Personal Brand Management – Where to Draw the Line between Personal Branding and Free Speech

As I watched President Obama give the State of the Union Address tonight, I thought about some important advice for your personal branding efforts. You need to promote yourself if you want to find a job or improve your career, but you have to be very careful about what you say.

Start from the realization that anything you say on the Internet – any picture you post – is effectively there forever. You simply can’t “unsay” something that you once felt strongly about, even if you change your mind. We’ve all heard stories about people who lost jobs or job opportunities because they had unwisely posted pictures or comments on their social networks. These are the obvious cases, though, and we probably all know better.

When you post your political or religious views, you may be thinking that you’re well within the bounds of proper social discourse. After all, our country was built on the very concept of free speech. But the world ain’t that simple. Whenever you apply for a job, you have to realize that the recruiter and/or hiring manager will probably search your digital footprint.

Simply put, what you may think is your absolute right to discuss – perhaps even a trivial statement of your beliefs – can (and probably will) be misinterpreted by somebody at some time. You could argue that you wouldn’t want to work with somebody who has vastly different values than you have, but the tripping point is hard to predetermine. So be safe – express these views privately.

Have you checked to see what the others will see in a search your digital footprint? Most of you have looked your name up on Google, but have you tried sites like Pipl, 123People, or Spokeo?

Did you know that your Amazon wish list is public? Your Pandora stations? It’s not just those drunken party photos on Facebook, it’s your entire digital footprint that you have to be concerned about.

If I’ve scared you out of maintaining any digital presence, that wasn’t my intention. You have an online presence whether or not you are active in social media. Increasingly, public records are going online (after all, they are public, right?), so there’s a very good chance that you’re already on the Internet somewhere. Your best strategy is to manage that presence to optimize your digital footprint.

We talk a lot on this site about how to put good stuff up; that’s what is all about. But be careful about the bad stuff too. And if you have negatives in your digital footprint, the best way to hide these gaffes is by putting more and more good stuff on the Internet, on popular topics and popular sites. The good stuff will eventually rise to the top.


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  1. 1

    A note about Amazon wish-lists: They are public by default, but you can easily make them private. You can actually create two lists, one public and one private, useful if you want to use Amazon as a gift registry while retaining your own private “someday” list. To go private, sign into your account, click on your wish list (even if you have not created one yet) and change the default setting.

  2. 3
    [email protected]om

    Great article, Walt.

    It boils down to something simple: There is a time and place. No body is stopping you from posting articles slamming the government and promoting anarchy. It IS a free country. Just don't be surprised when an employer does a double take when the first thing associated with your name is an article discussing the merits of 9/11 conspiracy.

    The internet hasn't changed this dynamic. You wouldn't walk into an interview and introduce yourself with radical ideas. Google is now your first impression, so know everything you post is public, and act accordingly.

  3. 4
    Evan Watson

    Love the post Walt. It shocks me to see how many people say “well i'm good because i just don't have ANYTHING online.” Your right about the fact that there is likely something out there weather they know it or not but the more important point is the fact that people (employers, clients, colleagues etc.) expect to find something when they look for you and when they find nothing that is a statement in and of itself.

  4. 5
    Walter Feigenson

    Almost *everybody* has a digital presence. What we do at is try to help you manage what you show the world. And you're quite right that for many jobs, having a digital footprint is a prerequisite.

  5. 6
    Walter Feigenson

    Almost *everybody* has a digital presence. What we do at is try to help you manage what you show the world. And you're quite right that for many jobs, having a digital footprint is a prerequisite.

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