What happens when you type your name into Google? How about when you click the ‘images’, ‘news’ and ‘blogs’ buttons? If you don’t know the answer, it may be time for you to take control of your personal brand.

You might not know anything about manipulating Google, but if you’ve applied for a job or met with a prospective client or even gone on a date, you can bet that the person you met with took a few minutes to Google your name. It’s an increasingly common practice and what they find could make or break the relationship you’re trying to create—whether it be personal or professional.     

No Press is Bad Press, But Let’s Aim for Good
Julia Allison is hands down the best example of someone who knows personal branding in and out. Type her name into Google (go ahead, try misspelling it if you’re not convinced) and you’ll find oodles of links about her. She’s been called an “internet celebrity,” a status she’s achieved by putting herself out there – both on the Web and in the real world. She gets bad press from time to time — as all celebs do — but the point is her name is very well known across the Web. She was featured on the cover of Wired magazine, has been on multiple talking-head TV programs – and has transcended the digital divide to the tangible world. And she hasn’t done anything that noteworthy to get there. So how can you get yourself out there, but skip the bad press? Glad you asked.

The Basics: Facebook and LinkedIn
Facebook and LinkedIn are the two primary social media applications you can use to mold your personal brand. Facebook is a bit of a quandary when it comes to your professional life so it’s good to keep your profile private, untag bad photos and only “friend” people you’re actually friends with. But it can be useful if you write a blog or belong to professional/volunteer groups because you can create a page about your blog and ask your FB friends to follow you. This will become important later on.

If you walk dogs for a shelter on the weekends, you can show your support via a FB group and add a link to this page from your blog. We’ll get more into linking later in this series, but adding links is key to controlling your personal brand online because it gives Google more information about you by connecting the digital bits and piece that pertain to you.

LinkedIn is a vital tool for showing off your professional skills. It takes very little updating and it is first and foremost your digital resume. I can’t tell you how often I learn about someone I’m writing about from their LinkedIn page. Be sure to keep your info updated and public (if you’re comfortable with that). Also, before you upload a personal photo, be sure to label it your_name.jpeg (gif, tiff, etc). Now when someone Google image searches your name, this photo should show up.

Going Deeper: Blogging and Twitter
By now you have probably heard of Twitter, and you undoubtedly know about blogging. Using these tools in conjunction, and linking to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, can greatly increase your Google standing (meaning when someone searches your name, it’s more likely that something you’ve put on the Web will show up, not a picture of you from high school looking disheveled). Blogging is one of the best ways to tell people about what you know, and make yourself look like an expert in your field in the process, or at least give the impression that you’re so into what you do that you blog about it. Employers love that kind of thing -if you go into a job interview and tell the hiring manager you’ve written about his/her company, you’ll immediately get points. 

Writing regularly about something you love (preferably within your line of work) can provide a framework for Google to build on, too. For example, I write about advertising on a blog called AgencySpy. I post 5-10 times per day, which is a lot, but you can probably do 3-5 posts a week without spending too much time. If I applied for a job at an advertising agency, I could send them a story I’ve written about something they’ve done. It’s a way to show I’m interested and knowledgeable about a particular company. It’s very easy to send someone a link, so the blog is a great way to get noticed. I recommend Tumblr or Wordpress – both are very simple to use and take a few minutes to get your first post going.

Twitter is a relatively recent addition to the social media world. You can create an account and find your friends (Twitter can scan your e-mail if you allow it to and find people you know who are also using the service), follow them, and let them know what you’re up to. Why is this valuable? Twitter lets you write 140 character messages, including hyperlinks, which when sent pop up on the screens of everyone who follows you. You can very easily share your thoughts (blog posts) with a number of people all at once.

Following people who you find interesting is easy, too. Let’s say you can’t get enough New York Times – follow their Twitter feed and you’ll actually be connected to the paper. I tend to follow what I call “thought leaders,” people who have interesting ideas and share links I might also like—like the experts on Big Think—or people who write entertaining messages.

Amplifying Your Brand
The last aspect of growing your personal brand is getting mentioned by others in your field. Traditionally this was the role of trade publications. Maybe you’re not the top dog walker for the Humane Society, but odds are you have a friend of colleague who is also interested in what you do who writes a blog (you’d be surprised!). Ask to interview them and see if they’ll do the same for you. Then send the link to your interviews around to other people you think might be interested. If there’s a trade publication (or blog), send it to them – editors are always looking for new, fresh content. The point is getting content about you out there. We’re not talking about personal diary type stuff, rather your thoughts on the best techniques for grooming a shorthair Schnauzer (using the dog theme).

This might feel like cooking with an Easy-Bake Oven, but trust me it’s not. By adding content to the Web you increase Google’s ability to define who you are digitally. And the more people that see the grooming story, the higher Google will rank it and it will become more visible to people who search your name. In future posts, Big Think will more fully explain ways to take advantage of our unique idea-creation technology to promote your big ideas to other thought leaders and throughout the web.
Matt Van Hoven is the editor of AgencySpy.com, an advertising trade publication that belongs to the MediaBistro family of blogs operated out of New York City.