Monday, July 12, 2010

The networked communicator: Rethink online profiles, 7 ways

(Editor's note: I'm starting a new series on "The networked communicator" with this post on online profiles--a cornerstone of your strategy to get networked. Stay tuned for posts that will show you how to put profiles and other tactics to work for you as you build your network.)

No wonder that headhunter (and I) can't find you online. Turns out that fewer than half of American adults are using one of the most effective tools for becoming networked communicators: Online social networking profiles.

Forty-six percent of American adults online have created a social networking profile for themselves, according to a May report on reputation management from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. While that's a big jump from the 20 percent who reported creating social profiles in 2006, it turns out that you're a rarer breed if you use online profiles to market yourself for career or work purposes. The report notes:
Those who need to make information available about themselves online in order to market themselves for their job make up a unique segment of the internet universe. These “public personae” now make up 12% of the employed adult population, up slightly from the 10% who said they were required to market themselves online in 2006.
Can you be found?

Even more striking are the data on what happens when you search for yourself online: "35% of self-searchers say their queries do not yield any relevant results," the report notes, adding:
Just 31% of self-searchers say that most of the results on the critical first page are actually about them, while 62% say the first page of results is mostly about someone else with a name very similar or identical to theirs.
So, while you may have a profile somewhere, it may not be showing up in the search engines.  On the plus side, that also means that you can stand out among the crowd just now with a strong social profile presence.  And if your name matches someone else's, all the more reason to make clear which person you are.

Who's looking for you?

The answer to that is, "You'll never know if you can't be easily found."  The Pew report notes that "In the age of social media, it is now the case that a Facebook profile may get more traffic than your resume or your bio on your employer’s website."  And nearly two-thirds of those who reported conducting searching for information about people on the web said they were seeking contact information or social and professional profiles. Folks want to find you--but can they?

Thanks to my online profiles, the first half-dozen search results on Google lead to my website, blogs, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, Facebook profile and business Facebook pages--all places I want to be found. Beyond defining what your search results yield, profiles can help you get speaking engagements, book deals, requests for articles in industry publications, collaborators, donors, partners, clients, volunteer opportunities and more. Having a profile before you're seeking a change means you can build relationships with headhunters before you need them.  Far better to have profiles in place (and up-to-date) long before you want to consider a new opportunity--or have to do so. 

Rethink your online profiles

If you haven't given thought--or taken time to rethink--how you're seen and found online, here are 7 do's and don'ts to consider when using an online profile as a networked communicator:

  1. Do choose profiles strategically.  Think audiences, and here, size might matter. Yes, LinkedIn's a favorite with headhunters and professionals.  But audiences are larger on Facebook; as more companies get Facebook pages, it's possible to apply for jobs with new apps that embed the application process right into a Facebook page, for example.  A Google profile works across a wide range of Google's many products--and influences your search results (see number 5 below).  How many profiles? Only you can decide. A range of well-chosen profiles gives your contacts a hint about your social-networking proficiency, but if you're not going to be on a network with regularity, pass that profile up.
  2. Don't overlook a YouTube profile.  YouTube is the second-largest search engine, and given that 2 billion online videos are watched on the site every day, it's a place to be seen and searched. Dan Schwabel offers a great guide here to branding your YouTube profile and channel.  Google's blog offers this guide to using YouTube videos to drive business your way.  Adding video of yourself (from a speaking engagement, excellent presentation, or just a message about what you're focused on now professionally) also rounds out your online profile and may make the difference in getting you noticed.
  3. Do get your own website.  I can't tell you how many clients and friends I have whose only online presence belongs to their employers--it's too many to count. Get your own website before you need one, if only as a place to centralize your many social-networking profiles.  Flavors.me offers slick-looking options for simple websites that pull together all your profiles; check out this article about how others are using the site.  Posterous.com, which makes it simple to create a blog simply by emailing what you want posted, now makes it simple to register your own domain name.  Doesn't get much easier than that.
  4. Don't set it and forget it. Review and renew existing profiles.  If you didn't realize that you can now generate your LinkedIn profile in other languages but want to work overseas, or that your Google profile can put you on the first page of relevant search results for other people in your social networks, it's time to review and make use of new features on the profiles you do have.   Schedule a review every six months to make sure your accomplishments are up-to-date and all links are still current.  For example, if you did nothing when Facebook changed its privacy settings earlier this year, and your profile used to be open for anyone to see, it likely is not visible to all any longer. Is that what you want?
  5. Do make your profile a portfolio--with an eye on the future.  Sure, you can cut-and-paste your resume into your online profiles.  Or you can be more strategic and include the interests, links and other clues that will help contacts and recruiters figure out where you're headed.  Call it a personal statement or "where I'm focused now," but make sure it's included. This is especially important if your current work doesn't reflect where you want to go next.  It's why I like Google Profiles, which allows lots of "my links" that--on my profile--go to my blogs, articles about my accomplishments, my writing samples and more.
  6. Don't remain the Flat Stanley of Social Media.  If you're now more comfortable with social networking and the balance of personal and professional, consider moving beyond a one-dimensional profile by adding some personal information. Do it for the same reason you do at in-person networking events: To give others a well-rounded sense of who you are, as well as something to talk to you about.  That relentlessly professional profile may be, well, relentless. Ease up a little.  According to the Pew report, just 4 percent of Internet users report bad experiences because of embarrassing or inaccurate information online about them.  You're probably among the 96 percent who will find this a safe place to share.
  7. Do share your updated profile.  LinkedIn and Facebook will alert your network when those profiles are updated, but you should take the time to consider who needs to see your primary online profiles beyond those networks.  Links to your profile should be on your resume, your email signature, your website (see number 3), and any bios you send out when you're speaking or moderating a panel or listed in a program. But are they on your business cards--your employer's, or your own separate set of cards? Did they make it into the followup email you sent that contact you met at last night's networking event?  Are they on your presentation slides or the blog post that serves as your handout?  Did you link to a profile when submitting that guest post you're writing for my blog? If you have more than one profile, do people know which one you prefer to be used?
What profiles do you use on social networks? Share your preferences and feedback in the comments.

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Check out don't get caught on Facebook, where I'm floating ideas and discussing them before they appear on the blog.  It's shaping up as a great networking community for communicators.

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