What is a brand? The word actually came from using branding irons to detect ownership of cattle. Over time it came to signify the differences in quality between products of different manufacturers.
What does a personal brand mean? It certainly does not mean "personal" in the normal sense of the word. Normally brand is used in the context of organizations and products. Personal brand refers to the characteristics of a brand but focused on an individual.
Reputation was earlier a field with high-entry barriers. You had to slog over a long number of years to get to be known by a sufficient number of people to be recognized as an 'expert'. You still have to slog today - but the reach of the social technologies has amplified to a huge extent and crunched the time and entry barrier. However, one needs to be careful as these these tools can be double edged swords - and handled stupidly can amplify things you would rather hide.
Why should one bother with one's personal brand ? If you're a student or a professional, the digital footprints you leave would impact your career prospects in the future. What the web in general does is makes time irrelevant. Your actions six years ago and your views today are both visible at the click of a search engine.
So here are some tools and how you can leverage them to showcase your expertise
- Blogging. It is my belief that if you have a skill that can be displayed – blogging is the best way to make it visual. You can articulates your thoughts in text, upload videos and pictures and have them crawled and indexed by search engines so that whenever someone searches for it , your blog turns up first. You can set up a blog in minutes on free sites like blogger.com and wordpress.com. If you want to make it a little more professional get a domain name, and hosting space and run your own blog there.
- Social Networks: Many prospective recruiters and business partners might try to judge your online presence on social networks like Orkut and Facebook. If you have stuff posted there which is not fit for general consumption I suggest you check your privacy settings.
- Business Networks. Led by Linkedin.com business networking sites are usually the first place people check for your name. The fact is that they also rank high on Google searches for names. So keep the information upto date. Get colleagues, ex-colleagues, business partners to recommend you. Also get a personalized URL. And update your ppts, pdfs and blog posts on the profile using Linkedin Apps.
- Twitter. While it has been lately in the news for Bollywood celebrities using it – it can also help anyone in building connections and being a great channel to build your personal brand. The key is to follow relevant people in your function/industry and converse with them. Twitter is versatile as you can easily update it using a mobile phone.
Remember, the focus should never be on "selling" but on "sharing" information, expertise and advice with others. To paraphrase an old proverb – The best time for building a brand was some years ago. The second best time is today.