Crafting an online identity - the art of personal branding by Prashant Pinge
8th May 2011

When one thinks of identity, the first thing that jumps to mind is individuality. That every individual is unique is without doubt. And yet, social norms dictate so many of our actions and thoughts that we somehow tend to get absorbed in the crowd, tend towards a boring sameness. But in today's intensely competitive existential paradigm, it becomes imperative to carve out your own identity, to stand out. In other words, to differentiate yourself from the rest, to create your very own brand.

In the world of physical reality, every individual starts building associations right from the time they are born. Their nature, their behavior, their talents, their achievements all contribute to the personal brand.   Now if I were to ask you to describe yourself, how would you do it? Perhaps you would say that you are a warm, caring, intelligent and sincere person. But would that be how others would describe you? A personal brand then is how others perceive you. This is a critical point to note.

So as you can see, it is all about how you project yourself, how you manage others' perceptions. Now the physical space offers considerable challenges when doing this. All the attributes that have shaped others' perceptions are not easily changeable or manageable. It €?s possible, but it takes a lot of time and concentrated effort. But the online space offers a quick way to create an identity that you want to project. That's not to say you give up on reality. No, you continue working offline, but you reinforce it through online media.

Whether online or offline, the process of personal branding starts with knowing yourself. The key is to really let your own individuality shine through. What do I want? What are my values? What are my talents? What are my achievements? What inspires me? These are some of the questions you have to answer. Truthfully. Trying to be someone you €?re not or chasing somebody else's dreams will not only lead to failure but also cause a lot of angst. So step one starts with understanding your own self.

The online space offers numerous tools to create a persona. The beauty of this paradigm is that you can incorporate the right associations into your identity relatively quickly. However, a word of caution here. While you can easily mask your negatives, don't create a plastic image which shouts fake. There is another important thing. While not necessarily as potent, just like people, the Internet also has a memory. So think carefully before you insert any content into this extremely powerful medium.

So let's come to the tools now. The most important would be a personal website. This is a space where you can really showcase yourself. Apart from your professional achievements, you can display your personal side here. The design can reflect your personality, and the content, your thoughts. A simple and user-friendly design works best. Next, we come to the blog which is a great way to communicate your thoughts in the virtual world. It is very cost effective and can be set up quickly. But please write about something you actually know of and are interested in. And do it consistently. Podcasts are another way to showcase your personality online.

When one talks of the Internet, social media cannot be far away. This is by far the best way to stay connected with your friends and colleagues. And the reason this channel is a very powerful one is because it presents you to the people you want to influence in no way like any other. Remember, your personal brand exists in the minds of others. So Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Orkut etc. are all means by which you can reach the people you want to influence. These social media tools offer numerous features and applications that can easily allow you to rapidly create your personality online.

The creation of any brand, personal or otherwise, requires visibility. So please ensure that you employ search engine optimization (SEO) to pop up online as many times as possible and in the right places. Publishing online is another way to spread your reach in the virtual world. Not only is it easy, but it will also build your credibility. There are many other tools that are being developed and integrated with the mobile space which essentially expands your canvas. But using these tools won't necessarily mean success. They have to be part of a strategy that will link them in a coherent way and allow your brand to be projected consistently through and through.

In general, brands deliver on their promises. So make no mistake. Your online persona has to be what you say it is, has to do what you say it does. I repeat here that it should be an extension of your offline identity and serve to reinforce it. Furthermore, it remains your prerogative to actively manage your brand. The more you participate, the more you remain in control. The Internet is simply a medium. How you use it will ultimately define the value you create for yourself.

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