question: "How do I want employers to view me?" Focus on what makes you unique -- maybe you're an engineer with great people skills or a marketing exec who knows accounting. Think long term. "Your brand should reflect the career you want, not the job you have," says Dan Schawbel of Millennial Branding.
Spread the word online
Potential employers are likely to look you up online, so you want the top search hits of your name to communicate your brand. Start by making sure your LinkedIn profile plays up your brand message -- use the "summary" to state it outright -- and that your Facebook page doesn't distract from it, since both show up early in searches.
You could build a website to promote yourself further. Or you might start a blog on a topic that fits with your brand identity. (But remember that an infrequently updated blog can do you more harm than good.)
Drive traffic to your site by commenting on other blogs and asking them to link back, says search-optimization expert Evan Bailyn of First Page Sage. Also, feed blog posts automatically to your Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Live and breathe the brand
Make sure your offline behavior is consistent with the brand you're promoting online by taking on roles that will enhance your image among the right people. If you're calling yourself a collaborator, volunteer for group projects.
International expert? Join a committee in your trade association that deals with issues abroad. "It's not about making your brand famous," says Arruda. "It's about making it selectively famous among the people who need to know about you."
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