Alright, full disclosure: I am not a professional in this field. In fact, quite frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ve got a damn clue what I’m talking about. But I just spent a few days agonizing over this so I’m gonna give my own insights.
First of all: why bother? Why go through all the effort of personal branding when you can make good money being a nobody on the internet?
To some extent, it really depends what your goals are. If you want to become a researcher, your online identity probably won’t matter – all the people who care about you will already know your name.
For me, there are all sorts of weird projects that I would like to make into real projects. Having a cohesive online identity would make me much more credible as a maker. In addition, if I happen to build up a following, I have already have a pre-established market to sell things to.
For instance, I’m currently working on making a game. I could try to go through the whole Greenlight process as a no-name developer and drown with the other thousands of indies. This is obviously not a particularly favorable situation.
My current plan is to gradually establish my online identity as a game designer, granting credibility to people who’d like to check my background. In the process, I’ll try to build up a following just large enough to successfully run a large Kickstarter. That’s the first goal – we can move on from there.
As another example, you should know from this blog that I code a whole damn lot. One person I respect a whole lot is Daniel Shiffman. He does all sorts of cool stuff, check him out! He has a very well-established personal brand as a guy who connects creativity and code (a purpose you may recognize from my own site). When I first stumbled upon the Nature of Code book, I looked more into his background and started following his Youtube channel, and eventually his website and blog. When he runs his next project, I’ll be one of the first customers to hop on that purchase!
Social media and the internet allows you to crowdsource the entire public relations and marketing nightmare. By building a following, you get free market research. By producing content, you create an image for yourself. Even though these acts may not be profitable by themselves, they can fuel future entrepreneurship.
Let’s keep this in mind when we start building our brand. We’re not trying to make money. We’re trying to establish an online presence for ourselves.
There’s a really easy to benchmark this. Pick a name. It can be your real name. Got it? Now pick an adjective or noun describing you. In my example, I might pick ‘Alan Luo, Developer.”
If you Google that phrase, you want one of your online presences (Twitter, Youtube, personal website, etc.) to come up on the first page. “Jenna Marbles Youtuber.” “John Green Vlogger.” “Randall Munroe Comics.”
Once we’ve reached that milestone, we want to drop the label and just put the name. So, my eventual goal is to make it so that this site pops up when you Google “Alan Luo.”
Not only should the link exist, if I click that link, I should see something that makes me view this person as a credible expert of their field. Regardless of whether or not I’ve published any real software yet, I want my website to show people that I’m serious about coding and that I might publish something in the future.
At the time of writing, I’m somewhere in between step two and three. Googling “Alan Luo” lands me somewhere between the end of the first and start of the second page, and when you click my website, you see a mostly completed portfolio site that’s lacking a little bit in fleshed-out content.
Alright, keeping these goals in mind, I’d like to highlight some of the struggles and solutions I ran into during this process.
Multiple accounts. This was one heck of a nightmare! I have like a dozen accounts across a handful of properties, just on Google alone, then handfuls of accounts on a number of smaller websites, and so on… The first thing I did was centralize each facet of my identity onto a single email and moniker. (I have three primary online identities right now, two of which I will not yet disclose for various reasons.) For instance, “Alan Luo, the developer” is ‘alan-luo’ on Github and Reddit, ‘alanluo’ on Codepen, and has the email “email@example.com.” However, I have entirely separate sets of usernames and emails for my other identities. The key thing to highlight is that each within each identity, I always use the same Moniker.
For managing multiple accounts, I recommend linking as many things as possible to Google. First of all, Google has historically strong email security. Second of all, they already have a feature for managing multiple accounts. If you use Reddit, I also recommend using RES, as well.
Multiple Identities Why bother separating into multiple identities? Why not bunch all of it into one? The point here is that you don’t want something intended for one audience to interfere with another audience. If I make hardcore coding videos on my Youtube channel, I don’t want to start releasing music videos, or I’ll estrange followers. Separating yourself into multiple identities allows you full control over what the world views you to be.
One thing to note here is that you must separate your personal and professional selves. If you’re a League of Legends streamer, the last thing you want is the discovery that you’re a moderator of a DOTA 2 forum.
SEO and Content Propagation
Once you’ve sorted out all your accounts via the first two steps, the last step is to actually build the identity. Build an identity most relevant to what you’re doing. If you’re an artist, make a Deviantart account and build up a solid portfolio. If you’re a coder, you should have a Github and Codepen account, a personal website, a portfolio and CV, and a devblog. A personal website demonstrates that you have basic web development skills, which are pretty much ubiquitously needed. Github and Codepen allow you to build up your corpus of shareable code. The devblog is just a really popular thing among developers, and is not necessary, but it an important rite of passage. (See my first post.) Your portfolio and CV don’t have to be public or indexed on any search engines – just make sure they’re sufficiently available for employers.
The reason I bunch SEO into this section is that if your content is well-made enough, SEO will sort itself out. Any social media outlet that is well-propagated will have a high search engine rating. Linking these outlets to your own site will quickly boost the rating of that site, as well. These are often referred to as ‘Web 2.0s’ in SEO. (Although, if you Google that term, you’ll see all sorts of shady techniques for creating spam accounts to boost your index rating. Please don’t do this.)
Another advantage of separating your identities is that SEO becomes much cleaner. I know that I can make this website show up if you look up “Alan Luo coder.” However, if I want it to show up for both “Alan Luo coder” and “Alan Luo game designer,” I have a whole different bag of worms. I’ve chosen to associate the “Alan Luo” persona with my developer self, as that is what I am currently more focused on. If this changes in the future, I’ll be sure to update my identity accordingly.
Well, I hope this has been useful to someone. Personal branding is honestly a huge pain in the butt and I will probably have to tackle this again sometime in the future. If you’re reading this years in the future, first of all: Hello, technomancing cyberninja from the future! And hopefully you can take something useful from this.