‘I Am Not a Brand!’: Building Your Personal and Professional Profile #SLA2014

I was looking forward to attending a session by Mary Ellen Bates at SLA 2014. Having seen her speak at SLA Chicago in 2012, I knew her talk would be engaging and full of practical advice.

The content was applicable to any information professional, whatever their role or level of experience, from a self-employed consultant looking to brush up how they appeal to clients, to a job-hunter looking to impress a prospective employer. This was the case because all of us have a brand, whether we like it or not.

What is your brand?

‘Brand’ is a very corporate word, which I know many may take issue with. I am going to use it in this post because it is the term Mary Ellen used, but essentially its means:

How you are perceived by others –

  • How you show up
  • What you’re known for
  • And what Google shows about you (It’s not a good thing if you don’t show up on Google. Clients, or recruiters, expect you to show up. And a vacuum is still a message – it’s a blank and boring message)

The important thing is whether you own the brand. This can be a bit scary as it can feel out of our control, but there are ways to own the message.

Where is your brand?

It’s your email signature, a cover memo for research results, your internal website bio, social media…

The Wall Street Journal found a significant amount of companies are using social media to research job candidates – no surprises there! However, interestingly, they’re looking for positive things:

  • 50% are looking for good personality
  • 50% are looking for a wide range of interests
  • 46% are looking for creativity – whether you can do today’s job, and the ability to grow into a job in a year’s time.

So it’s not just hiding pictures of your Friday nights out, it’s about creating a positive brand.

How can you own your brand?

Mary Ellen listed some great ways to cultivate a positive message.

Photographs lend authority. For example, an author photo on a book is totally unnecessary, so why do we see them on so many books? Think about the credibility of a Twitter account where the avatar is the default egg, would you follow back?

Be authentic – this is something Bethan Ruddock mentioned in a session I attended a few years back, and has really stuck with me. She said something along the lines of: be authentic, because if you’re not you’ll get caught out eventually! It’s also tied to the WSJ findings, where employers are looking for a good personality and wide ranging interests. I like to think I come across as genuine on social media, I like to post about things I find interesting so hopefully others will too.

“But I haven’t got anything to say!” – You don’t have to say much! Read others’ blogs and tweets; learn something and blog about it; ask questions, conduct a survey and blog/tweet the results. This reminded me of the 1-in-4 rule, which Ned Potter mentioned in a marketing presentation I attended in 2012 (of four tweets only one should be about your organisation. The others should be retweets, @replies, or just tweeting something your audience might find interesting). In that context, it was about avoiding simply broadcasting on Twitter. However, I think it’s also useful here, in that retweets and replying can be ways to engage if you don’t feel confident you have something original to put out there.

When you describe yourself, is it what/how, or is it why? Emphasise the benefits of what you do, not just the features. Talk about results. Express your success in a way that demonstrates your value. A good tip from Mary Ellen is to emulate the pros – how do vendors describe their value? They’ve spent money on it, so benefit from their investment!

This session was a highlight of the SLA conference. Mary Ellen is an engaging and entertaining speaker, and I’m very glad I sought out her talk this year.

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